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NCAA BASEBALL REGIONAL AT LONG BEACH

USC Gets Up Early in 7-3 Win

June 04, 2005|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

USC announced its return to the NCAA baseball tournament in a big way Friday afternoon.

Matt Cusick and Roberto Lopez powered a four-run first inning against Pepperdine and the Trojans rolled to a 7-3 victory in the first game of the regional before an announced 2,099 at Blair Field in Long Beach.

The Trojans' status as college baseball's greatest program with 12 national championships took a beating the last two years. They went 52-60 and missed the postseason in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1987.

All that changed after their first playoff victory since 2002 when they advanced to the NCAA super-regionals. USC (38-19) will play Long Beach State today in a winner's bracket game.

The Trojans had only two players with any postseason experience, but USC Coach Mike Gillespie said a tough schedule that featured 11 teams in this year's tournament prepared his team.

"I have the sense that our players feel they ought to be here and they have a chance to do well while they are here," Gillespie said.

It was evident from the beginning. With two out and a runner on in the first, Pepperdine starter Paul Coleman gave up a single, walked a batter and the Trojan offense took advantage as Cusick lined a two-run double inside third base and Lopez followed with a two-run single up the middle.

Coleman got the ball Friday even though he was coming off a rough start against Loyola Marymount last week in the West Coast Conference championship series. The junior left-hander gave up seven earned runs in 5 2/3 innings of a 7-3 loss.

With the stakes raised, he didn't fare any better. Coleman couldn't get out of the fourth; he gave up six runs, four of them earned, and seven hits. He also walked two, hit three batters and committed a costly error that led to two USC runs.

"I just didn't pitch well," said Coleman, who had a 2.99 earned-run average coming into the game. "I didn't locate at all."

USC took a slight gamble and went with left-hander Jack Spradlin instead of All-America ace Ian Kennedy. Spradlin made the decision pay off as he pitched eight innings, allowing a run-scoring single to Steve Kleen in the fourth and a two-run homer to the first baseman in the eighth.

The Waves (38-22) have demonstrated that they can bounce back from a tough loss. In the best-of-three WCC series, they dropped the first game to Loyola before winning two in a row to win the league's automatic and lone bid.

"They came out and they beat us," catcher Chad Tracy said of the Trojans. "We didn't play up to our abilities today. Not even close and that's it."

*

Long Beach State 11, Rhode Island 2 -- Freshman left fielder Jose Hernandez powered the 49ers (37-20) to a rout with his first collegiate home run and drove in a career-high five runs.

Hernandez, who had only two RBIs this season, made the most of his first start since April 1 after Danny Mocny and Scott Bradley struggled defensively in recent games.

In his first at-bat Friday, he hit a three-run homer off starter Dan Frederick to trigger an eight-run second inning after having only two at-bats since his last start.

Rhode Island (34-20) grabbed a quick lead in the first on a run-scoring single by Ryan Cunningham but the Rams looked overmatched in their first tournament game in school history.

Long Beach's Cody Evans (1-2) threw a career-high seven innings, giving up six hits.

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