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USC Walks Off Again, Takes Down Top-Ranked Vanderbilt

Paolo Uggetti |
March 7, 2015 | 7:06 p.m. PST

Associate Sports Editor

The Trojans walk-off again, this time via a pinch-hit home run to beat Vanderbilt. (@PabloPozas/Twitter)
The Trojans walk-off again, this time via a pinch-hit home run to beat Vanderbilt. (@PabloPozas/Twitter)

"I just took a swing at it and it ended up going over the fence."

After their biggest win of the season in 12 innings against the No. 6 TCU Horned Frogs on Friday night, the USC Trojans (14-1) one-upped themselves by walking off via a pinch-hit home run in the bottom of the ninth by Adalberto Carillo to oust the the No. 1 Vanderbilt Commodores (11-3). 

"I was running around the bases like it was dream," said a near-speechless Carrillo afterward. 

Despite a barrage of two-out RBI's by their opponent, the Trojans were able to counter with strategic hitting early and timely hitting late to come out victorious in their second thrilling finish of the weekend. 

Trojans SP Kyle Twomey who came into the game with a 3-0 record and an impressive 1.33 ERA. The left-hander got the first two outs easily before giving up three two-out base hits, allowing Vandy to strike first and take a 1-0 lead. 

The two-out letdowns would soon become a theme throughout most of the ballgame and a problem for Twomey. 

"I thought Kyle really battled. He's been battling the flu all week," revealed head coach Dan Hubbs. "To his credit, he really competed and made great pitches to limit the damage." 

The Trojans answered back immediately, however, as LF Bobby Staehl started things off with a lead-off triple. 1B Jeremy Martinez subsequently drove Staehl in with a deep sac-fly to right evening things up again quickly. 

For Vandy's starting pitcher, John Kilichowski, the earned run was not something he had experienced in his last start, in which he went 5.1 innings and did allowed a runner to cross plate.

As the game progressed, both pitchers found themselves continually in tough situations, but for Twomey, he was able to rely on the great defensive play of the team behind him. 

First, Staehl had a great shoestring grab in the first, while 2B Dante Flores then turned two key double plays that kept the Trojans competitive throughout.

"We made some great plays for him," said Hubbs proudly of his defense.  

Keeping the scored either tied or close early on would prove to be essential, as a lead-off double in the bottom half of the third inning by RF AJ Ramirez was enough to get the upstart Trojan offense going. 

An error by Kilichowski—one of three the Commodores had—put runners on the corners with no outs and a second sac fly gave the Trojans their second run, which was then followed by a sac bunt that extended the lead to two runs. 

The small-ball style was working to perfection for Hubbs's squad, and though they were being outhit early and would go on to finish with half as many hits as their opponent, Vanderbilt's errors coupled with smart USC base running and sacrificing, allowed them to have the early lead. 

The Commodores would not go away easily, however, and who would expect them to? There's a reason they are the top-ranked team in the nation.

Yet, if small ball was the name of the game for the early innings, Flores's home run in the bottom of the fourth was a timely change of pace. With 2 outs, the second baseman absolutely crushed the ball to right field, hitting the scoreboard and giving the Trojans their two-run lead back. 

"We're able to score a lot of different ways and that's what we need to be able to do," Hubbs pointed out. 

But once again, the breathing room was short lived when the Commodores answered back, scoring two more in the top of the fifth. 

The top-ranked squad from Tennessee tallyed up a total of 12 hits by just the fifth inning. For some perspective on his relatively rough outing, Twomey had only allowed 10 hits in his previous three starts combined. 

Twomey's weakness was his two-out pitching, as after getting the first two batters out, the left hander could not close out the innings, allowing four of his earned runs with just one out to the dugout left. 

"I didn't think he had his best stuff. He was leaving his fastball up and flat," admitted Hubbs. "But he didn't put guys on base, they had to earn it."  

The back-and-forth duel between the teams made for a great game and great theatre, especially with both fan bases showing up in large numbers to fill a packed Dedeaux on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. 

But it would be the home team who would go, or rather stay home, victorious. And according to Coach Hubbs, the crowd played a big part yet again.

"It's hard to lay an egg with a crowd like this," he said. "The kids are feeding off of the crowd and the energy of the crowd and you want to play hard and you want to get after it." 

READ MORE: USC Tops TCU In Dramatic Extra-Inning Thriller

The fifth inning allowed the Trojans to get a two-out RBI hit of their own as Stubbs's single drove in the fifth run and forced Vandy to go the bullpen. 

USC also resorted to the bullpen in the top of the sixth, bringing freshman right hander Mason Perryman to the mound. 

"It was invaluable," Hubbs said of the bullpen performance. 

The first-year reliever was able to buck the two-out hit trend that had been hampering the Trojans throughout the day, but in the end, he could not maintain the slim lead as the Commodores evened things up once again at 5. 

That score would remain until the bottom of the 9th, when—with two outs—freshman pinch-hitter Adalberto Carillo hit one out to deep left field on a 3-1 count. 

"I was looking for a pitch I could put a swing on and actually drive," Carillo said. 

Coach Hubbs said he thought it was out the moment it hit the bat, but for the rest of those in attendance, suspense made them hold their breath when the Vandy outfielder reached out to try and rob it. 

"I thought he might actually rob the home run or actually catch the ball" recalled Carrillo. 

Down he came after his jump, and up went the umpire's arm to make the twisting motion with his index finger; the universal signal for a home run: The first of Carillo's career.  

"It was pretty exciting and I was pretty shocked as well," he admitted. "Walk-off ... I mean, I couldn't believe it." 

Neither could the many in attendance, as for the second game in a row, they were able to witness a dramatic finish in favor of the Cardinal and Gold. 

And though it was not quite deja-vu for the Trojans, whose walk-off came via sacrifice bunt on Friday night, it was as close as it could get, but a far more glamorous ending to their big win. 

"I think we just need to focus on trying to win however we need to," said Hubbs regarding the fact that both wins came on different ends of the style spectrum.   

In the grand scheme of things, the weekend was a chance to prove to the nation that this great start was not simply a product of an easy schedule, but rather proof of a great team. 

Two games into the Dodger Stadium Baseball Classic and the Trojans have more than showed why they are to be both recognized and regarded as a squad among the great teams in the country. 

If Friday's night win over TCU showed USC's resiliency, Saturday's victory over the top-ranked team in the country showed that and more by highlighting the team's comparable abilities to the likes of a powerhouse such as Vanderbilt.

"Any time you can win close games against good teams, it says a lot about your team," Hubbs reiterated.

Now, the Trojans will round out the Dodger Stadium Baseball Classic at Chavez Ravine itself, where they will face the No. 4 UCLA Bruins on Sunday at 3:30 PM. 

"This should actually send a message," Carillo said of the two great wins and already-successful weekend. "They should actually know that USC Baseball is back."

Reach Associate Sports Editor Paolo Uggetti here, or follow him on Twitter at @PaoloUggetti.




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