If you’re within earshot of a team’s dugout when it is holding a slim lead late in the game, you are almost guaranteed to hear a coach yell it out as a reminder to the fielders. Corner infielders hug the foul lines and outfielders take a few steps back to try to make sure nothing gets by or over them.
In the ninth inning, USC came out of the “no doubles” defense with the tying run on second base and it ended up costing them a 5-4 loss, according to head coach Frank Cruz.
If the Trojans (17-10, 3-6) end up missing the NCAA Tournament for the seventh straight year, they may look back at Thursday night’s 5-4 loss to Cal at Dedeuax Field as the one that got away.
After USC got out to an early 4-0 lead, Cal (17-10, 2-5) battled back to make it 4-3 before scoring the tying and winning runs in the ninth inning to take the series opener.
After Vince Bruno singled and advanced to second on a ball in the dirt with one out in the ninth, Cruz said he pulled his team out of the “no doubles” defense. Even playing in their normal positioning, the Trojans still couldn’t knock down a chopper up the middle by Mitch Delfino. The ball rolled into centerfield allowing Bruno to score the tying run without a throw.
But it was the next hitter, last year’s Pac-10 Player of the Year Tony Renda, who broke the Trojans’ hearts. With USC playing straight up, Renda lined a ball just inside the third base line that rolled all the way to the wall. The ball bounced around in the corner before defensive replacement Omar Cotto Lozada could corral it, enabling Delfino to score all the way from first.
“I told them I let them down a little bit by not positioning them correctly in the ninth inning,” Cruz said of his post-game speech to the team. “We just have to come back tomorrow and get after it.”
USC slowly built a 4-0 lead, scoring single runs in the second through fifth innings off Cal starter Michael Theofanopoulas, who allowed nine hits in five innings. Brandon Garcia got the scoring started when he singled home Jake Hernandez with a liner to right field.
In the third inning, Matt Foat, who missed Tuesday’s game due to illness, brought home Dante Flores with a chopper through the left side. Kevin Swick went to the opposite field, hitting his first career home run off the scoreboard in right field to make it 3-0. Kevin Roundtree added an RBI single in the fifth.
But the Golden Bears rallied for a pair of runs in the sixth inning when the wheels fell off for USC freshman starter Stephen Tarpley. The southpaw didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning, but in the sixth he lost his command.
Following a catcher’s interference that allowed the No. 9 hitter, Derek Campbell, to reach and a Vince Bruno single, Tarpley walked Mitch Delfino and Tony Renda to score Cal’s first run. Tarpley appeared to get back in the zone recording a strikeout and a popout, but another bases loaded walk scored Bruno and signaled the end of Tarpley’s first career evening start.
Garcia came on and struck out Chris Paul to temporarily get USC out of the jam. The following inning, Cal manufactured a run with a single, sacrifice bunt and RBI single by Bruno.
The Trojans got runners on first and second in the seventh inning but were unable to add to their 4-3 lead. Even though Martin Viramontes pitched an easy eighth inning, USC decided to go to freshman Wyatt Strahan, who had yet to allow a run in his career, to close the game out in the ninth inning.
“About the fifth or sixth inning, we were hoping we could get to Viramontes in the eighth and Strahan in the ninth,” Cruz said. “And we did it. It just didn’t pan out. Like I said, after they tied the game, I didn’t put our guys back in the no doubles [defense] and I let them down.”
In the bottom of the ninth, Joey Donofrio came on for Cal and struck out the side, all on sliders, to earn his first win of the season. Chris Muse-Fisher picked up the win with a hitless eighth inning for Cal. Strahan took the loss.
Bruno finished with three hits, two runs and an RBI. Adam Landecker had three hits for USC while Roundtree also recorded a multi-hit game.
The two teams will return to Dedeaux Field Friday night at 6 p.m. with seniors Andrew Triggs (2-3, 3.38 ERA for USC) and Matt Flemer (4-2, 2.68 ERA for Cal) facing off.
Check out the photo gallery from Thursday evening’s USC/Cal matchup below: