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USC vs. Arizona baseball recap: Wildcats' comeback bid falls short, swept by Trojans

Just not enough to get over that hump in the late innings.

Jason Bartel

After getting out to an early 5-1 lead, the Arizona Wildcats quickly fell behind 8-5 in the fourth. Even after Arizona came back and tied the USC Trojans in the eighth, the Pac-12's top team manufactured a hard-earned run in the 9th to complete the series sweep with a 10-9 victory.

The Trojans had another huge inning offensively, scoring seven runs in the fourth, similar to the seven-run first they had on Friday.

But the Wildcats fought back in the late innings. After a failed sacrifice bunt attempt by JJ Matijevic in the seventh inning, a swinging bunt by Zach Gibbons put runners in scoring position for Cody Ramer.

Ramer, who was making his second start of the season, poked a single to the second baseman to score a run. A throwing error by USC's Dante Flores trying to get Ramer at first allowed the second run to score, and brought Arizona within a run.

Bobby Dalbec took over on the mound in the eighth, and gave up a single but nothing else.

Justin Behnke led the Arizona half of the eighth off with a walk, bringing up Scott Kingery. In typical Andy Lopez fashion, coach opted to have Kingery bunt, even though he was 8 of his last 9 at the plate.

"It's a real hard (decision)," Lopez said after the game. "And we toyed with not doing it, but we're a home team, and they weren't doing a lot as well. We were letting them win, and it looked like they were trying to let us win too, so we figured what the heck, Newman's a pretty good player, let's give him a shot."

Kingery was unable to get the bunt down, which brought up Kevin Newman. Behnke ended up stealing second during Newman's at bat anyway, which makes the decision to bunt Kingery even more questionable.

Newman walked, and then Tyler Krause came in to pinch hit in the four-hole, which saw four different players in it on Saturday. A wild pitch by Marc Huberman moved the runners into scoring position. Krause then grounded out to short, but that brought in Behnke to tie the game.

Dalbec was up next, and struck out with Newman standing on third.

In the top of the ninth, Dalbec went back out to the mound, and gave up a leadoff walk. But USC was able to do what Arizona could not do for the most part, manufacture a run.

A sac bunt and groundout to the first baseman later, and the Trojans had the go-ahead run on third with two outs. David Oppenheim came up and hit a dribbler to Newman, which resulted in an infield hit and the run scoring from the third.

Arizona had another chance to get the game in the ninth though. The first two batters went down, but Zach Gibbons and Cody Ramer each picked up singles to put runners on the corners for Behnke. A soft liner to short from the junior ended things, and clinched the series sweep for USC.

"The last inning kind of exemplifies the difference between the two clubs," said coach Lopez. "It was kind of a microcosm of what I saw the last two days. What I saw the last two days was a little more toughness on their end than us."

The Arizona lineup had a much different look to it on Saturday, with Behnke in the leadoff spot, and Riley Moore sliding all the way down to the six-hole.

"The only reason we did it is because Riley's been struggling in Pac, hitting about .220," Lopez explained. "So what we did, very creative on my part, I just went through the Pac numbers and put the best five Pac numbers in the first five slots. Damn good coaching."

A benefactor of the new lineup was Cody Ramer, who started in left field for the first time since the 2013 season.

"It was nice," Ramer said of being back in the lineup. "I haven't played left field since my freshman year, but it felt good."

Ramer doesn't even spend practices in left field, which showed up on a liner that was hit to him, and he had to make a leaping grab to compensate for his bad read.

"I've only had one practice in left this year as you could tell from that line drive," he joked. "I was playing him a little deep so I thought it was going to be right at me coming in, and I was like 'Oh crap' so I took one step back and I had to jump."

But the thing that jumps out about not just this game, but the series in general, was the lack of great starting pitching. Seven runs allowed in the first on Friday and seven runs in the fourth on Saturday. That's not how you win games.

"We really didn't do anything right this weekend on the mound," Mathew Troupe said of the pitching staff as a whole. "Every body goes through that. You name the top pitchers in the Major Leagues, they go through it a ton. It happens, but it's what you do that night and how you prepare for the next day. You take an hour, you figure out what you did, move on from there and get going."

With next weekend's series not starting until Saturday, Lopez and the coaching staff have the ability to change up the pitching staff however they want, and it sounds like that's coming.

"I could very easily go Tyger Talley on Saturday," coach stated. " I know he didn't look good today, but he didn't have a normal routine last week because of last Sunday. There's a few options, but it needs to get cleared up. It really does."

"We got work to do on Monday."

After his abnormal workload this week, Talley went 3 2/3 innings, gave up eight hits, walked two guys, and allowed seven earned runs.

The best pitching performance Saturday was from Xavier Borde, who also may have pitched himself into the rotation next weekend. The left-hander lasted three innings, surrendered four hits, and one earned run.

Arizona now has seven days to prepare for next week's Arizona State series, which gets started on Saturday night in Phoenix. The Wildcats are now 22-9 overall and 7-5 in Pac-12 play. With ASU next weekend, and Oregon State the weekend after that, you would think Arizona would need to win at least four of those games to keep themselves in the postseason conversation.