USC badly needed a series win against Washington State this weekend. The Trojans entered the three-game set having lost 10 of their previous 13 games, while the Cougars traveled to Los Angeles at 10-14 in conference play.
The Trojans earned that much-needed series win as quickly as possible, taking the first two games from the Cougars at Dedeaux Field. Though they were unable to finish the sweep on Sunday, they leave the weekend back even at .500 and with their skid of six straight Pac-12 series losses finally over.
“It’s been a while since we’ve won a series, and we’ve been really close a handful of times,” head coach Jason Gill said Sunday. “Taking the first two and winning the series — it’s very big.”
Sunday’s 13-2 drubbing was an outlier in all the wrong ways for USC, as the first two wins of the series were both hard-fought wins for the Trojans. They were able to get it done those days in quite different ways: After 11 hits and eight runs made up for some uneven pitching on Friday for an 8-6 win, redshirt sophomore righty Chandler Champlain picked up his offense when the bats went quiet on Saturday en route to a 3-2 USC victory.
Champlain gave the Trojans the best start of the weekend and arguably his best performance of the season. He fired six scoreless innings — surrendering just two hits — before running into some trouble in the seventh, finishing the day with a line of two runs in 6.1 solid innings.
It was an excellent bounceback outing from the hard-throwing Champlain, who got roughed up for six earned runs over 3.1 innings last weekend against Oregon State.
“He had his curveball going pretty good,” Gill said of Champlain’s outing against Washington State. “When he has command of that curveball, that’s a big league curveball, so when he has command of it, that’s probably the separator between him this week and him the week before.”
It also came on a day when the Trojans ultimately needed Champlain to be at his best. A two-out rally that featured back-to-back RBI doubles from freshman catcher Garret Guillemette and redshirt senior second baseman John Thomas in the fourth, plus a sac fly in the fifth, were all the bats could muster against the Wazzu pitching staff.
It was all they’d need. Redshirt sophomore righty Toby Spach got six big outs — including the last of the seventh to leave the bases loaded and preserve a one-run lead — and freshman two-way Nate Clow recorded the final out of the game for his fifth save of the year, clinching the series.
“I’m proud of our bullpen and the development in there,” Gill said. “It’s gotten a lot better from the first week of the season to now.”
The Trojans were set up with the chance to win the series because of Friday night’s victory, in which USC let a 7-1 ballgame become slightly more tense at the end before escaping with an 8-6 win.
Redshirt junior designated hitter Jamal O’Guinn broke out of a 2-for-18 mini-slump in a big way, finishing a homer shy of the cycle in a 3-for-5 effort to pace the Trojans’ 11-hit attack.
O’Guinn’s second hit of the ballgame was a two-out RBI single in the fourth. It was the final run of a massive six-run frame for the Trojans, and it was also O’Guinn’s second hit of the inning; he got the fun started by tripling high off the right center field wall before USC batted around.
Redshirt junior lefty Isaac Esqueda started on the mound for the Trojans, going 6.2 innings — his third-longest start of the season — and surrendering four runs, two of which scored after redshirt senior lefty Quentin Longrie relieved him with two outs in the seventh. Esqueda’s ERA climbed to 3.01 on the year, the lowest of USC’s starters.
The Cougars brought the tying run to the plate in the eighth with two men on, no outs and a real chance to at least chip into what was then a three-run lead, but Longrie retired Wazzu’s 6-7-8 hitters to get out of the jam.
The game was probably not as close as the final score would suggest. Redshirt sophomore right-hander Garrett Clarke gave up a two-run homer to graduate designated hitter Tristan Peterson to make it 8-6 with two outs in the ninth, but Clarke retired the next hitter to end it and keep the tying run in the on-deck circle.
Sunday’s finale was what they call a “stinker” for the Trojans. USC took a 1-0 lead on an O’Guinn double in the first, but from there it was all Cougars, then some more Cougars and finally a whole lot of Cougars to cap it off. A seven-run third inning that saw redshirt sophomore Alex Cornwell exit before recording an out was ultimately far too much for USC to overcome. Cornwell left in a 4-1 game with runners on second and third and no outs, and by the time his book was closed, six runs had been charged to his line.
The Trojans will hope this was just a blip in the road for Cornwell. The southpaw surrendered just one run in each of his previous two starts, going eight innings against Stanford and 6.1 against Oregon State.
The Cougars pounced for four more runs in the seventh, putting the game out of reach if it wasn’t already. They finished with 13 runs on a staggering 20 hits. It was tied for the most hits USC has allowed all year (LMU matched that total in the third game of the Trojans’ season).
“Washington State can really hit,” Gill said. “Their team batting average is [.300 — second in the Pac-12] — so it’s not like they just hit today. We held a very good offense down for two days, and they got to us today.”
O’Guinn picked up another three hits on Sunday to finish the weekend 6-for-12 with a triple, two doubles, two runs and two RBIs.
“He’s an extremely talented young man,” Gill said. “He’s very capable of carrying anybody’s offense, and so when he gets going, it helps us out a lot …. He’s a big part of our offense. He bats in the four hole, so getting him hot, hopefully these last two weeks he can kinda continue what he did this weekend.”
Fresh off the series win, the Trojans will travel to Fresno to take on the Fresno State Bulldogs Tuesday at 5 p.m. It’ll be the second and final meeting of the year between the two schools, with USC taking the first 2-1 on April 13.
The Trojans used 11 pitchers to top the Bulldogs in that matchup, and Gill said it’ll be another bullpen game this time around.
“On a Tuesday, we’re just trying to make sure we save bullets for the weekend,” Gill said. “Hopefully we don’t have to use 11. Maybe only eight or nine.”