It was a game of missed opportunities for the Arizona Wildcats on Thursday night against the USC Trojans as Southern Cal took the first game of the three-game series by a score of 4-1.
USC rode a three-run seventh to the victory, thanks to some timely hitting that eluded Arizona the entire night. The Wildcats were just 1-for-14 with runners on base on Thursday, stranding eleven runners in the process. USC was 5-for-15. The Trojans were also 9-of-15 in advancement opportunities, while Arizona was just 3-of-14 in that stat.
The Trojans started the seventh inning single-triple-single to chase Arizona starter Cody Hamlin and take a 3-1 lead. After Cody Moffett hit a batter, Nathan Bannister gave up a bunt single to load the bases thanks to Joseph Maggi failing to return to first base.
"We blew a bunt defense, and that was a little discouraging," Andy Lopez said after the game. "Gotta have someone covering first."
"You tip your hat. They put together a really good inning offensively in the seventh, and that's what it came down to. And that's what a Friday night game in the Pac is going to be like."
A strikeout and a failed double play attempt later, and USC had their fourth run in.
All of this came immediately after Arizona had a big chance in the sixth. After drawing two walks, the Wildcats had runners on the corners with one out. Andy Lopez went for the squeeze, but JJ Matijevic was called out at home on a questionable call for the second out of the inning.
"Bad execution," Lopez said emphatically. "You don't bunt the ball back to the pitcher. We're looking for anything down the line."
After going to a 2-0 count against Scott Kingery, USC pulled Brent Wheatley for Brooks Kriske. Kriske gave up a single to Kingery to load the bases, but then induced a Kevin Newman fly ball to right to end the threat.
"If we can get it done in the sixth, maybe we're the ones saying 'Ooh that was a nice night," coach Lopez added.
That wasn't the only time the Wildcats had a legitimate scoring chance.
In the bottom of the second, Arizona had a great scoring chance after an error by USC first baseman Jeremy Martinez would have loaded the bases. But Michael Hoard, who had walked the batter before, got caught straying off second, leading to Bobby Dalbec being put out at home.
"I think Michael thought I was going to get sent, and I thought I was too," explained Dalbec of that play. "I kinda put on the brakes pretty quick. I couldn't tell how far the ball got away from him, so it was kind of tough. Especially early in the game you don't want to give up an out like that."
That was the second out of the inning, and Jared Oliva followed that with a fly out to center, which would have brought Dalbec in had the bases been loaded.
Wheatley walked eight Wildcats in his 5 2/3 innings, but still only gave up the one run in the third inning.
"I'm sure Coach Hubbs over there is saying 'Holy smokes, we walked away with a 4-1 win and our guy walked eight guys," Lopez explained. "That doesn't happen too often."
"Yeah, that's tough," added Dalbec. "It's just little tiny decisions that determine the outcome of the game."
The lone Arizona run was a Scott Kingery home run that went off a picture of his own face on the left field videoboard. It was one of just four Wildcat hits on the night.
Hamlin looked good for the most part until it blew up on him in the 7th. The junior right-hander gave up seven hits and two walks while striking out four in 6+ innings. He did start the game by giving up back-to-back singles. A double play by the next batter brought in the first USC run of the night.
"I was really able to get ahead of hitters, keep them guessing and keep them off-balance," Hamlin said afterwards. "That way I can throw the pitches I want."
"Just a couple mistakes and I ended up paying for it."
Arizona will be kicking itself for the missed opportunities, but Friday is a new day, and these two teams meet again at 6 PM. Robby Medel will be on the mound for Wildcats against USC's Kyle Twomey.