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Pac-12 Semifinals: Dowd’s First Collegiate Homer Helps Trojans Into Pac-12 Final

 Leif Skodnick  |    May 24th, 2024 5:40pm EDT

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Brayden Dowd’s first collegiate home run couldn’t have come at a bigger moment.

With his USC Trojans down 2-0 in the bottom of the fourth, Dowd launched the first pitch he saw from California reliever Austin Turkington over the right field bullpen to give the Trojans a 3-2 lead. They’d go on to beat the Golden Bears 7-4 and secure a spot in Saturday’s championship game at the Pac-12 Baseball Tournament.

The Trojans had to battle back after Cal got out to an early 2-0 lead. With one out in the top of the first, Caleb Lomavita crushed a solo homer to left off an 0-2 fastball from USC starter Tyler Stromsborg, his 16th of the season, to give Cal a 1-0 lead.

An inning later, Seth Gwynn took first base after being struck on the arm by Stromsborg’s 0-1 pitch. Gwynn stole second on a 1-1 pitch to Jag Burden. Gwynn later advanced on a wild pitch and scored when Burden grounded out to second, making it 2-0 Cal.

Kevin Takeuchi led off the bottom of the fourth for USC with a bloop single down the right field line. Two batters later, Bryce Martin-Grudzielanek singled to left, advancing Takeuchi.

After throwing two balls to Ethan Hedges, Cal starter Ian May was lifted from the game for Turkington. Hedges grounded to third, and Handron got the force there before throwing to first, but the throw wasn’t in time and eluded Cal first baseman Schulze, allowing Martin-Gurdzielanek to go to third.

And then came Dowd’s moment, a three-run homer, the first of his collegiate career, giving the Trojans a 3-2 lead.

I wasn’t trying to do too much. I knew we were at a point in the game where we’re down 2-0, and kind of needed something to get going,” Dowd said. “And I did a lot of work with coach [Stankiewicz] and coach Jewett in the cages and everything, and I guess it finally paid off. So that was a good time to have the first one but there was a lot of help from the man above I got to be honest.”

The Trojans added a run in the bottom of the sixth when Bryce Martin-Grudzielanek walked to open the inning and advanced on Hedges’ ground out and a wild pitch, then scored when Dowd grounded out to first.

May threw 3.1 innings, allowing two runs on two hits, walking two and striking out three.

The Golden Bears were merely hibernating, though, and in the top of the seventh, after a leadoff single by Seth Gwynn and and a single up the middle by Burden, the Bears had runners at the corners with no outs. Carson Crawford singled through the left side to score Gwynn and cut the USC lead to 4-3.

After allowing three consecutive hits, USC head coach Andy Stankiewicz lifted Stromsborg for Michael Ebner. Stromsborg was terrific, scattering eight hits over six innings, allowing four runs and striking out three.

Ebner promptly walked pinch hitter Nico Button on four pitches to load the bases, and left the game after getting PJ Moutzouridis to line out to second base with jared Feikes coming on to replace him. Gwynn scored on Lomavita’s groundout out to third to tie the game at four apiece.

Southern California’s Ryan Jackson led off the bottom of the seventh with a single to right and advanced when a pickoff attempt by Cal’s Connor Sullivan went to the wall. Galloway drew a walk and both runners advanced when Kevin Takeuchi hit a swinging bunt back to the mound. Jackson came in to fly on Austin Overn’s sac fly to center, giving the Trojans a 5-4 lead.

They’d add two more and inning later, starting with Ethan Hedges’ double to right, and then Dean Carpentier ripped a one-out triple to the left field gap that sent Hedges home to make it 6-4. Ryan Jackson’s two-out single sent Carpentier home, making it 7-4 Trojans.

The Bears continued to scratch and claw to the end, and in the top of the ninth, Carson Crawford singled to left, with his fly ball touching the turf just as a diving Carson Wells reached for it. Nico Button then hit an opposite-field single to left, giving the Bears runners on first and second with no outs. But then Moutzouridis hit an infield fly,Lomavita struck out swinging, and Rodney Green Jr. grounded out to short to end the game.

And while he didn’t drive in the game-winning run, the moment of the day clearly belonged to Dowd, whose teammates razzed him while he was interviewed on television following the game.

In front of the home dugout, Dowd was given the chance to advance USC to the final on the oversized bracket that is posted in the concourse.

“Do I slap it on? What do I do?” he asked no one in particular while sporting an ear-to-ear grin under his batting helmet.

Winning the Pac-12 is the only way that USC, ranked 75th in the RPI, can get into the NCAA Tournament.

Doing that, Dowd said, is “something we talked about obviously knowing  we had a rough start to the year and knowing that we were probably going to have to win this thing to get into the NCAA tournament. We were near the end of the year, we were kind of just putting ourselves in position to get into this tournament so that we could win it and move to the NCAA tournament.

Having now won nine straight games, they only need to win one more game, tommorrow night at 10 p.m. EDT, to accomplish that goal.

 

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Leif Skodnick