Baseball

USC swept for the first time this season by Arizona

Arizona’s explosive offense overwhelmed the Trojans’ pitching staff in a three-game weekend set.

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The USC Trojans found themselves on the wrong end of a series sweep for the first time this season, dropping three games to No. 18 Arizona over the weekend.

The Trojans knew they would have their work cut out for them against Arizona, as the Wildcats currently lead the Pac-12 in runs and hold the highest batting average in the conference at .331. The Wildcats were able to put up strong offensive performances in each game, winning 8-5 on Friday, 10-6 on Saturday and 8-4 on Sunday.

The combination of Arizona’s high-powered offense and its pitching staff that entered with the third highest ERA in the conference promised a series with a great deal of offensive production, but it took a few innings on Friday night before the bats got going on either side.

USC redshirt junior starting pitcher Isaac Esqueda pitched three scoreless innings to begin the game, helped out by some strong plays by his defense. Freshman second baseman D’Andre Smith turned a double play to get out of the first inning, and a perfect throw by redshirt freshman center fielder Tyresse Turner to nail freshman catcher Daniel Susac at home on a base hit kept Arizona off the scoreboard in the second.

USC appeared to gain momentum in the top of the fourth inning after a solo home run to dead center field by redshirt sophomore designated hitter Clay Owens opened the scoring, but the bottom of the inning would see the team’s lead dissipate quickly.

The Wildcats put together a huge offensive outburst in the bottom of the fourth, starting with a two-run homer by Susac after Esqueda walked the leadoff man. A few more base hits in the inning, including a two-run triple from freshman left fielder Mac Bingham, led to a seven-run frame for Arizona.

This tied for the most runs USC had given up in any inning all season long. Esqueda was able to finish the fourth, but he was replaced to start the fifth by redshirt sophomore right-hander Garrett Clarke, who pitched the rest of the way.

USC scored four of the final five runs in the contest, including a second home run from Owens, but ultimately, the six-run deficit was too much for USC to overcome, and Arizona led the rest of the way to earn the victory. The home run for Owens marked his second consecutive game with multiple long balls, and increased his season total to nine, which leads the team.

The Trojans did show some resiliency on Saturday, taking the lead in the fifth inning after falling behind 3-0 early. Redshirt junior third baseman Ben Ramirez hit a two-run single to give Southern California a one-run lead, capping off a three-run inning. Then, when Arizona regained the lead with a two-run sixth, Ramirez came up with another clutch hit the very next inning with an infield RBI single. The Trojans’ top batter was able to leg out the single on a hard-hit ball to third that sophomore Nik McClaughry bobbled a bit by hustling down the line with two outs.

Arizona was not done offensively, however, as Susac, who finished the series 6-for-13 with five RBIs, hit his second home run of the series to get the lead back in the very next half inning. That home run set the stage for a four-run output for the Wildcats in the seventh and made any hope of a Trojan comeback seem much more bleak.

Although USC hoped to salvage the final game of the weekend set, Sunday afternoon’s matchup was a continuation of many of the same themes from the previous two nights.

The Trojans tried to lead a come-from-behind by tying the game at one in the top of the second on a sacrifice fly from redshirt senior first baseman John Thomas, but Arizona came storming back shortly after. McClaughry knocked in two runs with a one-out double in the second and was driven home by junior center fielder Donta Williams in the subsequent at bat to expand his team’s lead to 4-1.

USC would not get closer than a two-run deficit the rest of the day, in part due to its hard time starting rallies. While the offense did a decent job driving in runners in scoring position, the Trojans did not earn enough opportunities with men on second and third to lead a serious comeback attempt. The team batted 5-31 on the day and was just 0-for-8 with a walk leading off innings.

For comparison, Arizona hit .361 on Sunday, and its leadoff hitters were 4-for-7 with a walk.

Despite Sunday’s struggles, the Trojans will at least exit Arizona with some solid offensive outputs to build on. Owens was 4-for-10 on the series with two home runs on Friday, and Ramirez was able to continue his hot streak, going 5-for-12 and driving in six of his team’s 15 runs.

Ramirez is now hitting .471 in April with three doubles, a triple and five home runs.

The sweep drops USC to 18-16 on the season and 6-9 in conference play, making this weekend the first time all season where USC has fallen below .500 against Pac-12 opponents. The Trojans will head back home this week to take on Pepperdine Tuesday at 6 p.m. before beginning a three-game set with Stanford over the weekend in Los Angeles.