LOS ANGELES — Two pitchers not long on starting experience performed impressively Tuesday night. But the one with the longer leash, USC sophomore Brandon Garcia, helped lead his team to an 8-1 nonconference baseball victory over visiting UC Irvine.
Sophomore Nick Hoover, making his first start this season, was breezing through 3 2/3 innings for the No. 23-ranked Anteaters, before issuing a walk and getting the hook. What followed proved to be the beginning of the end for UCI, and another setback to the Anteaters' quest to improve their postseason plight.
Garcia, making his second start in 18 appearances in 2010, avoided a visit from the home dugout, until there were two outs in the eighth.
Garcia, who went six innings in his only other start on May 19, allowed three hits and one run in 7 2/3 innings. He struck out six and walked four and threw 111 pitches to earn his second win in five decisions. In a continuing trend, things went south for UCI (34-19), when it summoned freshman southpaw Andy Lines from the bullpen in the fourth inning.
Lines, who has had four tough outings in a row, walked the only two hitters he faced. Both came around to score in a three-run rally that erased the visitors' 1-0 lead.
In his last four appearances, Lines, typically called upon to duel left-handers, has faced six hitters. He has walked four, allowed one hit and got one out. He has allowed three runs in that span.
Lines took the loss and fell to 1-1. The Trojans (26-31) scored four more off of UCI relievers with two outs in the eighth, though two errors on the same play by sophomore shortstop Tommy Reyes made all four unearned.
Alex Glenn drove in two runs with a single to open the USC scoring and greet UCI reliever Kyle Hooper.
Garrett Houts followed with an RBI single to make it 3-1. Joe DiPinto singled in a run for the hosts in the seventh. Ricky Oropesa, who went three for five, drove in one run and Cade Kreuter, the grandson of UCI Coach Mike Gillespie and the son of USC head man Chad Kreuter, singled in two runs in the four-run ninth.
Kreuter, a freshman designated hitter who homered in the first game against UCI, an 8-6 USC win on May 4 at Anteater Ballpark, had three of his 22 RBIs this season against UCI.
The Anteaters had only four runners advance past first base, the first of which scored in the fourth inning.
Senior second baseman Casey Stevenson, who reached in all four plate appearances (three walks and a fielder's choice), walked to open the frame. With two outs, Stevenson advanced to second when Drew Hillman was hit by a pitch.
Senior catcher Francis Larson followed with a single to drive in Stevenson and stake UCI to a lead.
UCI produced a threat in the eighth, when Reyes singled with two outs and Stevenson followed with a walk. But sophomore reliever Chad Smith battled Brian Hernandez in a 10-pitch at-bat that resulted in an inning-ending groundout to the first baseman.
The three hits were the fewest in a game this season for UCI, which has scored one or fewer runs just five times this season.
Hoover allowed two hits and struck out a career-high six. The Anteaters enter the final Big West Conference series, beginning Friday at Long Beach State, with a two-game lead over Pacific in the race for second place. Cal State Fullerton has clinched the conference crown. But every win could help increase the Anteaters chance to earn a better regional seed and, perhaps a more favorable regional pairing.
Nonconference USC 8, UC Irvine 1 SCORE BY INNINGS
UCI 0 0 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 — 1 3 2 USC
0 0 0 3 0 0 1 4 X — 8 10 1 Hoover, Lines (4), Hooper (4), Orozco (7), Summers (7), Whitehouse (8) and Larson; Garcia, Smith (8), Odom (9) and Castillo. W – Garcia, 2-3. L – Lines, 1-1. 2B – O'Neill (USC), Houts (USC).
Nonconference UC Irvine…8USC…8