In the fifth annual Tony Gwynn Classic last weekend, USC defeated both Seattle University and host San Diego State, picking up a loss against Southern Illinois in between.
This event, which honors former SDSU head coach and Major League Baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, also hosted Arizona, Iowa, Nebraska and the University of San Diego with some of the most high-profile talent in the nation.
On Friday, the Trojans showcased their best prospect — junior right-hander Kyle Hurt — on the mound against Seattle. Hurt, currently the No. 93 prospect in the 2020 MLB draft, compiled eight strikeouts with no earned runs over five stellar innings against the Redhawks.
Sophomore first baseman Clay Ownes provided the run support for USC, recording the first four Trojan RBIs with a three-run dinger in the first and a sac-fly in the fifth.
Junior left-hander John Beller came on in relief for Hurt. Beller held the Redhawks to just one earned run on two hits over the final four innings to secure his first save and a 6-2 victory. In nine innings out of the pen this year, Beller has a 2.00 ERA, striking out 35% of opposing batters faced.
“[The bullpen is] getting stronger and that’s gonna be huge for us,” said USC head coach Jason Gill. “Those guys coming out and competing is a great job by them.”
USC continued its dominance on the mound in Game Two on Saturday against Southern Illinois, debuting its new camouflage uniforms.
Despite junior left-hander Isaac Esqueda holding Southern Illinois to one earned run over 5 1/3 innings of work, the Trojans could only muster one hit in those frames against senior left-hander Brad Harrison.
With Harrison pulled in the sixth, the Trojans capitalized on an RBI single by graduate first baseman Ben Wagner to tie the game at one.
Southern Illinois immediately responded, scoring off a passed ball and wild pitch in the next two innings to make it a 3-1 ballgame.
On the mound, the Salukis’ junior right-hander Trey McDaniel shut down the Trojan offense the rest of the way, preserving the two-run lead over the final three innings with five strikeouts.
In its worst offensive performance of the 2020 campaign, USC recorded only one run on four hits, striking out nine times in the 3-1 defeat.
In Game Three on Sunday against host San Diego State, it was the same story early on for the Trojan lineup. The Aztecs’ sophomore starter Aaron Eden held USC to no runs on only one hit over the first four innings.
“We didn’t hit well [Saturday] and then the first four innings today — those things can kind of snowball,” Gill said after the game.
USC redshirt sophomore Alex Cornwell also struggled in his start on the mound, surrendering nine hits and five runs over just 3 2/3 innings of work.
Down 5-0 in the top of the fifth, the Trojans’ bats finally started to wake up.
USC put its first run on the board on an Aztec throwing error, snapping a seven-inning scoring drought going back to the day before. A single by freshman center fielder Rhylan Thomas then loaded the bases for junior shortstop Ben Ramirez.
Ramirez delivered with a huge bases-clearing opposite field triple down the left field line. On the next pitch, junior third baseman Jamal O’Guinn poked a soft single to right field through against the shift to drive Ramirez in and tie the game at five.
“To beat guys like that you got to use the whole field,” Gill said. “So what they did was [go] the other way with the baseball, and it paid off.”
The Trojans never looked back. USC brought home six more runners over the final four frames to total eleven unanswered runs, defeating San Diego State 11-5.
“I was really proud of everyone today [because of] the way we stuck with it,” Gill said. “Now we gotta get on a bit of a roll.”
USC will try to get rolling on the road Tuesday against No. 24 Cal State Fullerton, beginning a stretch of five games in six days.