After spending more than 12 hours at The Diamond at Lake Elsinore, the USC Trojans walked off the field with their heads hanging and their bodies sore.
The Trojans’ first trip to the NCAA tournament in 10 years came to an end in the Lake Elsinore Regional early Monday morning after a 14-10 loss in 11 innings to Virginia.
Saturday afternoon the Trojans rallied for three runs with two outs in the ninth inning to defeat San Diego State, 12-11, to advance to Sunday night’s matchup with Virginia, which made it to the College World Series final last season.
Following a shaky start in the first inning Sunday night, USC carried the momentum from its earlier win into a 9-5 lead through four innings.
The Trojans were poised to force a winner-take-all regional finale on Monday when holding a 9-6 advantage leading into the eighth inning. But issuing walks finally caught up with USC. In total, the Trojans walked 14 batters and hit three others.
Virginia had threatened throughout the game because of the Trojans’ inability to throw strikes only to have the Trojans work out of every jam.
However, in the eighth inning, Virginia (37-22) loaded the bases with one out on two walks and a hit batter. Pavin Smith then delivered a line drive through the left side that ended up tying the score. Rather than being a one- or two-run single, the ball got under the glove of left fielder Bobby Stahel and rolled all the way to the wall, clearing the bases and tying the score, 9-9.
It was a nearly identical play to right field that broke the game open for the Cavaliers in the 11th inning. Virginia took a 10-9 lead on Kevin Doherty's RBI double. Another pair of free passes loaded the bases, and Matt Thaiss lined a single to right field that went past AJ Ramirez to the wall.
Thaiss finished two for three with three runs scored, three RBIs and four walks. He scored the Cavaliers’ final run on the Trojans' fourth error of the game.
“I think fatigue probably had something to do with some of the mistakes, mentally, physically,” USC Coach Dan Hubbs said. “Our guys battled their butts off all day today and I couldn’t be more proud of this group."
Virginia scored four runs in the first inning, needing only two hits while taking advantage of two walks given up by Trojans starter Bernardo Flores. But the USC offense picked up its pitcher in a big way.
Virginia starter Alec Bettinger only lasted five batters, each of them reaching base. After Stahel was hit by a pitch, back-to-back doubles got USC on the board with two runs. Following a single, Dante Flores hit a two-run triple to tie the score. He scored on a sacrifice fly to give USC a 5-4 lead after a 40-minute first inning.
Virginia tied the score in the second inning, but USC added four runs in the fourth inning, capped by a two-run double from Jeremy Martinez to drive in his seventh and eighth runs of the day after he had four in the first game.
The Cavaliers advance to a super regional. They await the results from the UCLA regional to determine their fate for the next round. If UCLA defeats Maryland on Monday night, Virginia will stay in Southern California to face the Bruins next weekend. A Maryland victory sends both the Terrapins and the Cavaliers back across the country to play each other.
The Trojans' season concludes with a 39-21 record. It was a season that pushed college baseball’s most prolific program back in the right direction.
“We came into the year and the kids said they wanted to make a statement and bring the program back to relevancy,” Hubbs said. “Well, I think they’ve done that. I told them that as painful as it is to lose, there’s no reason to hang their heads, they had a hell of a year.”