USC’s Dante Flores is currently facing the same mental battle. After making his first error of the season late in a game at Washington State a week and a half ago, Flores has struggled throwing to first base, making two crucial 12th inning throwing errors Tuesday night in USC’s 8-5 loss to Loyola Marymount.
Because he has been one of the most consistent hitters for USC (19-11), Flores has been playing in left field since the Washington State series. But when outfielder Sean Spear pinch hit for second baseman James Roberts late in Tuesday’s game at Dedeaux Field, Flores returned to second base.
“When I [moved him to second base], I didn’t second guess it,” USC head coach Frank Cruz said. “He made errors and he has to get better. That’s all there is to it, so we’ll work with him and help him get better.”
Flores’ pair of throwing errors led to four unearned runs in the 12th inning and USC’s first loss to Loyola Mrymount (14-14) since 2008. It looked as if the Trojans were in line for their seventh final at-bat and fifth walk-off victory, but they couldn’t push a run across in the 11th inning after loading the bases with one out.
The Trojans also left the bases loaded in the ninth inning after scoring a pair of unearned runs to tie the game and couldn’t get anything across with the bases loaded in the seventh inning. In total, USC left 15 men on base.
Loyola Marymount took a minimalist approach. The Lions stranded only five runners the entire game. They also scratched out eight runs on only eight hits.
USC got on the board first with an unearned run in the second inning. Jake Hernandez scored on a James Roberts infield single after reaching on a throwing error by shortstop Scott Harkin.
The Trojans manufactured another run the following inning. Garret Houts was hit by a pitch to lead off and moved to second on a ground ball. After stealing third with a massive jump, Houts scored on a high chopper to third base that Alex Guthrie couldn’t handle.
Loyola Marymount finally got to starter Nigel Nootbaar in the fourth inning. With two outs, the Lions chased Nootbaar with a single and a double — the only two hits he allowed. Colton Plaia singled home both runs off reliever James Guillen to tie the game.
The Lions took the lead in the seventh inning on an RBI single by freshman Tanner Donnels and added an insurance run when catcher Jake Hernandez hit the bat while trying to throw to second base on a double steal. Hernandez was charged with an error.
LMU had a great opportunity to end the game in the ninth inning. With one out, Aaron Griffin (pictured above earlier this year) got a dribbler back to the mound that could have easily been a game-ending double play. But Griffin turned a fired the ball into centerfield, allowing a run to score and everyone to be safe.
USC tied the game on the next pitch with a perfectly executed squeeze bunt single by Garrett Stubbs. Kevin Swick reached on a fielder’s choice to load the bases, but Brandon Garcia struck out to send the game to extra innings.
Griffin picked up the win despite a blowing the save in the ninth inning. He struck out four in two three innings of work. Wyatt Strahan took the loss for USC despite allowing only two hits and a walk in 3 2/3 innings.
Matt Foat reached base four times and drove in two runs for USC. Cullen Mahoney and Plaia each had a pair of RBI for the Lions.
After the game, we talked with the two head coaches.
LMU head coach Jason Gill, who defeated USC for the first time as a head coach:
USC head coach Frank Cruz, who previously coached at LMU for 12 years: