The Trojans were thisclose to beating No. 21 Oregon State on Thursday in the first game of a key Pac-10 weekend series at Dedeaux Field — thisclose being about two inches.
With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the ninth, USC (13-13, 1-3) had a runner on second with two outs and pinch-hitter Keith Castillo at the plate. Facing Oregon State reliever Kevin Rhoderick, Castillo hit a fast-moving grounder in the gap between Beaver second baseman Keith Jennette and first baseman Jared Norris.
USC head coach Chad Kreuter, in his typical post as third base coach, immediately began to wave Matt Hart home from second base, as it looked like the ball would find its way into the outfield and Hart would have the opportunity to score the game-winning run.
But there was no such luck for the Trojans, as Jennette made a stunning dive to his left, cornered the ball in his glove and threw to first to end the inning. And instead of a 2-1 victory, USC was left with a disappointing 4-1 loss in 10 innings, as the Beavers — winners of two of the last four national titles in college baseball — scored three runs in the top of the tenth inning to break open the game.
"That's baseball," Kreuter said afterward. "We did what we needed to do, we just needed a break somewhere along the line and they ended up getting it in the tenth there."
Joe De Pinto stole home in the third inning for the Trojans' only run of the night. The feat was a fairly remarkable straight steal — and it was made even more remarkable by the fact that the Trojans' hitter at the plate, big bopper Ricky Oropesa, is left-handed.
Kreuter said he noticed that Oregon State's Greg Peavey was slow to the plate early on and called for the steal as soon as De Pinto got to third. Kreuter said De Pinto "got cold feet" the first time he called the steal, but used the second time to study some of Peavey's tendencies. Then, on the third call, De Pinto took off — and scored.
"I thought he did a great job of getting down there," Kreuter said. "And it wasn't even close."
De Pinto was one of two Trojans to collect two hits on the night, the other being third baseman Matt Hart. Collectively, USC amassed just seven hits while striking out 10 times against Peavey.
The Beavers had only nine hits on the night but got crucial tenth-inning hits from Parker Berberet and Rob Folsom. Peavey also pitched a strong seven innings, allowing just six baserunners. USC got a solid five innings from starter Kevin Couture (five innings, one run) and impressive relief from Chad Smith, who pitched five innings and didn't allow a run until the tenth
Kreuter talked afterward about the disappointment of suffering another close loss, the thought process behind De Pinto's steal, and more: