LOS ANGELES — No. 16 Oregon took an 8-4 victory Saturday afternoon at USC’s Dedeaux Field. The Ducks took advantage of six USC errors, including four in the game-changing six-run eighth inning. The Trojans have now lost five straight and eight of nine.
After allowing Oregon (15-5, 2-0) to take a 2-0 lead with unearned runs in the fifth and sixth inning, USC (7-11, 0-2) struck for four runs in the bottom of the sixth, chasing Oregon starter Tommy Thorpe. Bobby Stahal, who finished with three hits in his first career start, started the inning with a single and eventually came around to score on an Adam Landecker sacrifice fly. USC then got a walk and four consecutive singles to score three runs with two outs.
But after a seven-pitch seventh inning by USC starter Wyatt Strahan, the Trojans went to the bullpen, which has been implosive recently. Saturday was no different, but reliever Nigel Nootbaar got no assistance from his defense as the Ducks scored six runs on five hits and four errors.
In stark contrast with USC, Oregon’s relievers carried them. Darrell Hunter picked up the win in relief with 1 1/3 scoreless innings while Garrett Cleavinger and Jimmie Sherfy threw spotless innings to close out the game after the Ducks took the lead.
The Game Changer:
It was an inning that USC will hope never is brought back to their memory.
Sometimes when you make a mistake, you can quickly compound that by trying to overcompensate. That happened to the young Trojans. Freshman shortstop Blake Lacey committed three errors in the game, freshman outfielder Vahn Bozoian committed two throwing errors in the eight inning and sophomore reliever Nigel Nootbaar missed the bag when covering on a groundout to first base.
Nootbaar had a rough outing from the very beginning. He walked the leadoff man in the eighth on four pitches. After getting an out on a grounder up the middle that hit off of his leg, Mitchell Tolman singled up the middle to cut USC’s lead to 4-3.
The inning almost ended right there as pinch hitter Steven Packard lined a hit and run to right field. Bozoian had a chance on the play, but a moment of hesitation cost him the catch. Instead of diving head first and potentially reeling the ball in and getting a double play with the runner on the move, Bozoian got caught in between diving and pulling up and letting the ball bounce. He slid feet first and knocked the ball down, but rose to his feet and just chucked the ball toward the middle of the diamond where there was no USC player. The throwing error allowed Packard to advance to second base putting the tying and go-ahead runs both in scoring position.
Ryan Hambright grounded deep into the hole at shortstop, scoring the tying run, but he also reached base as Lacey wasn’t able to field the backhand cleanly. First baseman James Roberts came to get a nubber and flipped it to Nootbaar for what could have been the second out once again, but Nootbaar stepped over the bag allowing J.J. Altobelli to reach.
With the bases loaded, Scott Heineman provided the big blow as he hit a shot out to right field that kept carrying and carrying. What first looked like a potential sacrifice fly turned into a two-run double as the ball ricochetted off the outfield wall to give Oregon a 6-4 lead. A sacrifice fly and an RBI single by Ryon Healy provided the final two runs of the inning and gave the Ducks an insurmountable 8-4 advantage.
Oregon head coach George Horton talks about his team’s comeback as well as getting the series win opening weekend of conference play:
USC starting pitcher Wyatt Strahan on his 7 IP, 0 ER outing Saturday:
USC head coach Dan Hubbs talks about the disappointing loss, how his young team panicked and the importance of salvaging a win from the series on Sunday:
- Scott Heineman - 3-for-5, 2 R, 2B, 2 RBI
- Mitchell Tolman - 2-for-2, R, 2B, RBI, BB, HBP, SB
- Garrett Cleavinger - IP, 0 H, 0 BB, K
- Jimmie Sherfy – IP, 0 H, 0 BB, 2 K
- Wyatt Strahan – 7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 4 BB, 2 K
- Bobby Stahal – 3-for-4, R
- James Roberts - 2-for-4, R
The Bottom Line:
It’s pretty simple. If you commit four errors in an inning, the other team is going to score and if you commit six errors against a top 25 team, you are going to lose. Both of those things happened to USC on Saturday as seven of Oregon’s eight earned runs were unearned.
The Trojans have shown they can play with top 25 teams, beating Oklahoma last week, losing one-run games to Cal State Fullerton and Notre Dame and having a chance in both games this weekend. But the Trojans youth and inexperience has shown. They are going to have to mature and quickly have their freshmen figuratively become sophomores. Otherwise, USC is in danger of getting steamrolled in the potent Pac-12 for a second year in a row.
George Horton’s teams may not be the most attractive brand of baseball because they aren’t going to sit around and wait for the three-run home run, but they will definitely make you pay for your mistakes. If you can’t make plays defensively, Oregon is going to rattle your cage and make you squawk. The Ducks showed that ability once again on Saturday and it’s something that is going to carry them back to Regionals once again this season.
It is still yet to be determined if Oregon has enough offensive firepower to beat the fundamentally sound ball clubs at the top of the Pac-12, but if the Ducks can hang around until the late innings, their bullpen is one of the best in the conference and will give them opportunities to win any close game.
Also check out the 20-shot photo gallery from Saturday’s ballgame.