LOS ANGELES — Pepperdine scored five runs in the sixth inning to break a 3-3 tie and eventually take a 9-4 victory at USC’s Dedeaux Field Tuesday night. The win snapped a four-game losing streak for the Waves.
Kolten Yamaguchi smacked a two-run homer to break the 3-3 tie and put the Waves ahead. After freshman reliever loaded the bases later in the inning, Bryan Langlois cleared them with a double that one-hopped the right field wall.
An inning later Yamaguchi struck again with his second career home run on a hanging changeup from Shane Gonzales.
USC threatened in the eighth inning as erratic Alex Najera walked a batter, hit two batters and threw two wild pitches, allowing one run to score, but before the Trojans could trim the lead further, Pepperdine head coach Steve Rodriguez went to closer Michael Swanner. Swanner stranded both runners and finished off the game, striking out three of the six batters he faced.
Mat Snider picked up the win with three innings of relief, allowing one run on four hits. Pepperdine starter Jackson McClelland only threw two innings after pitching in relief Saturday and Sunday.
The Game Changer:
When starter Brent Wheatley had control issues early, USC was forced to go to its bullpen much earlier than it had hoped. Wheatley lasted only two innings before he got the hook after allowing two hits, three walks and an unearned run. The inconsistent young arms in the pen have struggled recently and Tuesday was no different.
Freshman Marc Huberman threw well for two innings, but being extended for the longest outing of his short career, he allowed Pepperdine to tie the game when he left a pitch up to Bryan Langlois. Langlois crushed it to left-centerfield where even a diving attempt by the speedy Conner Sullivan at the warning track couldn’t haul it in. Fellow freshman Kyle Davis then had the worst outing of his young career, allowing five runs while recording only two outs in the sixth inning.
Freshman Shane Gonzales gave up Kolten Yamaguchi’s second home run in his two-thirds of an inning before Brooks Kriske and Nigel Nootbaar actually provided the relief in relief pitching. Head coach Dan Hubbs that while there are some mechanical issues that are being cleaned up, the main issue with his young group of pitchers is confidence. The Trojans again gave away too many free passes, walking seven and hitting another — one game after giving UCLA 11 free passes.
It all goes back to getting some quality innings from your starter. Brent Wheatley hasn’t provided that in his last two outings and that’s been a Game Changer.
Best Defensive Play: In the fourth inning, Pepperdine freshman Cody Nulph sent a one-hop rocket to the right side. Adam Landecker went to his right and caught the ball with a sliding backhand. He spun around, took his time and fired to first to get easily nab Nulph.
Best Pitch/Pitcher: With Pepperdine holding a 9-4 lead after Alex Najera allowed a run without a hit, Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez wasn’t going to mess around. The Waves were already in the midst of a four-game losing streak so Rodriguez went straight to his best bullpen arm and brought in closer Michael Swanner.
Swanner struck out the red hot Blake Lacey, who is hitting over .400 early in his USC career, and got James Roberts to groundout to end the inning. Swanner stayed low in the zone and used his fastball that is typically 88-91 mph along with a strong slider to strike out two in the ninth before getting a flare to first base to end the game. Though it was not a save opportunity, it was important for Pepperdine to close out the game without any stress.
Pepperdine outfielder Bryan Langlois talks about the Waves bouncing back from their four-game skid and how a change in approach helped them offensively:
Pepperdine catcher Kolten Yamaguchi discusses his two home run effort and the onus that is on him and James Grandpre to replace an injured Nate Johnson:
I also talked with USC head coach Dan Hubbs, but had some technical difficulties with the recorder. Friend and colleague Nick Burton (@NickMBurton) was kind enough to share his Hubbs post-game audio. Here’s some of the quotes:
On recent pitching struggles:
“We have to pitch better in the bridge. I think [Bob] Wheatley, [Wyatt] Strahan and [Kyle] Twomey have given us a chance to win their starts. [Nigel] Nootbaar has seemed to have accepted the end of game role and wanted to take it on. Now we have to figure out who can be the three or four other guys to bridge the gap and then be able to help us win mid-week games.”
On the bullpen:
“Right now, it seems like we’re flipping a coin. Which guy are we going to get today? They’ve all performed well at one point and then they’ve all performed poorly with the exception of [Marc] Huberman cause I thought he threw well again today, for the most part. The scary part is do I have to have two guys ready in the bullpen behind them.”
On how he feels about the team entering conference play this weekend:
“I said at the beginning of the year, ‘We’ll be as good as when our freshmen become sophomores.’ My hope is that, with the new season starting Friday, it becomes sooner than later.”
When I talked to Hubbs, I asked him about the decision to move Blake Lacey to shortstop, James Roberts to third base and Kevin Swick to first base. He said he wanted to make the move sooner, but Adam Landecker’s hamstring issue forced him to wait until over the weekend.
Though Lacey has been swinging the bat well, Hubbs said the move wasn’t just to keep his bat in the lineup, but because of Roberts’ defensive struggles at shortstop. Since the move, Roberts has made two errors at third, though he was charged with one when UCLA’s Brian Carroll’s hard slide on a stolen base kicked the ball out of his glove.
Hubbs believes Roberts’ defensive woes stem from a lack of confidence and he’s hoping some extra practice time at the new position leading up to this weekend’s Pac-12 opener against Oregon will help get him on track.
- Austin Davidson – 2-for-3, 2 R, 2 BB
- Bryan Langlois – 3-for-4, 2 2B, 4 RBI, BB
- Kolten Yamaguchi – 2-for-5, 2 R, 2 HR, 3 RBI
- Michael Swanner - 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, BB, 3 K
- Blake Lacey – 2-for-4, 2 R
- AJ Ramirez - 2-for-4, 2B, RBI
- Brooks Kriske - 1.2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, BB, 2 K
The Bottom Line:
Per USC beat writer Nick Burton, the Trojans started the season with a 2.96 ERA through the first nine games. Since then, someone has been pumping the helium as the ERA has skyrocketed to 6.41. During that span, USC has not surprisingly lost six of seven. The Trojans are relying on two freshmen almost every night in the outfield and fellow freshman Blake Lacey appears to have taken over the shortstop position for now, so their are going to be offensive growing pains as well. The Trojans are not going to win many games if they are relying on the offense to score seven runs per game.
For Pepperdine, a win couldn’t have been more opportune. This weekend, the Waves open conference play with Loyola Marymount, another team expected to compete with Pepperdine, San Diego and San Francisco atop the West Coast Conference. Entering on a five-game losing streak could have been trying for a relatively young squad. Instead, Pepperdine enters following a strong offensive performance — something that was non-existent last weekend against Seton Hall.
The Waves will have to continue to get contributions from Yamaguchi and James Grandpre at the catcher position in the absence of senior Nate Johnson, who was due to have an MRI on his injured knee Monday and I didn’t see in the dugout Tuesday night. Aaron Brown is still a couple weeks away from rejoining the lineup as he continues to recover from hamate bone surgery. He did pitch on Sunday and entered as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning against USC. Until he and Hutton Meyer return to the lineup, the onus will be on Bryan Langlois and Austin Davidson to carry the load while guys like Yamaguchi and Ranny Lowe will have to continue to step up.
Also check out the 16-shot photo gallery from Tuesday night’s game at Dedeaux.