USC center fielder Mike O'Neill stood, smiling, at the top of the Dedeaux Field dugout steps after Sunday's game, an 11-5 win over Washington that capped off the Trojans' disappointing 2010 season.
O'Neill, a senior, had just had perhaps his best game in his collegiate career, a 4-for-5, one home run, four RBI performance that sparked the Trojans. He was right in the middle of explaining how much the Senior Day victory meant to him — right in the middle of finishing up the second syllable in the word "speechless."
Then he got a faceful of shaving cream to the face from teammate Joe De Pinto as a host of Trojans watched from the dugout steps, piling up to see O'Neill's shining moment. O'Neill had no idea it was coming, but he would later say it was a good example of the team's camaraderie even in the face of failure.
The Trojans oozed camaraderie Sunday. On a day in which four of the team's five graduating seniors shined, the Trojans (28-32, 7-20 in the Pac-10) did both the little and big things right, holding a potent Washington attack to five runs and putting together a seven-run eighth inning to take control of the game.
But it was a bittersweet victory for fourth-year USC coach Chad Kreuter, who finished the season out of an NCAA Regional for the fourth consecutive year and sporting a 111-117 overall record and 39-63 conference record as a collegiate coach.
To the 15-year big leaguer, Sunday's win represented what could've been for the Trojans.
"It's a good feeling to get the win," Kreuter said after the game. "Especially with all the seniors doing so well. But, again, we could've been here all year."
With the win and Saturday's 10-5 win, USC took two out of three from Washington, only the Trojans' second conference series win of the year.
As for Sunday's game, O'Neill and fellow senior outfielder Keith Castillo each had four hits to kickstart USC's 16-hit attack. Freshman designated hitter Cade Kreuter had the sharp single that started the Trojans' seven-run eighth inning and added a sacrifice fly later in the inning. Sophomore first baseman Ricky Oropesa was pitched around all game along and went just 1-for-2 with three walks — but the one hit was a 400+ foot homer to right field to lead off the fourth inning.
On the mound, sophomore Brandon Garcia started and was reasonably effective, throwing five innings of four-run ball. But USC got key relief from a variety of sources to stymie the Huskies as Chris Mezger pitched two innings and Adam Dedeaux, Shuhei Fujiya, Logan Odom and Brad Douthit shut out Washington for another two innings to finish out the game.
Fujiya and Dedeaux are both seniors. The team's other senior, right-hander Kevin Couture, pitched Saturday and helped the team to a win in his final game.
Notes: Oropesa powered his way into the USC record books this season. On the year, he led the Trojans in each of the triple-crown categories with a .353 battering average, 20 homers and 67 RBI, but the sophomore slugger also finished tied for sixth for homers in a single season in USC history, seventh in total bases and tied for fifth in doubles...O'Neill batted a team-high .391 in Pac-10 conference play, a big contrast from his .303 non-conference average...On the year, the younger Kreuter tied the USCsingle-season record for strikeouts, with 64 in 153 at-bats.