USC’s pitching dominates in series sweep of San Diego State

The Trojans allowed just four runs in three games in their third sweep of the year.

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One would be hard-pressed to find a hotter team in college baseball than USC.

In their final non-conference series of the year, the Trojans took all three games against San Diego State over the weekend. Sweeping a series is challenging enough on its own, yet USC won all three games comfortably, winning 12-2 on Thursday, 7-2 on Friday and 7-0 on Saturday at Dedeaux Field.

Saturday afternoon’s victory over the Aztecs marked the 15th win for the Trojans in their last 18 matchups. USC has taken at least two games in all but one weekend series so far this year, with this weekend marking its third sweep.

The key to victory for the Trojans was the dominance of their pitching across all three games. Their four runs allowed in the series were the fewest given up in a three-game set since 2015.

“It’s all starting pitching,” head coach Andy Stankiewicz said after the game. “The guy that starts and puts the ball in his hand in inning one has got to be the tone setter. We got three really good starts over the weekend between [junior] Tyler [Stromsborg], [sophomore Caden] Aoki, and [redshirt freshman] Eric [Hammond] today. We got that because of those guys.”

On Thursday night, Stromsborg took the mound. While his outing was not quite as good as his complete-game shutout a week prior, it was still more than enough to earn his fourth win of the season.

The only hiccup Stromsborg had came in the top of the third, allowing back-to-back home runs from redshirt sophomore center fielder Shaun Montoya and junior catcher Poncho Ruiz. The home runs not only gave San Diego State a 2-0 lead, but also ended a shutout streak of 18 innings for the right-hander.

However, Stromsborg kept the Aztecs off the scoreboard for the remainder of his start. Over the next four frames, the Trojans’ starter allowed just one base hit. He finished with two runs allowed on four hits in seven innings pitched, while recording seven strikeouts. It was the fifth straight quality start for Stromsborg.

“[Stromsborg] has shown himself to be a legit Friday night guy for us,” Stankiewicz said. “You always want a guy that takes the ball on a Friday night who’s going to be competitive and make pitches. He’s done that three or four times in a row.”

Offensively, USC got production up and down the lineup, as six of its nine starters were credited with at least one RBI. Senior third baseman Johnny Olmstead was the biggest contributor, going 3-for-3 at the plate with five RBIs. Olmstead evened the score in the bottom of the third, with a double down the left-field line that brought two runners home.

In the fourth, freshman center fielder Austin Overn drove in the go-ahead run by hitting the ball to the opposite field to score junior shortstop Ryan Jackson. That pattern of timely hitting continued throughout the entire game, as the Trojans compiled 14 base hits against Aztec pitching and hit .381 with runners in scoring position.

“A big component of our offense is going to the back side,” Stankiewicz said. “Coach [Travis] Jewett has done a great job of making sure our guys understand that with two strikes, if they want to work away, we have to take the back-side knock. A good offense uses the whole field, so if we can continue to do that, it will certainly be helpful.”

In the sixth, Olmstead struck again, hitting a moonshot to deep left field that easily left the park. Besides Olmstead, Overn had the only other multi-hit game for the Trojans. He was 4-for-6 at the plate with two RBI’s.

Junior pitcher TJ Fondtain started the game for San Diego State on Friday night. Overall, the left hander was very effective in his six innings of work, allowing just one earned run.

That run came in the bottom of the second. On the very first pitch of the inning, senior right fielder Cole Gabrielson crushed a ball to the opposite field that deflected off the top of the glove of sophomore right fielder Tyler Glowacki and left the park. The solo shot was Gabrielson’s first homer since March 15th.

After Gabrielson’s long ball tied the game, USC earned the lead by taking full advantage of every mistake the Aztecs made. Junior left fielder Carson Wells scored an unearned run in the fourth on a sacrifice fly from Olmstead to give his team the lead. In Fondtain’s final inning of work, the Trojans added two more insurance runs when Ruiz threw the ball past third base on a double-steal attempt.

The Trojans knocked in three more runs against the Aztec bullpen, one on a monstrous solo shot by senior first baseman Nick Lopez.

San Diego State’s starting pitching was good, but USC’s was even better. Right hander Caden Aoki pitched a career-high six innings, allowing just one unearned run on three hits. He also set a new career high with seven strikeouts.

Aoki was remarkably efficient, facing the minimum in three of his six innings of work. He only threw 71 pitches in his start, thanks in part to senior catcher Connor Clift, who threw out two baserunners.

Senior reliever Kyle Wisch finished the job for the Trojans, getting the final six outs of the game in dominant fashion. The right-hander pitched two innings of no-hit ball to shut the door.

Looking for the sweep, Hammond got the ball for USC on Saturday afternoon. Following in the footsteps of Stromsborg and Aoki, he delivered his best start as a Trojan.

The right-hander matched his career high in length, giving his team five full innings of two-hit, shutout baseball. It was the first time in his career Hammond did not allow a single run.

The fifth inning was the only time Hammond retired the side in order, but he was at his best pitching from the stretch. In the first four innings, Hammond stranded five baserunners.

After Hammond’s day came to an end in the sixth, the USC bullpen picked up right where he left off. Sophomore relievers Fisher Johnson and Caden Connolly, along with redshirt senior Garrett Clarke, pitched the final four innings out of the bullpen and did not allow a single hit.

Overall, San Diego State was held to just two base hits in 29 at-bats Saturday for a batting average of .069, and the Aztecs hit 0-for-12 with runners on.

Once again, the Trojan offense put together a consistent offensive day, scratching runs across home plate in all but three innings in which they came to bat. In the leadoff spot in the bottom of the first, Overn reached base on a bunt single. Two at-bats later, senior left fielder Adrian Colon-Rosado went the other way for a single into left field to drive in the first run.

After showing off his speed his first time up, Overn used his power in the fifth. With a runner on first, he hit a two-run homer to right field that cleared the wall in a hurry and extended the USC lead to 5-0. The freshman was 2-for-4 on the day, and 7-for-14 over the weekend.

“He’s exciting to watch,” Stankiewicz said. “He’s not trying to hit home runs, he’s trying to hit line drives and hard ground balls. That’s a guy who can beat you different ways. As a freshman, just watching his growth has been very impressive.”

The Trojans improved to 20-10-1 on the season with the three-game sweep. They will wrap up their streak of five straight non-conference home games on Tuesday night when they welcome in Cal State Fullerton.