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Loyola’s Struggling Surico Finds Stuff and Stops Utah

It’s been a tough spring for Steve Surico. After nine rough outings over the last two months, Surico has gone from Loyola Marymount’s pitching ace to a symbol of the team’s early struggles.

Thursday afternoon, however, Surico was a mirror of his old form. He allowed only four hits and struck out eight in seven innings in Loyola’s 5-2 victory over Utah.

The strong outing takes some of the sting out of Surico’s swollen 8.64 earned-run average. Surico’s record improved to 2-4, and while that’s a far cry from the 12-2 mark the big left-hander posted last year as a sophomore, it’s a beginning. Surico also helped the Lions creep closer to the .500 mark, bringing the team’s record to 13-14.

“I think I finally started figuring it out today,” Surico said. “My confidence level hasn’t been very high. Earlier, I figured it would all just happen like it did last year. But it didn’t happen. You’ve got to go out and do it yourself.”

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Last year Surico led Loyola’s staff in wins and strikeouts (89 in 97 innings). For Surico, it just happened in big wins over UCLA, USC, California and Arizona State. Then Surico made it happen again in a key victory against Arkansas in the NCAA Midwest Regional at Stillwater, Okla.

But this year the only place Surico has been happening is out of the strike zone. Going into Thursday’s game, he had surrendered 21 walks in 25 innings.

Against Utah he seemed to solve the mystery of his vanishing control. For the first time this year Surico made it through a start without giving up a walk. Most of his strikeouts came on big curves breaking through the strike zone into the dirt.

“I hadn’t been close with my curve ball in any of my outings until today,” Surico said. “Today was a good place to try to get it back.”

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Surico’s breaking ball was so sharp Thursday that it cost him a run.

Utah second baseman Mike Aranzullo was on third with two out in the fifth inning when Surico broke off a big curve to Utah’s Travis Hansen that exploded in the dirt.

Hansen missed the pitch by about two feet, but unfortunately so did Loyola catcher Miah Bradbury. The ball kicked up out of the dirt into Bradbury’s chest protector, and when it rolled away, Aranzullo sprinted home on the wild pitch.

Utah had gotten an unearned run in the fourth when Hansen scored after throwing errors by shortstop Darrel Deak and Surico and a sacrifice fly by the Utes’ Rob Beck.

Despite racking up 10 hits, Loyola struggled offensively. The Lions took a 2-1 lead in the fourth on a pair of unlikely runs.

Loyola’s Rick Allen, a .413 hitter coming off a two-home run performance in Monday’s doubleheader against the University of San Francisco, started the inning by tapping out a 30-foot infield single that neither Utah pitcher Mark Nilson nor third baseman Hansen could handle. Then Greg Wall and Bradbury--both behind in the count--delivered back-to-back RBI doubles.

The Lions scored three runs in the seventh on a two-run double by Wall and Deak’s sacrifice fly.

Freshman right-hander Joe Caruso pitched the final two innings in relief of Surico, striking out two, and Deak and Kevin Van De Brake turned a slick 6-4-3 double play to close out the game.

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