Lars Nootbaar made a change by staying the same. It led to an extra-innings RBI double to push USC to a 4-3 win over UCLA in the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic on Sunday evening.
Normally when a pitcher gets two strikes against Nootbaar, the USC cleanup hitter will spread out his stance, cut down the intensity of his swing and all but eliminate his leg kick. But after UCLA reliever Scott Burke pushed the count to 2-2 with two outs in the 10th inning, Nootbaar eschewed his normal contact-driven two-strike approach and stuck with his power stroke.
“I didn’t make a two-strike adjustment because I felt comfortable in that situation,” Nootbaar said after having seen Burke’s fastball and slider earlier in the at-bat. “I was seeing the ball well, so I stayed with my approach.”
Burke left a thigh-high slider over the inside half of the plate. Nootbaar turned on the pitch and watched his line drive fly over the first baseman. John Thomas, who reached on an error, tore around the bases as the ball bounded into the right-field corner. A wide cutoff throw allowed him to score with ease.
Just for good measure, Thomas slid in and sat on the plate. He howled in excitement toward the Trojans’ dugout while Nootbaar pounded his chest at second base.
“That was a huge win for us in a lot of respects. We were struggling the last couple days,” USC Coach Dan Hobbs said after his team improved to 7-4. “Lars is a guy that we’re expecting to be a dude for us and he was exactly that today.”
It was a disappointing loss for UCLA (5-5) after leading 3-0 after five innings. The Bruins scored in three consecutive innings to take the early lead, highlighted by freshman second baseman Chase Strumpf’s solo home run in the second.
USC starter Marrick Crouse struggled with his control, walking four and hitting another batter in 3 2/3 innings, but UCLA left five runners in scoring position in the first four innings.
“[Crouse] was there to be had, but we couldn’t knock the door down,” UCLA Coach John Savage said. “We didn’t have those big at-bats. Nootbaar had the big punches thrown and we didn’t have anybody that really did that.”
Along with the 10th-inning knockout, Nootbaar also had the big body blow to get USC back in the game.
UCLA starting pitcher Jon Olson had been cruising, striking out eight and giving up only one hit through the first five innings. But he lost his sharp command in the sixth. He gave up a hit and a walk before falling behind against Nootbaar.
Nootbaar turned on a 2-0 fastball and hit a hard shot that banged off the 375-feet marking at the top of the right-field wall. His two-run triple ended Olson’s outing. Two batters later, Matthew Acosta singled Nootbaar home to tie the score.
USC reliever Chris Clarke picked up his first collegiate win, striking out five and giving up only one hit in 5 2/3 innings.
Both the Trojans and the Bruins finished the four-team tournament with a 1-2 record. Michigan defeated San Diego, 3-1, earlier in the day to give both teams a 2-1 record.
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