With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of Sunday's series finale and a UCLA runner on first, USC coach Chad Kreuter held a meeting at the mound with his pitcher and catcher to discuss the plan to pitch to UCLA's Cody Keefer.
Having in large part shut out the Bruins' offense for 8 2/3 innings, USC was ahead, 1-0 — one out away from what would have been the Trojans' first 1-0 victory since 2002. Kreuter said he told righthander Chad Smith and catcher Kevin Roundtree to pound the ball on the outside of the strike zone to Keefer, a lefthanded hitter.
"We're gonna call it," Kreuter recalled saying. "Stick with it. Don't deviate off it."
But when Kreuter put his head down in the dugout with the count at 2-1 to Keefer, he missed a crucial deviation from Smith. The sophomore shook off Roundtree's call for an outside pitch, instead choosing to deliver a fastball directly in Keefer's wheelhouse.
Cue a two-run walk-off homer. Cue massive celebration from the UCLA dugout. Cue a 2-1 victory for the Bruins in front of 1,531 fans at Jackie Robinson Stadium and a 3-0 series sweep over USC.
"That pitch never should've been thrown in that situation," a livid Kreuter said after the game. "Our catcher should've known better and our pitcher should've known better — especially since I had just had that meeting on the mound."
Before the fateful pitch, Smith had been on point for the Trojans. Relieving starter Kevin Couture (five innings, two hits, no runs) to start off the sixth inning, Smith had kept the Bruins scoreless in his first three innings of work and appeared to be in line to earn his third save of the season.
But the pitch changed things around quickly. Kreuter and assistants Frank Cruz, Tom House and Doyle Wilson held a meeting in right field after the game with the pitchers and catchers to discuss the play.
"We basically had an air-out session — I don't know if it's called an air-out — it's a come-to-Jesus moment, with what happened there," Kreuter said.
Offensively, USC (23-28, 5-16 in the Pac-10) struggled to put together rallies against UCLA starter Rob Rasmussen. Only twice did the Trojans have more than four at-bats in an inning, and only four USC players reached the basepaths — shortstop Joe De Pinto (2-for-4), designated hitter Cade Kreuter (2-for-4, 1 HR, 1 RBI), second baseman Adam Landecker (2-for-4) and right fielder Garret Houts (1-for-3). Kreuter's solo homer to left in the top of the fourth was USC's only score of the day.
USC was outscored 30-10 by UCLA in the three-game series. UCLA's vaunted triumvirate of weekend starters — Rasmussen and righthanders Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole — had a so-so weekend, combining to throw 19 innings and allow eight runs, but the Bruins bullpen often picked up the slack.
"You have to tip your hat to their pitching staff," Kreuter said. "That is one of the best pitching staffs in the country right there, bar none."
Notes: The homer was UCLA's first of the walk-off variety since February 23, 2008...USC center fielder Mike O'Neill's hit streak ended at 13 with his 0-for-4 performance Sunday...With two strikeouts in Sunday's game, the younger Kreuter notched his way to the fourth-highest single-season strikeout total in USC history. Kreuter now has 54 strikeouts in 126 at-bats on the season.