Feb. 15, 2014
USC 4, Northwestern 3 (11)
Dedeaux Field Los Angeles, Calif. Attendance: 598
Box Score | Box Score
LOS ANGELES -- Nine innings simply were not enough to settle an epic battle between the Northwestern Wildcats and the USC Trojans on the opening night of the 2014 campaign Friday. After being thwarted in several attempts to win the game down the stretch, the Trojans finally got it done with an unearned run in the bottom of the 11th to secure a 4-3 victory at Dedeaux Field in Los Angeles.
Northwestern got to the extra frame with the help of a pair of clutch hits in the top of the ninth and an acrobatic defensive play in the bottom of that inning. USC closer Brent Wheatley retired pinch hitters Antonio Freschet and Jack Mitchell to begin the ninth inning, but Kyle Ruchim, one of three NU captains, would not go down quietly. His team trailing, 3-2, the Buffalo Grove, Ill., native blasted a double to the gap in right-centerfield to keep the ballgame alive. The next batter, catcher Scott Heelan, promptly laced a single to left field that allowed Ruchim to hustle around third and beat the throw of USC left fielder Omar Cotto to the plate.
The Trojans appeared poised to overcome the late hiccup when they put a runner on third base with just one out in the bottom of that inning. A.J. Ramirez singled to lead off the inning and found himself 90 feet from home after a sacrifice bunt and a passed ball. Northwestern freshman reliever Joe Schindler struck out Cotto and was then lifted in favor senior Jack Quigley. SC leadoff batter Garrett Stubbs laid down a bunt, but Quigley, another team captain, made an acrobatic play to field the ball and tag Ramirez for the third out to end the threat.
Northwestern's best chance to score in extras came in the top of the 11th when Freschet doubled to right field with one out. Unfortunately for the 'Cats though he was stranded there by the pitching duo of Wheatley and James Guillen who retired Josh Perlmutter and Ruchim to end the brief rally.
Frankie Rios started the bottom of the 11th for the Trojans with a base hit up the middle off of Quigley. Cotto tried to bunt, but he was hit by a pitch on the arm, putting two men aboard with nobody out. Stubbs bunted once again, but this time the ball found a hole between the plate and the mound, loading the bases for Timmy Robinson. Robinson chopped a ball to Jake Schieber at third, but the sophomore's throw to Heelan at the dish was unable to cut down the winning run in time.
About seven innings earlier, Northwestern got its offense rolling to lead off the top-half of the fourth inning. Zach Jones recorded the first hit of the season for the Wildcats with a sharp single to left field before designated hitter Jack Livingston doubled down the line in left to put two runners in scoring position with nobody gone. USC's starting pitcher Wyatt Strahan was able to work out of that jam, however, and the 'Cats stranded a pair on base for the second frame in a row.
The Trojans took advantage of the opportunity and opened the scoring in the home-half of the fourth. Second baseman Dante Flores drew a one-out walk and he eventually scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of freshman Jeremy Martinez to give USC a 1-0 lead. Brandon Magallones limited the damage by striking out Vahn Bozoian to end the stanza.
Northwestern's offense finally broke through with a pair of runs in the top of the sixth to take their first lead of the season. Strahan lost his command of the strike zone and Jones, Livingston and Luke Dauch all drew walks to load the bases for Scheiber. The Wheaton, Ill., native delivered with a base hit to left that plated Jones to tie the game. Nick Linne then poked a fly ball into right field that traveled deep enough allowed Livingston to tag up and score, giving the Wildcats the 2-1 lead.
The advantage was short-lived. Magallones issued a base on balls to Stubbs leading off the bottom of the sixth, and after moving to second on a sacrifice bunt, the backstop came around to score when Flores wrapped a single up the middle to knot the score at 2-2. Northwestern's starting pitcher induced a fly ball to Schieber in right for the second out before punching out Martinez to end the sixth.
Both teams summoned relievers to pitch in the seventh inning. USC's Sean Adler relieved Strahan with a three-up, three-down effort to start the frame. Northwestern called upon Glendora, Calif., native Ethan Bramschreiber. The senior allowed two hits in his only inning of work, but did not surrender a run Friday.
After Adler retired the 'Cats in order in the top of the eighth, his team manufactured another run in the bottom of the inning off Schindler. Robinson started the rally with a base hit before moving up to second on a sacrifice bunt by Flores. Kevin Swick then untied the ballgame with a double into left field to secire a 3-2 lead. Schindler settled down quickly and got a pop out and a strikeout of Bozoian to end the inning.
Magallones, NU's third team captain, produced a quality start Friday as he went six innings while allowing just the two runs. The junior surrendered only four hits and struck out six Trojans in his 2014 debut, while walking only two.
Ruchim carried a team-high 12-game hitting streak into the season and he first extended the run with a base hit up the middle in the fifth inning.
The two teams will reconvene on Saturday at 4 p.m. CT for the second game of the three-game series. Sophomore left-hander Matt Portland will make his first start of the season for Northwestern and he'll be opposed on the mound by USC senior southpaw Bob Wheatley.
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