LOS ANGELES — Even without their leading hitter in the lineup, the USC Trojans continued to show their resiliency, coming back from a 4-1 deficit to knock off Pepperdine 5-4 in a non-conference matchup Tuesday night at Dedeaux Field.
By defeating Pepperdine, USC avenged its first loss of the season while continuing the Waves recent slide. After starting 17-5, Pepperdine has now dropped seven of its last eight games.
USC was without leading hitter Matt Foat, who Cruz sent home from the ballpark due to illness, but took a quick 1-0 lead in the first inning on Kevin Roundtree’s RBI groundout. The Trojans gave that back in the fourth inning. Pepperdine put three runs on the board in the fourth, taking advantage of an error by shortstop James Roberts.
Pepperdine added another unearned run the following inning when USC threw the ball away while attempting to turn a double play. But as has been the case all season, the Trojans battled back.
Brandon Garcia led off the bottom of the fifth with a double down the left field line and scored on James Roberts’ single to right field. After a pair of walks by Garret Houts and Kevin Roundtree loaded the bases, Jake Hernandez delivered a two-run single with a flare over second baseman Joe Sever’s head, tying the game 4-4.
“He’s having some good at bats. We have to settle him in on a defensive position,” USC head coach Frank Cruz said. “He has to be in our lineup. Right now, he’s obviously one of our better hitters.”
Houts walked again in his next at bat. USC then was able to manufacture the go-ahead run. Houts got a great read on a pitch in the dirt to move to second base and then advanced to third on a ground ball. Then with two outs, senior Kevin Roundtree came up clutch with a grounder through the right side of the infield that proved to be the game-winning RBI.
Garcia, who had started every other USC midweek game, picked up the win in relief. Instead of Garcia, Bobby Wheatley got his first career start and was fantastic. The left-handed sophomore did not allow a hit in three innings, but he was pulled in an attempt to save his arm to potentially start on Saturday if Ben Mount is unable to pitch. Mount’s availability is questionable after he took a batted ball off his knee over the weekend at Washington State.
Cruz said Wheatley, Martin Viramontes and Wyatt Strahan are all being considered for the spot, if Mount can’t go. Viramontes also made a strong case when he struck out four batters in the final two innings to pick up his fourth save of the season.
Hernandez and Roundtree both finished with two RBI while Garcia was the only hitter, for either team, to record multiple hits. Houts was the Trojans’ catalyst. He reached base three times and scored three runs.
Since being inserted in the lineup for an injured Alex Sherrod six games ago, Houts is only batting .200, but he’s done a little bit of everything for USC offensively. He’s taken five walks, laid down three sacrifices, scored seven runs, hit two extra base hits, stolen three bases and driven in a pair of runs.
USC next plays Thursday when the Trojans host Cal for a three-game series at Dedeaux Field. Pepperdine will travel to St. Mary’s hoping to break out of the recent funk with a three-game series beginning Thursday.
Check out the photo gallery from Tuesday night’s USC/Pepperdine matchup below: