It was a difficult end to the series for USC baseball, as the Trojans dropped their final two games of their three-game set with the California Golden Bears this weekend. The series loss drops the Trojans to 12-11 on the season and 5-4 in conference play.
The series got off to a promising start for USC on Thursday night in all facets of the game. The team got its offense going early on the road, starting with a leadoff home run in the second inning from redshirt junior third baseman Ben Ramirez to right field. That shot opened USC’s offensive floodgates; redshirt freshman starting pitcher Aaron Roberts was pulled before he could record an out in the second inning after surrendering the home run from Ramirez, hitting a batter and allowing a single to freshman catcher Garret Guillemette.
The rally continued for the Trojans in Roberts’ absence, as back-to-back singles from redshirts senior shortstop Tyler Pritchard and junior right fielder Jamal O’Guinn scored two more runs.
Ramirez then hit his second long ball of the day in the third inning with a two-run shot to extend USC’s lead to 5-0.
The Trojans got an extraordinary pitching performance from left-handed starter Isaac Esqueda. The redshirt junior had arguably his best pitching performance of the season, going a season-high eight innings allowing five hits and only one earned run while striking out six. Esqueda also demonstrated an ability to get out of jams; the Golden Bears were 0-7 against Esqueda with runners in scoring position.
While Thursday’s victory was a resounding one, Friday’s game ended in a heartbreaking ninth inning for the Trojans. USC, which trailed the contest 2-0 and 3-1 at different points throughout the night, put together a strong rally in the sixth to tie the game. Redshirt freshman center fielder Rhylan Thomas legged out an RBI triple on a deep fly ball to right field to score O’Guinn, and redshirt senior first baseman John Thomas evened the score with an RBI single in the following at-bat.
In the top of the ninth inning, the Trojans had an excellent opportunity to give themselves their first lead of the game after a leadoff double from redshirt sophomore designated hitter Clay Owens and a single from Ramirez brought the go-ahead run to third with nobody out. However, the offense could not capitalize, as three straight batters hit ground balls for outs to end the inning. Redshirt freshman pinch-runner Connor Cirillo attempted to score from third on a grounder from Guillemette, but he was thrown out at home.
In the bottom of the ninth, sophomore center fielder Dylan Beavers did not squander his opportunity to be the hero, hitting a single into shallow right field that scored senior second baseman Darren Baker for the 4-3 walk-off victory.
Whatever offensive struggles USC dealt with in that disappointing ninth inning seemed to carry over to Saturday afternoon, a 5-1 defeat in the rubber game of the series.
The Trojans’ bats were quiet in this one, mustering one hit in the first eight innings and only three for the game. They had only one hit in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position. The first five batters in USC’s lineup struggled especially, combining to go 0-for-16 for the day. The only USC run came in the game’s final frame on a sacrifice fly from freshman second baseman Nate Clow.
The one bright spot from this frustrating offensive performance came from Ramirez, who continued his hot streak with the Trojans’ only extra base hit of the afternoon, a leadoff double in the ninth. The infielder finished the series 6-for-10 with three home runs, four RBIs and four extra base hits.
Cal got its offense going early against redshirt sophomore starting pitcher Alex Cornwell, scoring all five of its runs in the first three innings. Three of those runs came on a third-inning homer from senior third baseman Quentin Selma, who finished the day with four RBIs.
The Trojans will try and shake this series this weekend as they begin a three-game set with Dixie State on Friday.