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Sunday, February 27, 2011
Baseball: Trojans swept on road at Rice

By Pedro Moura

After starting the season hot, interim coach Frank Cruz's USC baseball team cooled down dramatically over the weekend, losing all three games of a weekend series at Rice in Houston.

The Trojans (3-4) kept up with the No. 22-ranked Owls, with late-inning ties in each of the games, but unreliable relief pitching did them in.

Friday, USC took a 3-0 lead into the fifth inning before surrendering a seven-run outburst and then matching it in the following two innings to tie it, 7-7, heading into the bottom of the seventh. Cruz used a combination of five relievers to get the next six outs from there, but they weren't effective. Rice scored three runs -- two on a homer from All-American Anthony Rendon -- and took the game, 10-7.

On Saturday, the Trojans carried a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth but walked the bases loaded and eventually walked in the winning run, too, and an insurance run came in, too, on a catcher's interference call. With the USC big boppers leading off the top of the ninth down 6-4, the Trojans got two of their first three batters on base and got one run in on an infield single -- only to fail to tie the game up on a failed suicide squeeze attempt and then a bases-loaded groundout.

USC again led, 2-1, in the bottom of the seventh inning Sunday on the strength of a good start from right-hander Logan Odom, but a two-out, two-run triple from J.T Chargois' did the trick after Odom started off the inning hitting a batter. The Trojans got a runner on in the all-important ninth, but two pinch-hitters failed to come through.

USC next plays Long Beach State on Tuesday and Cal State Fullerton over the weekend for a rare road-road-home series. The Trojans won't have to leave California again until a mid-April conference series at Washington.

Rice averaged about 3,500 fans for each game over the weekend. USC totaled 1,316 fans at its season-opening three-game series against Missouri, Cal Poly and North Carolina last weekend, although that figure was tempered some by the rain that hit Los Angeles that weekend.