After dropping the first game of the series against the lowly Utah Utes (11-21, 2-12) Friday night, coach Dan Hubbs challenged his players to take responsibility for their play and start delivering some clutch base hits.
The Trojans provided their fare share of crushing blows Sunday, slugging the Utes right out of the park (13-2) behind 19 hits in the all-important series finale. USC pounded together seven extra-base hits, capitalized on a strong six-run fifth inning, and gave all 573 fans in attendance something to cheer about on Kids Take Over The Ballpark Day.
In a game the Trojans desperately needed to win, the bats came alive thanks in large part to resounding three-hit performances from Jeremy Martinez, Jake Hernandez and a four-RBI sighting from sophomore shortstop Blake Lacey.
That offensive showcasing, alongside a dominant 5.1 IP performance from typical Tuesday night starter Brent Wheatley, propelled the victorious efforts. Wheatley, who only need 61 pitches to maneuver through the Utah lineup, wasted no time proving why his decision to pitch during the series finale was worthwhile.
After being left off the scoreboard for the game's first three innings, Lacey delivered a clutch two-out, two-RBI single into left field to give USC the early lead. The very next inning, USC's bats started the frame with four consecutive base hits against starter Tanner Banks, erupting an offensive outburst.
USC proceeded to score runs in the 4th through 8th innings, as every starter in Dan Hubbs' lineup contributed at least one base hit. Then, sophomore lefty Kyle Twomey came in relief to lend some assistance for Wheatley, turning an incredible 4-6-3 DP against Utah's best hitter TJ Bennett to mitigate any legitimate threat for offense.
This dominant performance comes after the USC needed to conjure up another dramatic come-from-behind victory against a subpar opponent, as an RBI sac fly from Reggie Southall won Saturday's game. In that game, junior second baseman Dante Flores blasted his second HR of the season into the nearby parking structure in right field.
That script was flipped from Friday night where USC had all the chances but eventually lost, 3-2 (13), to a pesky Utah attack. Following the game head coach Dan Hubbs told Shotgun Spratling "all we can do is blame ourselves for that one." The game quite honestly ruined a fantastic pitching performance from Wyatt Strahan, who set a career high posting 11 strikeouts in seven innings of strong work on the bump.
By virtue of their eventual series victory, USC now sits 7th overall in the Pac-12 Standings with a huge three-game series coming up against the Arizona Wildcats. If the Trojans want to make up any serious ground with the upper tier of competition, they must at least win (even sweep) the home series against the 2012 College World Series Champions.
USC even entered unchartered territory after the series, reaching .500 or better this late into the season (34 games) for the first time since 2012 (19-10) -before finishing that season dropping 22 of their final 26 games.
It may not be what fans exactly wanted, after starting the year 7-0, but this resilient bunch must continue to find ways to salvage home turf and then win some crucial series away from home as the Pac-12 series continue to become more and more important against high-caliber conference competition.