Wheatley pitched 6 1/3 innings allowing just one earned run on four hits, two walks and two hit batsmen. He struck out four before handing the ball to the lefty Sean duo of Silva and Adler, who pitched the final 2 2/3 innings without giving up a hit.
Dante Flores provided the pop for the Trojans (5-3). He hit a solo home run in the third inning to give USC a 2-1 lead it would never relinquish. Flores finished 3 for 5 with two runs scored and a stolen base.
The Game Changer:
It wasn’t quite a pitching gem for the Trojans as they walked five batters and hit another three. Three times Long Beach State had golden opportunities to plate runs. Three times the Dirtbags came away with nothing.
In the fourth inning, Eric Hutting was hit by a pitch and Jeff Yamaguchi collected a single to put runners on first and second with no outs. Instead of manufacturing a run with its 8-9-1 hitters, Long Beach State hit two fly balls and a ground out to end the inning.
After retiring ten consecutive in the middle innings, USC starter Brent Wheatley gave up a single to Michael Hill in the seventh inning, prompting the Trojans to go to the bullpen. Trying to hold a 2-1 lead, Sean Silva got a groundout but then walked Jeff McNeil and hit Juan Avila to load the bases. Up for the Dirtbags was their No. 3 hitter, Ino Patron, who had Long Beach’s lone RBI with a two-out double in the third inning. Though he hit the ball sharply, Patron couldn’t provide the two-out magic again as he grounded a pitch straight to Kevin Swick at third base.
USC closer Sean Adler gave Long Beach State one last opportunity to get back into the game in the final frame. He walked the first two batters on ten pitches to bring the tying run to the plate. But then he buckled down and struck out Brenner and McNeil before getting Avila to ground into a force out to end the game.
Best Defensive Play: In the first inning, Dirtbags starter Nick Sabo worked up in the zone and the top of USC’s lineup jumped all over him. Greg Zebrack and Adam Landecker hit hard ground balls through the left side. After showing bunt for two pitches, Dante Flores showed bunt, but pulled back and used the slash play. He flopped a ball into shallow centerfield for a base hit.
Zebrack immediately got the waving arm from third base coach Gabe Alvarez and trucked toward home plate. As he did, petite centerfielder Colby Brenner came up firing. The left-hander threw a perfect one-hop strike to Hutting, who was positioned perfectly to block the plate. Zebrack tried to slide around the tag to no avail as Hutting put the glove firmly on the “j-a-n-s” on the left side of Zebrack’s Trojans jersey.
Best Pitch: Freshman reliever Sean Adler entered in the ninth inning and promptly walked the 8-9 hitters to start the inning, bringing the tying run to the plate. Maybe he just needed the pressure? Adler regained his composure and managed to strike out Brenner and Jeff McNeil before getting Juan Avila to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the game.
Against the final three batters, and McNeil in particular, Adler used a 71-72 mph curveball that he calls a slider to keep them off balance. The lefty threw it mostly arm side. It had a quick 1-to-7 break that worked effectively, but Adler has an even better breaking ball he chose not to unveil in the outing. Thrown from a lower arm slot, Adler throws a true slider that appeared to be breaking 2-to-9 in the bullpen. The pitch looked like it would be devastating on lefties, but he chose not to use it up in the count against McNeil. Hopefully, we’ll see it in future outings. Mixed in with the curveball he threw, Adler could have a potent pair of off-speed offerings.
USC head coach Dan Hubbs talks about Brent Wheatley’s performance as well as how he feels his young staff has performed two weeks into the season:
USC sophomore first baseman Dante Flores speaks about his first home run of the year, his approach against left-handed pitchers and his transition to first base:
Long Beach State head coach Troy Buckley talks about the Dirtbags’ disappointing showing at USC, pitching depth concerns and the development of Richard Prigatano:
Long Beach State
- Jeff Yamaguchi – 2-for-4, 2B
- Juan Avila - 0-for-2, R, BB, 2 HBP
- Dante Flores – 3-for-4, 2 R, HR, GW RBI, SB
- Adam Landecker – 2-for-5, 2 R
- Brent Wheatley – 6.1 IP, 4 H, ER, 2 BB, 4 K, 2 HBP
- Sean Silva - 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, BB, HBP
The Bottom Line:
Long Beach State has a much more viable opportunity to compete for a conference title and an NCAA regional berth, but the Dirtbags resume is not boosted by a loss to a young USC squad that doesn’t figure to factor in the Pac-12 race. The Dirtbags should be kicking themselves after Tuesday night’s performance. Though they didn’t hit the ball well, they had opportunities thanks to the five walks and three hit batsmen.
The Dirtbags had multiple chances with runners in scoring position and its top hitters at the plate, but finished 0 for 12 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 men on base.
LBSU head coach Troy Buckley said there are depth concerns on the pitching staff, partly due to the loss of weekend starter Ryan Strufing and closer Kyle Friedrichs for the season after Tommy John surgery for both. Buckley needs a couple pitchers to take hold of jobs. The entire staff is getting chances due to the depth issues, but inconsistency by pitchers like Nick Sabo and Ryan Millison have left slots available for the taking.
Until that happens, the Dirtbags need their offense to carry them. Veterans like McNeil, Avila and Patron and the team’s best hitting prospect Richard Prigatano can’t combine to go 0 for 6 with RISP.
USC did a great job of answering back after Long Beach scored its only run in the third inning to tie the game, 1-1. That’s something Hubbs has been preaching over and over and something USC has done fairly well so far this season. Just another cog in the development of a team trying to return to national prominence.
The Trojans have proved already in two weeks to be a scrappy team. They continue to play every game tight. Of the Trojans eight games, only two have had more than a three run margin (and one of those was an extra-inning loss). They dodged some potential big innings Tuesday night by making some good pitches with men on base, but the young pitching staff needs to attack more. It’s something that will come with time as the freshmen that are playing a huge role right off the bat get more and more comfortable.
While it is unlikely for the Trojans to seriously compete at the top of the conference this season, this year could be a tremendous confidence booster leading into next season when all of the young players USC is playing (nine freshman and four sophomores have played significant roles so far this season) are more fully developed. For USC to be a thorn in the side of the rest of the Pac-12, it is going to need its youth to theoretically have developed into sophomores and juniors by the time conference season rolls around.
Also check out the 17-shot photo gallery from Sunday.