After USC baseball dropped its fourth straight game for the first time this season, head coach Andy Stankiewicz called an impromptu meeting.
In a dugout usually occupied by the Los Angeles Angels, Stankiewicz gathered every member of the Trojans’ roster and coaching staff into a huddle for a meeting that would last several minutes following an 8-4 defeat to Long Beach State.
“The message was that we’ve got to be more consistent,” Stankiewicz said. “We’re good in spurts, but this game is not going to reward you being good for one at bat and going away for three, or having one good inning on the mound and not being to repeat it the second time out there. The only way this program is going to become great again is if we get consistent effort and concentration out of nine guys. We lost a little of that.”
The lack of consistency from USC was clear from the start, both on the mound and in the batter’s box.
Tuesday night’s contest between the Trojans and Long Beach State was no ordinary midweek game in the college baseball season. The two teams did battle at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, USC’s first game there in two decades.
The game also promised to be a high scoring affair, given the starting pitching matchup. Junior right-hander Jaden Agassi was making his first start for USC since April 4th, while junior right-hander Jake Rons started just his third game of the season for the Dirtbags with an ERA above ten.
Both starters pitched scoreless first innings, but while Ross continued to pitch well throughout the night, Agassi lost his command in the second. Aided by a leadoff hit batsman and a subsequent four-pitch walk, Long Beach State loaded the bases.
Agassi then buckled down, recording two huge outs to get a path out of the inning. However, junior right fielder Jashia Morrissey-Jakel did the most damage he could with two outs, hitting a grand slam just inside the right-field foul pole to give the Dirtbags an early four-run lead.
The grand slam was just the most damaging example of a consistent theme for Long Beach State: doing its offensive damage with two outs. Junior shortstop Nick Marinconz had another key two-out knock in the top of the third, driving in two runs on a base hit to center field.
Overall, the Dirtbags hit a staggering .529 with two outs in the game, scoring seven of their eight runs in that fashion. The only run scored by Long Beach State without two outs came in the first at-bat of the seventh inning, on a solo homer to left center by junior catcher Connor Burns.
“We’ve got to make the right pitch to finish [innings],” Stankiewicz said. “You’ve got three outs, not two. We can’t be good for one or two batters and then let it slip away on the third, because these are big, strong young men. That’s part of our lack of consistency.”
Throughout the evening, the USC offense had a great deal of trouble against Rons, who pitched his best game of 2023. Rons went six full innings on the hill, his longest outing of his career, while striking out a career-high nine batters and allowing just one run.
The Trojans had 10 base hits on the night, only two fewer than the Dirtbags, but the timing of the hits made all the difference. USC stranded 12 runners while striking out 12 times as a team.
“We have to be better with two strikes and see the ball better,” Stankiewicz said. “This is a pitching staff that’s good, they know what they’re doing. They were expanding with two strikes, and we were swinging at balls. It’s hard to be a good hitting team if you’re not swinging at strikes. We had too many strikeouts out of the zone.”
The lone offensive bright spot for the Trojans was freshman catcher Jacob Galloway. Galloway, making just the seventh start of his career, was 3-for-4 at the plate with a triple and three runs scored.
After falling behind by six runs in the first three innings of the game, the Trojans struggled to catch up all night. In each of the last two innings, they brought the tying run on deck trailing by four runs, but redshirt freshman second baseman Bryce Martin-Grudzielanek and senior pinch hitter Adrian Colon-Rosado grounded out to short each time to stifle the potential rally.
The loss drops USC to 25-18-1 on the season. The most noticeable split for this team in 2023 has been its record at and away from Dedeaux Field; USC is 20-5 at home and 5-13-1 in road and neutral site games.
“I don’t think I can [explain the difference between home and away records],” Stankiewicz said. “That’s part of our development, too. It shouldn’t matter where we’re playing, it’s baseball. It’s the same diamond, everything’s the same.… We have to control our environment better and be concerned not with where we are, but how we play when we’re there.
The Trojans will not have much time to lick their wounds, as they will take on Cal State Fullerton on Wednesday night in a road makeup game, before returning home for a three-game weekend set against the Oregon Ducks.