Following their dramatic 12-11 comeback victory over San Diego State earlier in the day, USC played their fourth game in three days in Lake Elsinore. Once again, for the third straight game, the USC Trojans took the field facing elimination. Once again, for the third straight game, the Trojans' offense exploded for lots of runs. Unfortunately, their pitching was running on fumes and couldn't hold on to force a decisive game 7 against Virginia in a game that lasted nearly five hours.
The Trojans, who had just played a four and a half hour epic only an hour prior to first pitch, had a good news/bad news start to the game. The bad news? USC starting pitcher Bernardo Flores had trouble finding the strike zone early and his defense did him no favors. Two hits, two walks, one error, and a sac fly yielded four runs for the Cavs in the top of the 1st. The good news? USC has an offense that doesn't care how poorly its pitching and defense performs. A walk, two doubles, a single, a triple and a sac fly scored five runs for the Trojans in the bottom of the 1st, chasing Virginia starter Alec Bettinger from the game before he could record an out. For all you statheads out there, that's an in-game ERA of infinity.
After a 40-minute 1st inning that saw more runs than outs, the top of the 2nd was more of the same but with slightly less horrible results. Flores walked two before surrendering a single that tied the game at 5-5. He finished the inning, but that would be all for the sophomore, replaced by freshman Mason Perryman who pitched scoreless innings in the 3rd and 4th.
The Trojans would retake the lead in the bottom of the 4th, scoring four runs thanks to countless Cavalier errors and pitching mistakes. The inning featured ten USC batters, three walks, two singles, a wild pitch and three errors including a mishandled bunt back to the pitcher. It wasn't exactly easy to watch as a baseball fan. As a USC fan though, it was pretty neat. When all was said and done it was 9-5 Trojans.
Perryman, who pitched well but was inconsistent with his command, hadn't appeared in a game since April 18th and the rust started to show in the 5th. He walked two hitters, but found a way to get out of the inning unharmed thanks to a pair of big strikeouts. The 6th inning followed a similar narrative after he walked two and hit a batter to load the bases with one out. A Cavalier single followed to bring the score to 9-6, but Perryman was able to limit the damage to just one run after getting a pair of popups to end the inning. Perryman was lifted after opening the 7th inning with yet another walk, but deserves praise for giving the Trojans four innings of much-needed relatively-clean long relief.
But, for the second time in one day, USC's bullpen blew a big lead. In the top of the 8th with one out, USC relievers Brooks Kriske and Jeff Paschke combined for two walks and a hit batsmen to load the bases. A single to left coupled with a Bobby Stahel error would clear the bases and tie the game 9-9. Stahel looked extremely fatigued on the play, and after playing eight plus hours of competitive baseball in one day I can't say I blame him. Brent Wheatley entered the game for the Trojans and worked his way out of the inning, but the damage was already done.
The Trojans' offense seemed to disappear entirely late in the game and a scoreless 9th meant a game that started in May would end in extra innings in June. The Cavs finally got to Wheatley in the 11th with a single, a sacrifice bunt, and a double to take a 10-9 lead. Shortly thereafter, a bases-loaded single coupled with another fatigue-induced error would clear the bases and give Virginia a 13-9 lead. Another error put the Cavs on top 14-9 in a game that was more or less already decided at that point. Remember that earlier inning that was hard to watch as a baseball fan? This was that, again, only this time it was probably pretty neat for Virginia fans. The Trojans scored another run in the bottom of the 11th, but it was irrelevant as USC's postseason run ended only moments later.
The Trojans should be extremely proud of their resurgent season after reaching the NCAA tourney for the first time since 2005, however they have to be disappointed with tonight's result. Fatigue certainly played its part (they had only two hits from the fourth inning on) but USC still had chances to win the game. An exceptional offense is fine and good, but the Trojans pitching staff finished tonight's game with a combined 14 walks (1 intentional) and 3 HBP. They also allowed 21 earned runs over 20 total innings today. You don't have to be a stathead to know those numbers aren't very good and you're not going to win many baseball games that way.
With all that being said, a tip of the cap to the 2015 USC Trojans who finish their season with a 39-21 record and a helluva postseason run. For the first time in a decade, Dan Hubbs has the storied program back on the right track. A special second tip of the cap to all the seniors, but especially Garrett Stubbs who was named Lake Elsinore NCAA Regional MVP and played his last game as a Trojan this evening