For two rainy days at Dedeaux Field, the USC Trojans looked ready to turn the corner and become the team they are fully capable of being.
Friday and Saturday they separated in a pair of tight games against Utah, who entered the weekend tied for first place in the Pac-12. USC (15-15, 5-4) had ace Kyle Davis going on Sunday and were confident with a potential sweep on the board.
But in baseball, you're only as good as your next day's starting pitcher and Davis struggled. The senior fell to 2-5 on the season and saw his ERA rise to 5.40 after allowing five runs on six hits and three walks in 2.2 innings.
Even worse was the "relief" brought in for Davis. Utah (11-17, 8-4) scored nine runs -- four on a Cody Scaggari grand slam -- in the fourth and fifth innings to take a commanding 14-1 lead. Scaggari finished with five hits and six RBIs while Dallas Carroll and Josh Rose both hit two-run homers in the game.
The Trojans didn't give up, scoring seven unanswered runs to end the game, but it was too little, too late in the series finale. David Oppenheim finished with three hits and three RBIs, raising his batting average to a team-best .382. AJ Ramirez reached all five plate appearances, going 3-for-3 with a double, a home run, two walks and three RBIs.
Saturday: USC 6, Utah 1
Bernardo Flores was magnificent in relief, tossing six innings and allowing just one hit and no walks to pick up his first win of the season. Flores faced the minimum, needing just 61 pitches in the six frames. He attacked hitters and relied on his defense. He struck out three.
Mitch Hart made his second start of the season and was on a pitch count. He needed 60 pitches to get through three innings, but minimized damage effectively allowing just one run despite four hits, two walks and a hit by pitch.
Dempster finished 2-for-3 with a walk and a stolen base to go with the homer. Southall raised his average nearly 40 points with a 4-for-4 day that included a double. Angelo Armenta was 2-for-3 with two runs and an RBI after entering for an injured Adalberto Carrillo, who fouled a ball off his foot and had to leave an inning later.
In the video above, Dempster talks about his big home run on Saturday and how he's taken over the leadoff role by heeding the advice of last year's breakout star, Bobby Stahel.
Friday: USC 5, Utah 2
If the Trojans turn things around, they will be able to thank Joe Navilhon for helping them tread water through the first half of the season. He has taken over a spot in the weekend rotation and been tremendous in four starts, moving his way up to the Friday starting role. Navilhon pitched a career-long seven innings, allowing two runs (one earned) by scattering eight hits while recording a career-high nine strikeouts.
Ramirez got USC on the board in the second inning with a solo homer and gave them the lead in the fifth inning. He singled, stole second base and scored after back-to-back groundouts advanced him 90 feet each. Utah tied the game the next half inning, but the Trojans again manufactured a run in the bottom half of the sixth. After Dempster got to second on a pair of errors, a pair of groundouts brought him home.
USC tacked on two insurance runs in the eighth inning after Brooks Kriske got a strikeout in the eighth inning to strand the tying run in scoring position. Kriske struck out the side in the ninth inning to earn his fifth save. Ramirez finished the game 2-for-3 while Jeremy Martinez drove in two runs.
The Trojans are back in action on Tuesday when they travel to Malibu for a 3 p.m. PDT matchup with Pepperdine. Next weekend, USC travels to Oregon for three games against the Ducks, who are coming off a series win over then-No. 11 California.