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Pac-12 Tournament: Trojans Eliminate Ducks Behind Watson’s Stellar Start

 Leif Skodnick  |    May 23rd, 2024 6:21pm EDT

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Andy Stankiewicz, the former Major League infielder turned college head coach, knows what wins big games.

…Starting pitching. I mean, you watch the baseball, you know, the guy at the mound, at the gate, he gives you a shot early. That’s exactly what Will Watson did today. It’s just been a pleasure to watch him just progress and get better,” Stankiewicz said.

Watson was stellar for Southern California on Friday afternoon, allowing one run over six innings on seven hits, striking out seven and walking one as the Trojans topped Oregon 4-2 to advance to Friday’s semifinals at the Pac-12 Baseball Tournament.

Early in the game, the junior transfer from San Joaquin Delta College faced a few gut check moments and dug deep to get out of jams.

With one out in the bottom of the first, Oregon’s Mason Neville lashed a triple to the left-center field gap. But then Watson struck out Jacob Walsh swinging and and got Jeffrey Heard to ground out to first to end the inning.

In the bottom of the third, Oregon threatened again, getting runners on first and second with one out after Carter Garate singled and Drew Smith walked, but Watson induced a ground ball back to the mound from Neville, and he turned a 1-6-3 double play to end the inning.

When I’m in those situations, I just want to keep those guys there,” Watson said of Oregon’s early chances. “I mean, when it’s a tight game like that, a pitchers duel, I want to do my best to keep it 0-0 as long as I can and let our guys figure it out at the plates and they did just that and got us that lead, and that’s all I can ask for.”

Ryan Jackson led off the sixth for USC with a fly ball that kept on going until it was over the right field wall for a homer, giving the Trojans a 1-0 lead.

Two batters later, Kevin Takeuchi double down the left field line and then scored on Ethan Hedges’ two-out single to right. Bryce Martin-Grudzielanek followed with a single to left that advanced Hedges to third, and then Dowd singled through the right side to score Hedges, giving USC a 3-0 lead.

Of Watson, Stankiewicz said, “he’s a junior college guy and he came here to do this. And [Xavier] Martinez, the same thing. He was a transfer that came here to pitch in these moments. This is why these guys came here.”

The homer by Jackson put Watson in line for the win, and Martinez came on for two innings, allowing one run on one hit, striking out two and walking two.

With runners on first and second and two outs in the bottom of hte six, the Ducks got on the board when Chase Meggers singled up the middle, scoring Jeffery Heard.

The Trojans added another in the top of the seventh. With one out, Jacob Galloway doubled to the right field corner, advancing Jackson to third and putting two Trojans in scoring position with one out. Kevin Takeuchi hit a sac fly to the warning track in left to send Jackson in and make it 4-1 USC.

Josh Blum came in for USC for the bottom of the ninth and got the leadoff man, Carter Garate, to ground out weakly to the catcher. Anson Aroz came up as a pinch hitter and hit a sharp liner to first that was gloved by Carpentier for the second out. Mason Neville kept the Ducks’ hopes alive, ripping the first pitch he saw into right field and legging out a two-out double, but Jacob Walsh then struck out to end the game.

The loss eliminated Oregon (37-18) from the Pac-12 Tournament, and the Ducks, ranked No. 50 in the RPI, will have to wait on an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

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Leif Skodnick