For the second straight day, USC found itself in a must-win game. After eliminating UCSB last night, the Trojans squared off against the San Diego State Aztecs in the first of a potential elimination game doubleheader on a hot day in Lake Elsinore. If you like offense and mental mistakes, hoo-boy, this was your game.
True freshman Mitch Hart took the mound for the Trojans and dug himself an early hole, giving up three runs in the first two innings to hand SDSU a 3-0 lead. But USC would battle back in the 4th thanks to a few Aztec fielding miscues. Timmy Robinson hit a sharp ground ball to third base that SDSU was unable to field cleanly to open the inning. David Oppenheim then put the Trojans on the board with a two-out double in the right-center gap that scored Robinson from first. The Trojans plated their second run of the inning after an AJ Ramirez line drive was dropped (but ruled a hit) by SDSU's Danny Sheehan, allowing Oppenheim to score from second and cutting the Aztec's lead to 3-2.
Cody Thompson started the game for the Aztecs and was shaky throughout. A long delay in the middle of the 5th probably didn't help either. The home plate umpire needed to be tended to (eventually coming out of the game) and once play resumed, the Trojans would finally get to Thompson. Timmy Robinson crushed a deep two-out two-run home run that cleared the left field fences with ease and gave the Trojans a 4-3 lead. After chasing Thompson in the 5th, USC opened the 6th inning with a double by Blake Lacey, a single by Oppenheim and then an impressive oppo home run by AJ Ramirez to give the good guys a 7-3 lead heading in to the bottom of the 6th.
However, in a game that saw 23 total runs scored and 32 combined hits, this one was far from over. Mitch Hart finally seemed to settle down after his rocky start, going 1-2-3 in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th, and retiring eleven straight batters before finally allowing a one-out single in the 6th. The Aztecs quickly followed that up with a pair of doubles to cut the score to 7-5 and end Hart's uneven NCAA tourney debut. That's when the wheels started to fall off for the Trojans.
USC's bullpen has been an issue all season long and unfortunately their woes continued against the Aztecs. Brent Wheatley relieved Hart and immediately issued a walk and a single to make it 7-6 with runners at the corners. After a blown suicide squeeze by SDSU, the Trojans were unable to get the tag down while chasing the runner back to third. In a game littered with miscues by both teams, that one would prove costly for the Trojans. After striking out the next batter (which would have ended the inning), Wheatley allowed a two-out triple that scored two and gave the Aztecs an 8-7 lead. SDSU then tacked on three runs in the 7th to give them a commanding 11-7 lead. All in all, the Aztecs sent a combined 18 hitters to the plate in the 6th and the 7th and scored 8 total runs to turn the tide in their favor.
But the Trojan offense would do their best to put those wheels back on. After a couple of singles and a wild pitch, Jeremy Martinez delivered a two-out RBI single that cut the Aztec lead to 11-9 in the 8th. Did I mention this game was littered with miscues? After another single, SDSU was called for catcher's interference on a play that would have ended the inning but instead left the bases loaded. However, the Trojans were unable to take advantage as Blake Lacey popped up to third base to end the inning for a second time.
After a scoreless bottom of the 8th, the Trojans entered the final frame needing two to tie and three to take the lead. With one on and one out, the Aztecs brought in their first basemen Steven Pallares to finish the game in a sort-of-surprising move (Pallares had made 4 previous appearances, but it's always weird to see a first basemen take the mound in the 9th). A strike out and walk left the Trojans with the tying run on base, but down to their last out. Garrett Stubbs may be the PAC-12 Defensive Player of the year, but he's not too bad with the bat either. He lined a single into right to bring the Trojans within one run with a score of 11-10. With the tying run on second and the lead run on first, Jeremy Martinez stepped into the box and promptly redeemed the entire pitching staff by lining a hard hit double into the right-center gap that plated both runs and gave the Trojans a 12-11 lead.
Tyler Gilbert came on in the bottom of the 9th to close the game and the Trojans sealed their win on a bad baserunning mistake (what else?) by the Aztecs after the runner on first misread a pop fly and was doubled off to end the game. In a wild game that saw multiple lead changes and oodles of blunders, the Trojans emerged victorious thanks to their elite offense. They will try to stave off elimination once again in the back end of a doubleheader later tonight when they play the Virginia Cavaliers, who beat the Trojans 6-1 on Friday.