Had USC coach Chad Kreuter known he could pitch this way, Trojans sophomore right-hander Brandon Garcia probably would have started more games this season for pitching-starved USC.
Garcia started only his second game of the season Tuesday against UC Irvine and pitched marvelously, going 7 2/3 innings and giving up just three hits and one run to the Anteaters — a start that propelled USC to a 8-1 upset of Irvine before 188 fans at Dedeaux Field.
Kreuter said he has seen Garcia mature into a likely weekend starter for next season over the last month, including a six-inning, three-run start against New Mexico State a week ago. He has progressed from a thrower to a pitcher, Kreuter said.
"He pitched in this start," the fourth-year coach said. "He didn't just go out there and throw. He was adding and subtracting with his fastball and changeup, just getting a real feel out there."
Garcia walked the first batter he faced to start off the game and three others on the night but succeeded multiple times in limiting the damage incurred. USC also played nearly-spotless defense for the first time in recent memory, playing the first eight innings error-free until shortstop Joe De Pinto's throwing error in the ninth.
On offense, the Trojans (26-31) managed to post the "crooked numbers" that Kreuter has emphasized so frequently, scoring three runs in fourth inning, one in the seventh and four in the eighth. First baseman Ricky Oropesa went three for five with an RBI to raise his average to .342 on the season, and right fielder Garret Houts went two for three with a double and a walk hitting out of the ninth spot in the order.
USC's first runs came after Irvine starter Nick Hoover and reliever Andy Lines combined to walk the bases loaded in the fourth inning and freshman center fielder Alex Glenn drove two runners in with a single up the middle and Houts grounded an RBI infield single down the third-base line. In the seventh, Houts scored on an RBI single from De Pinto.
The Anteaters (34-19) issued eight walks on the mound on the night, five of which came around to score. Hoover allowed just one run but lasted only 3 2/3 innings, and UCI coach Mike Gillespie had to turn to his bullpen five times on the night.
"That's the old adage of baseball — you don't walk guys," Kreuter said. "The walks do kill you. Walks just prolong innings.
"Those things happen; that's how we've gotten beat all year and it's nice to see our guys turn it around."
Combined with an 8-6 victory at Irvine earlier this month, USC swept the Anteaters in a season series for the first time since 2003. The Trojans now turn to face Washington for a weekend series at Dedeaux Field to close out the 2010 season.
Notes: Kreuter said pregame that five of his pitchers are finished for the season due to injuries, including redshirt sophomore righthander Andrew Triggs, who has a tired shoulder. ... The USC pitching staff hit a season-high four batters on the night, two by Garcia and two by reliever Logan Odom.