School may be over, but the USC baseball team is still hard at work, having won two out of three games against Washington State this past weekend.
April was a challenging month for USC, as the team went 6-10 and earned just one series victory (against Arizona State). The struggling Trojans looked poised for yet another season of losses. But recently the team has reversed its course, catching fire in the month of May.
Two weeks ago, USC defeated Cal twice in a row to secure its third conference series of 2018. The Trojans followed up by defeating Washington State last Friday and Sunday, giving the team its first consecutive series wins of the 2018 campaign. Now, USC is back at .500 with a chance to notch its first winning record in three years.
The keys to USC’s small-scale “resurgence” have been solid hitting and capitalizing with runners in scoring position — the latter being an area the team has struggled in all season (the team is ninth in the Pac-12 in runs batted in). In their two wins over now-29-19 Golden Bears, the Trojans converted 27 hits into 20 runs scored. Even when USC dropped a game 6-2, it still managed to record 10 hits against Cal, proving the team’s ability to notch hits against tough competition.
USC carried over its hot-hitting streak into this weekend’s series against Washington State. On Friday, the Trojans defeated the Cougars 8-6, anchored by a three-hit, three-RBI performance from redshirt junior designated hitter Stephen Dubb.
The Trojans would go on to lose to Washington State 8-4 on Saturday, preventing a much-needed sweep of the 15-27-1 Cougars. USC once again turned in a solid day at the plate, with 11 hits from nine different players. But pitching woes haunted USC early on, as junior starter Quenten Longrie (4-5) gave up 6 earned runs in the first three innings. USC’s batting order was unable to close the gap. A 4-run surge in the eighth and ninth innings proved to be insufficient, forcing a series-deciding game on Sunday afternoon.
USC got out to an early advantage on Sunday thanks to location trouble from Cougars junior starting pitcher Parker McFadden. He walked four batters in the second inning alone, giving up 2 runs on walks with the bases loaded. McFadden was quickly replaced by sophomore reliever AJ Block. In the fourth inning, USC exploded with 4 runs including one off of a double by junior outfielder Lars Nootbaar. Nootbaar displayed his best hitting performance of the season, with a season-high four hits in five at-bats.
“It was good to see [Nootbaar] get four hits,” said USC head coach Dan Hubbs in a video posted on the team’s Twitter page.
The Trojans compounded their early lead with 3 runs in the final two innings, finishing off the series with a 9-3 victory. Junior starting pitcher Solomon Bates handled the Cougars’ batting order with aplomb. He pitched seven innings, gave up just 2 runs (on two home runs) and struck out seven batters.
“Any time we get seven strong innings, you know we have a good shot,” said Nootbaar of Bates performance. “[Bates] did his job today and offensively we took care of business.”
Later this week, USC will stay home for a series against No. 4 Oregon State. The 38-8-1 Beavers are coming off of a series loss to No. 2 Stanford.