USC baseball began its season Saturday at Dedeaux Field and played a doubleheader as part of the USC Baseball Classic. The Trojans began at 10 am against the Missouri Tigers, but the early start didn’t hamper the intensity at all. From the first pitch, USC came out with great energy and played solid, fundamental baseball en route to a 9-3 beat down of Mizzou. Eight of the nine starters recorded hits and there were a number of clutch at-bats. In the 4th and 5th, the Trojans scored a total of three runs on rallies that began with 2 outs and nobody on. In the 8th, Mizzou–trailing by 3–drew the infield in to cut off the run. Taking advantage of the fielders playing close, Ricky Oropesa struck one into right field to increase the lead. USC was patient, didn’t chase pitches, and used favorable counts to create runs. They were also very aggressive early on and jumped on mistake pitches early. Center fielder Alex Sherrod smacked the ball around with force as well as designated hitter Mike Greco and Joe De Pinto and Matt Foat added RBI doubles.
Defensively, the Trojans played nearly flawless defense and limited the mistakes. Notably, Joe De Pinto showed phenomenal range at second base and made several difficult plays look easy. Freshman shortstop James Roberts also flashed the leather well and displayed a rather strong arm. Roberts committed the only error in Game 1, and it came on a throw he made off of his back foot from just on the outfield grass that one-hopped the first baseman.
On the mound, Friday starter Andrew Triggs provided a quality start for the Trojans. He lasted 4.2 innings surrendering 5 hits and 3 runs (1 earned). Chris Mezger (1.1 innings) earned the win and was the first of five relief pitchers that combined for 4.1 shutout innings. Anytime your bullpen can come in and be dominant, thats a huge plus. USC has plenty of offense, and if the pitching and defense stay at the same level they did in Game 1, USC could have a very successful campaign.
One of the main components of the newfound energy was the crowd. Although not near a sellout, they were loud and rose to their feet for the final out.
Game 2 was probably one of the weirdest contests ever played at Dedeaux Field. USC faced Cal Poly with a first pitch at 1:45 as part of the USC Baseball Classic tournament, and the Trojans emerged victorious 5-2 in a rain-shortened game that lasted 5 innings. USC used the momentum from their season opening win to post a 4-spot in the bottom of the first. Alex Sherrod drove in two with a shot to the wall as the Trojans batted around in the frame. After Cal Poly countered with 2 in the top of the 2nd, USC came back with 1 in the 4th. After the last out was recorded in the bottom of the 5th, the umpires requested the tarp be put on. After about 15 minutes, the tarp was removed and play was about to resume when it began raining again and the tarp was put back on before any pitches were thrown. 30 minutes later, the tarp was removed again and play resumed and it was the top of the 6th. The long delay killed USC’s momentum, and Cal Poly torched the USC bullpen as starter Austin Wood was removed after the 5th because of the long delay. Cal Poly scored 6 runs to take an 8-2 lead and had a runner on second base with 2 outs in the top of the 6th when Frank Cruz came out to make a pitching change. The rain had escalated, and the umpires requested the tarp be put on again. After an hour of severe downpours that included lightning and thunder, the tarp was removed and puddles filled the outfield. Cal Poly players and USC grounds crew worked furiously to drain the field, but drizzle began again. The game was about to being again when the umpires had a discussion and decided the field was unplayable. Because the 6th inning wasn’t completed, the game reverted to the end of the previous inning, and all of the stats were wiped out from the top of the 6th. As a result, USC won the contest 5-2 to sweep the doubleheader.
Junior transfer Austin Wood, USC’s second starter, puzzled hitters for much of the afternoon. A whole section of scouts sat in front of the press box writing down notes and using their radar guns. Wood was drafted in the 4th round by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2010 MLB Draft, but elected to go to USC instead. Wood struggled in the second when he gave up a few hits and 2 runs, but other than that he had incredible command. At his finest, Wood managed a 94 mph fastball to go with an 85 mph change-up that fell off of the table and a 77 mph curveball that darted down and was chased by hitters. Wood recorded the win after 5 innings while fanning 6 and walking 1. He recorded the win in his USC debut.
Obviously, Saturday was just one small sample of the season. Baseball is a marathon, and a lot can happen over the course of the season. USC has the toughest schedule in the country according to boydsworld.com, and things will get very tough when Pac-10 play begins. Nevertheless, the Frank Cruz got off to a tremendous start and there was a certain buzz around the ballpark today. USC has had several losing season in a row as of late, but that doesn’t seem to be weighing on the minds of the players. Instead, they seem more focused on moving forward towards a winning season and a trip to Omaha, and that is the perfect mentality.