After starting the season hot, interim coach Frank Cruz's USC baseball team cooled down dramatically over the weekend, losing all three games of a weekend series at Rice in Houston.
The Trojans (3-4) kept up with the No. 22-ranked Owls, with late-inning ties in each of the games, but unreliable relief pitching did them in.
Friday, USC took a 3-0 lead into the fifth inning before surrendering a seven-run outburst and then matching it in the following two innings to tie it, 7-7, heading into the bottom of the seventh. Cruz used a combination of five relievers to get the next six outs from there, but they weren't effective. Rice scored three runs -- two on a homer from All-American Anthony Rendon -- and took the game, 10-7.
On Saturday, the Trojans carried a 4-3 lead into the bottom of the eighth but walked the bases loaded and eventually walked in the winning run, too, and an insurance run came in, too, on a catcher's interference call. With the USC big boppers leading off the top of the ninth down 6-4, the Trojans got two of their first three batters on base and got one run in on an infield single -- only to fail to tie the game up on a failed suicide squeeze attempt and then a bases-loaded groundout.
USC again led, 2-1, in the bottom of the seventh inning Sunday on the strength of a good start from right-hander Logan Odom, but a two-out, two-run triple from J.T Chargois' did the trick after Odom started off the inning hitting a batter. The Trojans got a runner on in the all-important ninth, but two pinch-hitters failed to come through.
USC next plays Long Beach State on Tuesday and Cal State Fullerton over the weekend for a rare road-road-home series. The Trojans won't have to leave California again until a mid-April conference series at Washington.
Rice averaged about 3,500 fans for each game over the weekend. USC totaled 1,316 fans at its season-opening three-game series against Missouri, Cal Poly and North Carolina last weekend, although that figure was tempered some by the rain that hit Los Angeles that weekend.