USC relies on bullpen in 8-1 win over Loyola Marymount

Clay Owens led the way on offense with two home runs.

sports, baseball

Who needs starters anyway?

USC used eight different relief pitchers en route to a commanding 8-1 victory over Loyola Marymount on Tuesday in a game that featured excellent hitting and pitching from the Trojans.

The Trojans started off strong in the first, as redshirt freshman second baseman Tyresse Turner hit a leadoff double down the left field line before scoring on a sacrifice fly from redshirt junior third baseman Ben Ramirez. Sophomore left hander Diego Barrera started for Loyola Marymount; the Trojans had scored three runs in one inning across two appearances for Barrera earlier this season.

However, the Lions quickly responded in the top of the second with a solo home run by freshman first baseman Will Grimm off of redshirt freshman Ethan Hoopingarner. The righty made his first start of the season for the Trojans, after having been used exclusively in relief prior to Tuesday. One of those relief appearances was a clean save against LMU on March 30.

Interestingly, Hoopingarner only pitched two innings and was relieved by redshirt sophomore Carson Lambert and freshman Tyler Stromsborg, who each made their 2021 debuts with a scoreless inning. With Stromsborg on the mound in the top of the fourth, redshirt freshman Rhylan Thomas made an incredible catch, crashing into the wall in center field to prevent an extra-base hit.

USC head coach Jason Gill appeared to be giving his usual starting pitchers a rest day on Tuesday, instead opting to rely on some of the lively extra arms in his bullpen.

“We have a lot of guys that haven’t had opportunities and we haven’t had a lot of mid-week games,” Gill said. “So it was nice to give some of them a chance to prove themselves.”

After Barrera exited prior to the bottom of the fifth, USC found some more offense, thanks to another sacrifice fly from Ramirez against freshman reliever Owen Hackman. Redshirt senior first baseman John Thomas then knocked in Turner with a RBI bloop single to extend the Trojans’ lead to 3-1.

Meanwhile, the Trojans continued to get outs from fresh pitchers against a struggling Lions offense. Also making his season debut, redshirt sophomore Patrick Hubbs pitched an easy fifth inning, and redshirt freshman Ethan Reed cruised through a 1-2-3 sixth in just his fourth appearance of the year.

“Some of those [relief pitchers] are fighting for a chance to leave with us. We only have a 27-man travel roster … There’s like four of them fighting for one spot,” Gill said. “They made it tough tonight because they all pitched pretty well.”

Redshirt sophomore designated hitter Clay Owens added another insurance run in the sixth with a home run off the right field scoreboard, his sixth of the season. In the seventh, Turner scored his third run of the day on another productive out — a fielder’s choice by Thomas — followed by an RBI single from redshirt junior left fielder Bart West.

The USC offense stayed aggressive, as Owens then smashed another home run to right field, this time with a runner on, to solidify the Trojans’ hold on the game.

In five games against LMU this season, Owens is 9-for-19 with seven RBIs and a pair of two-homer games. Luckily for the Lions, they won’t have to face him again this season.

“I’m pretty sure [Owens] wishes he could play them every game,” Gill said, chuckling. “He seems to see the ball well off of them for sure.”

The USC bullpen remained solid, as freshman Charlie Hurley, redshirt sophomore Toby Spach and redshirt senior Gus Culpo combined to throw three shutout innings as USC triumphed over LMU for the fourth time this season, holding the Lions to just a run on four hits.

The Trojans scored eight runs on 10 hits in an offensive display that could build some momentum going into three consecutive challenging series against Arizona, Stanford and Oregon State. All three schools are currently in the top four of the Pac-12 conference standings.

“Every week we’ve gotten better … Our conference is tough and we are playing against really good competition,” Gill said. “We got to start making a surge here, and we got to start taking series two out of three.”

USC finishes its homestand with a 18-13 record, including 6-6 in conference play. It will head to Tucson for a three-game weekend series against Arizona beginning Friday at 6 p.m.