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Light-Hitting Trojan Helps Oust Pepperdine

Estrella's two-run triple sends USC to a 5-2 victory and a berth in the super-regional.

June 07, 2005|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

Hector Estrella is a regular in the USC lineup primarily because of his defense at second base. The sophomore, however, delivered with his bat Monday night to help put the Trojans back among college baseball's elite.

Estrella delivered a two-run triple in the sixth inning to break open a tight NCAA regional championship game against Pepperdine and push USC to a 5-2 victory in front of 2,277 at Blair Field in Long Beach.

In its first postseason since 2002, USC (40-20) advanced to the best-of-three NCAA super-regional at Oregon State. The teams met last month at Corvallis, Ore., with the Beavers taking two of three games en route to the Pacific 10 Conference title.

Estrella opened the season in a three-for-25 slump, but Coach Mike Gillespie kept him in the lineup because of his slick fielding in the hope that his offense would pick up. It did, and the second baseman rewarded his coach with his biggest hit, a line drive down the right-field line on an 0-and-2 pitch from left-hander Paul Coleman that gave the Trojans a three-run lead.

"I was looking for something to drive hopefully in the gap to score the runs," said Estrella, who hit .281 in the regular season. "The count got deep, and I was looking for an away pitch and I got it."

Said Gillespie: "Hector's at-bat was giant."

The Trojans had only four hits, but they were enough as Jack Spradlin, Anthony Encinas and Paul Koss combined to limit Pepperdine (41-23) to eight hits. Koss escaped jams in the seventh and eighth innings and pitched a hitless ninth to get his 12th save.

USC also played terrific defense. Matt Cusick, who went nine for 12 in the regional and was named most valuable player, took a hit away from Adrian Ortiz at first base and Darin Vieira made a diving catch in left field to rob Patrick Rooney. Third baseman Billy Hart also made a number of nice plays.

Spradlin, a junior college transfer, performed well on two days' rest after throwing 105 pitches Friday in a 7-3 victory over the Waves to open the regional. He gave up two runs and four hits and threw 78 pitches in 4 2/3 innings.

After Sunday night's 9-2 victory over the Trojans to set up Monday's decisive game, Pepperdine Coach Steve Rodriguez assessed his remaining pitching options. One option he hoped to avoid was bringing back Coleman, his ace this season, on two days' rest.

The Waves started freshman Adam Olbrychowski, but the hard-throwing right-hander struggled with his command from the outset. The first inning started badly when he hit Blake Sharpe with his first pitch as USC would score twice without needing a hit.

Sharpe later scored on a wild pitch on ball four to Billy Hart. Matt Cusick, who walked, later scored on a sacrifice fly by Roberto Lopez. Olbrychowski walked two more in the second inning to force Rodriguez to bring in Coleman.

USC made it 3-1 when Cusick, who reached on another walk, scored when second baseman David Uribes threw wildly past first base on a potential inning-ending, double-play grounder.

The Waves responded the next inning as Steve Kleen scored on a fielder's choice to cut the lead in half.

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