The Trojans welcomed UC Riverside to Dedeaux Field on a cold Wednesday night for a midweek clash of baseball. USC aimed to get back on track after going winless in their previous four games, but fell short again 6-5.
Sophomore pitcher Fisher Johnson made his first career start for the Trojans on a brisk, windy night in South L.A. with temperatures under 50 degrees for the first pitch. Immediately, the weather played a factor, as a routine flyball turned into a leadoff triple for Riverside. After scoring on a sacrifice fly, the Highlanders ended the first with a 1-0 lead.
Riverside stayed hot in the second, tallying 4 hits to start the inning. Fortunately for the Trojans, a perfect relay from senior left fielder Adrian Colon-Rosado and junior shortstop Ryan Jackson gunned down a runner trying to score from first on a double. However, the Riverside bats kept firing, scoring 2 more runs on 5 total hits in the top half of the second.
USC wasted no time to respond, as senior catcher Connor Clift ripped an RBI single to center to put the Trojans on the board. After loading the bases with 2 outs, Colon-Rosado put his body on the line, getting hit by the pitch and driving in a run. Senior outfielder Cole Gabrielson followed up with a full-count walk, capitalizing on the free bases that Riverside was giving USC.
Senior infielder Nick Lopez looked to continue his early season tear after Gabrielson but came up just short, driving a ball to the warning track before it got caught to end the inning, leaving the score tied 3-3 entering the third.
After setting down both sides in order in the third, sophomore reliever Evan Clarke entered the game for the Trojans in the fourth, striking out three batters in the single inning he pitched. Things started to get sloppy for the Trojans in the fifth, as a leadoff single and 2 walks put the bases loaded for the Highlanders with no outs. After back-to-back sacrifice flies scored 2 runs for Riverside, the Highlanders were able to muster another run on a wild pitch, extending their lead to 6-3.
Senior relief pitcher Ethan Hoopingarner made his season debut for the Trojans, eliminating Riverside’s threat in the fifth. Hoopingarner came back out in the sixth, retiring three of the four batters he faced in the inning via the strikeout.
The Trojans’ bats grew quiet through the middle innings, recording a mere 3 hits over a five-inning span, only putting one runner in scoring position After the first two batters were retired in order in the eighth, things were looking gloomy for the Trojans. Then stepped up Clift, who took matters into his own hands, launching a solo home run to deep left, cutting the lead to 6-4. After a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the ninth, the Trojans looked to pull off some late-night heroics entering the bottom of the frame.
Senior Johnny Olmstead got things started with an infield single. After falling behind in the count 0-1, Gabrielson sent a drive to deep right, a double off the wall, putting the tying run in scoring position. USC was knocking on the door with Lopez coming up to the dish.
Lopez drove in a run after rolling over a ground out to first. The score was now 6-5 with the tying run just 90 feet away and redshirt freshman Bryce Martin-Grudzielanek coming up to the plate. Unfortunately, that was all the fight the Trojans had left, as Martin-Grudzielanek grounded out to short to end the game and the comeback bid.
USC’s offense failed to show up on Wednesday, tallying just 9 hits and 5 runs, only the second time this year the Trojans failed to put up more than 5 runs in a ballgame. The loss now puts USC at 3-4-1 on the year.
“It’s a good lesson for us offensively as well, as we just have to stay within ourselves,” Head Coach Andy Stankiewicz said. “We were chasing out of the zone, we had a lot of lazy ground balls, lazy taps to the infield and a lot of lazy fly balls. When you combine that with the free bases, you’re going to have a hard time winning games, and so that’s what happened tonight.”
The Trojans look to get back in the win column Friday night against Sacramento State at home. This will be the beginning of a weekend slate of games as part of the Southern California College Baseball Classic, and the Trojans will conclude the weekend away against crosstown rival UCLA.
“It’s about being complete and we just haven’t been complete as a team in terms of pitching and better at bats and playing better defense,” Stankiewicz said. “We’re just gonna keep running out there, and we’ll get it figured out. You go through these little growing pains early in the year, so we’ll be ready to go Friday.”