When USC freshman pitcher Mitch Hart walked the first two Stanford batters of Sunday's game, Coach Dan Hubbs had to be wondering where the Mitch Hart of the first month of the season had disappeared to.
Hart started his USC career strongly, compiling a 5-0 record and a 2.15 earned-run average in his first six collegiate appearances. But in his next six starts, he struggled in all but one outing. He gave up three or more runs in five of his six starts and didn't pitch more than six innings once.
One of the areas of concern was his command. He walked just six batters in his first five starts but had handed out 18 free passes in the last six. He added to that total with the first two Stanford batters before settling in for arguably his best performance of the year.
With the series on the line, Hart gave up just five hits and walked only one batter after the first inning to lead the Trojans to a 2-0 win at Dedeaux Field. He tossed up zero after zero in a tight game, pitching his second shutout of the season.
AJ Ramirez doubled home a run in the fourth inning and Dante Flores added an insurance run with an RBI single in the eighth inning as the No. 14 Trojans (34-16, 15-9) took the rubber match of a series that featured three tight games.
USC won the opener Friday with another shutout performance. Kyle Davis, who has been the Trojans' primary closer the last two seasons, made the most of his second start of the season -- something he's been lobbying Hubbs for. Davis gave up six hits and no runs while striking out 10. The 10th strikeout came on a 2-2 pitch with the bases loaded in the ninth inning. On his 123rd pitch of the game, Davis got Alex Dunlap swinging at a breaking ball.
The only run of the game came via Ramirez, who built on last week's Pac-12 Player of the Week honors with a solo home run. He lined a two-strike pitch the other way over the right field fence and Davis took care of the rest.
For the weekend, USC starting pitchers combined for 24 scoreless innings. On Saturday, Kyle Twomey tossed six scoreless and left the game with a 2-0 lead. But Stanford (21-27, 7-17) rallied for three runs in the eighth inning. Matt Winaker drew a bases loaded walk and Austin Barr hit a two-run single to put the Cardinal ahead. USC got the tying run to second base in the ninth inning, but Tyler Thorne struck out Ramirez and pinch hitter David Edson to end the game. Thorne picked up the win with three hitless innings of relief.
The series win for USC, coupled with Arizona State's series loss to UCLA, puts the Trojans in a three-way tie for second place in the Pac-12 standings with Cal and Arizona State, who happen to be USC's final two Pac-12 opponents this season.
The Trojans will open an important three-game series at Cal's Evans Diamond at 1 p.m. Saturday.