Friday, May 1, 2009

USD's Friday afternoon Blues

LOS ANGELES — The road beckoned the blog to the City of Angels this weekend for the West Coast Conference showdown between USD and Loyola Marymount.

The Lions drew first blood today with a 6-5 win over USD that tightened things up atop the WCC standings. USD (27-19, 10-6 WCC) and LMU (27-21, 10-6) are tied for second place. Gonzaga (29-13, 11-5) leads the conference by a game after tonight's 5-0 win over Saint Mary's. USD, LMU and Gonzaga — along with fourth-place USF — are battling for the top two spots in the WCC. The first- and second-place teams meet in the WCC Championship Series to determine the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

The Toreros have their backs to the wall now. They must win Saturday AND Sunday, otherwise LMU will move ahead of them in the standings as well as hold the tiebreaker advantage between the teams should it come into play. Gonzaga already has the tiebreaker over the Toreros after winning two of three games in their series last month. In the event of any ties in the standings, head-to-head competition will determine the host site and/or participants in the WCC Championship Series.

Eucalyptus trees, some as tall as 50 feet, ring the outfield wall at LMU's Page Stadium. But the most striking feature for those entering the ballpark is the Blue Monster — modeled after Fenway Park's Green Monster — that looms over left field. It is just 326 feet down the left-field line at the ballpark, but the 130-foot wide Blue Monster stands guard — rising 37 feet into the air. Set into the Monster is an old-school scoreboard that includes electronic features for ball, strikes, outs, hits and errors. But inning-by-inning scoring is updated manually, as are out of town scores for other WCC games.

With this backdrop, USD sent junior right-hander Matt Thomson (5-3, 5.30 ERA) to the mound against LMU senior right-hander Lee Roberts (6-0, 2.96 ERA).

Thomson (now 5-4) dug himself an early hole — fueled by two hits, two walks and two hit batters — allowing three runs in the first inning.

The Monster came into play several times during the game. There were three doubles — two by LMU — hit off it.

USD did well to avoid the wall altogether.

The Toreros' Sean Nicol lifted a ball over the Monster leading off the seventh inning for a home run that made it 6-4. USD's Austin Green may be a freshman, but he was astute enough to avoid the big wall as well. Green, batting in the ninth spot, homered just to the right of the Monster in the third inning for the Toreros' first run. He hit a ball in virtually the same spot in the eighth inning for another solo homer that made it 6-5.

That the Toreros came up a run short can be attributed to not getting the big hit when they needed it. USD outhit LMU 15-9, but the Toreros stranded 10 runners, including eight left in scoring position. The Lions stranded seven (three in the first), but they collected four of their six runs with two-out base hits. LMU also benefitted from two errors by USD third baseman Tony Strazzara, who allowed to balls hit to his backhand to go off his glove.

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