Isaac Esqueda learned the hard way Friday that baseball is a cruel game.
The redshirt junior lefty dazzled early in USC’s evening matchup with Cal State Fullerton, scattering just two hits through four scoreless innings. Esqueda had everything working, particularly his offspeed stuff, en route to five strikeouts and no walks in the first four frames.
The Trojans entered the fifth inning knotted up with the Titans at 0-0, and that’s when things took a turn for the worse for USC. CSUF sophomore left fielder Jackson Lyon deposited one of Esqueda’s few mistakes high into the trees in left center for the game’s first run to lead off the fifth. Esqueda then ran into more trouble in the sixth, surrendering two more runs on a walk and three singles before being pulled with two outs in the frame.
Meanwhile, the Trojans were stymied at the plate by junior righty Tanner Bibee, who outdueled his counterpart by firing a complete game shutout on his birthday. Bibee’s stuff was electric all evening despite fanning just five batters.
Bibee allowed only three hits on the night: a dribbler through the left side by sophomore first baseman Clay Owens in the fourth, a bloop to right by redshirt junior right fielder Jamal O’Guinn in the seventh and an infield single by redshirt freshman shortstop Tyresse Turner in the ninth.
With O’Guinn on first and two outs in the seventh, Bibee threw a 1-2 curveball to redshirt junior third baseman Ben Ramirez that the righty thought was strike three as he started to walk off the mound. He didn’t get the call, but Bibee retired Ramirez on a 4-3 groundout two pitches later to end the frame and strand the Trojans’ second of three baserunners on the evening.
Friday was the first time USC has been shut out since May 2018, but it was the third time through seven games this season that the Trojans have been limited to three or fewer hits.
The Titans added two more runs in the eighth against freshman right-hander Jaden Agassi — who allowed two hits and two walks while striking out three in 3.1 innings — but it didn’t matter. The masterful Bibee was in full control from start to finish, needing just 88 pitches to finish off the Trojans two hours and 11 minutes after first pitch.
USC flashed quality defense on Friday, committing just one error after combining for 13 in its previous four games. The Trojans’ fielding was highlighted by a backhanded flip from Owens to freshman catcher Garret Guillemette to nab Lyon at the plate with runners on the corners and one out in the third inning.
The Titans’ offensive attack was led by Lyon, whose home run was one of a team-high three hits. Freshman center fielder Nate Nankil and junior designated hitter Austin Schell also had multi-hit games, with Nankil driving in three of CSUF’s five runs.
The Trojans, who drop to 3-4 on the season, will look to bounce back Saturday against 1-6 Pepperdine at 2 p.m.