Saturday, May 2, 2009

USD's season on the brink

LOS ANGELES — USD has lost its grip.

And now things are in danger of slipping away.

The Toreros are two-time defending West Coast Conference champions. They opened WCC play this season by winning their first six games.

USD has lost seven of 11 conference games since.

Today's 7-3 loss to Loyola Marymount at Page Stadium was costly because it gives the Toreros virtually no margin for error now if they are to qualify for the WCC Championship Series.

USD (27-20, 10-7 WCC) fell into third place in the conference. Only two teams are invited to play for the WCC's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament. Right now the Toreros are looking up at LMU and Gonzaga, which are tied for first at 11-6. Both LMU and Gonzaga hold the tiebraker edge (by virtue of series wins) over USD should the teams finish in a tie for first or second.

Sunday's finale becomes a must-win for the Toreros if they are to have a mathematical chance of winning the WCC regular-season title and host the championship series for the third straight year. Another loss and USD may be hard-pressed simply to finish second.

After Sunday, there will be one week remaining in the conference season: USD closes out with three games at home against USF while LMU travels to Gonzaga.

USD has played well enough to earn an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament, but now that's slipping away as well. USD's stretch of three straight postseason appearance could be in jeopardy if the Toreros continue to play the way they did today against the Lions. In addition to the USF series, the Toreros have two nonconference games at Arizona State and

LMU got to Griffin (7-3) early, starting with one out in the first inning when the Lions' Ryan Wheeler clubbed his ninth homer of the season over the fence in right-center for a 2-0 lead.

Whenever USD battled back, LMU took control again. The Toreros cut the lead to 2-1 in the third inning, then slipped back to 3-2 in the fourth and 5-2 through five innings.

A run in the eighth cut it to 5-2 and USD had runners at second and third with one out. But LMU starting pitcher Alex Gillingham (4-2) got out of it. Gillingham was solid throughout the game, retiring 12 straight from the fourth through seventh innings.

The Toreros loaded the bases with no outs against LMU reliever Xavier Esquivel, but the junior right-hander extricated himself after allowing a run-scoring out to Jon Hotta.

USD coach Rich Hill stayed with Griffin, who allowed all seven runs on 13 hits with six strikeouts and one walk.

No comments: