For a team that had been outscored 25-7 between March 3-6, USC baseball fared unexpectedly well during a weekend in which it faced three different top-25 teams.
Taking on No. 14 Oklahoma and star pitcher Dillon Overton in the weekend opener on Friday, the Trojans played arguably their most complete game of the season en route to an impressive 5-3 win. Some 25 major league scouts — including a few MLB general managers — were in attendance at Dedeaux Field on Friday night to see Overton, but the Trojan bats jumped all over the projected first-round draft pick for 13 hits over eight innings, handing Overton his first loss of the year.
“That team is probably going to win the Big-12,” said USC head coach Dan Hubbs after Friday’s win over the Sooners. “Overton is one of the best pitchers in the country. And we can go out there and beat him and bang out 13 hits on him. We played our game tonight.”
Hubbs has said throughout the season that USC will be able to compete with anyone in the country when the Trojans “play their game,” and that was evidenced on Friday. The Trojans had been embarrassed in their previous two games, with overanxious hitting overshadowed by unwatchable pitching. But junior ace Bobby Wheatley was in command all game against Oklahoma, tossing 6 1/3 innings while allowing just one earned run (three total) on seven hits with three strikeouts and three walks to his name.
The Trojan bullpen, responsible for 13 runs the previous two games, shut out the Sooners the last 2 2/3 innings, yielding just two baserunners. Sophomore Nigel Nootbaar threw a scoreless eighth and ninth to seal the victory.
“For Nootbaar to come out and shut the door like he did, that was really encouraging,” Hubbs said. “I just feel like we did a better job of letting the game come to us.”
Throughout USC’s three-game mini-losing streak heading into the weekend, the Trojans were an abysmal 5-for-35 with runners in scoring position and a .143 batting average. Hubbs and several players attributed this to the Trojans pressing at the plate, trying to do too much with pitches that were realistically unhittable.
“We did a much better job of finding a pitch that we can handle,” Hubbs said. “There’s a lot of pitches that look good that we can’t do anything with. We’ve been swinging at a lot of balls that are [chest-high], and they’re just fly-ball outs. And so we’ve made a really concerted effort to attack the ball the right way. We did a better job of finding the box that we can do things in.”
Senior infielder Adam Landecker, who was 3-for-4 with four RBIs in his first game back from a hamstring injury, echoed Hubbs’ sentiments.
“I feel like if I do well, it gets the team going,” Landecker said. “It was really a great team win against a great team, and hopefully we can build momentum off of it.”
The Trojans appeared to carry some of that momentum into Saturday’s matchup against No. 26 Notre Dame, but ultimately the Irish came away with a hard-fought 2-1 victory.
It was a classic pitcher’s duel as USC sophomore Wyatt Strahan battled Irish starter Adam Norton. Strahan tossed an impressive six innings of one-run ball, his lone blemish being a solo home run to Irish slugger Eric Jagielo.
But Strahan was bested by Norton’s seven stellar innings. The Trojans lone run came in the second when freshman infielder Blake Lacey doubled, advanced to third on a grounder and scored on a single by freshman outfielder Connor Sullivan.
The Trojans threatened in the ninth against Notre Dame closer Dan Slania, putting runners at the corners with one down for junior designated hitter Jake Hernandez. With two strikes, Hernandez attempted a gutsy suicide squeeze, but popped up the would-be game-tying bunt right to the Slania, who doubled off the runner at third to end the game in stunning fashion.