By Steve Parkhurst
The first inning at Jackie Robinson Field in West Los Angeles on Friday night looked the same for both the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos and the UCLA Bruins. In the inning, both teams sent four batters to the plate, each team got a single, and neither team scored a run. However, the inning was not indicative of the rest of the game, or the rest of the weekend for that matter.
In the second, the Gauchos scored one. They added two in the third. Then they added four in the fourth as UCSB drove UCLA starter Zach Pettway from the game and took a 7-0 lead.
Bruins shortstop Mikey Perez got the Bruins on the board with a solo home run off Gauchos starter Michael McGreevy in the bottom of the fifth, but UCSB still held a 7-1 lead.
Following Pettway’s early exit, the Bruin bullpen held the game together quite well, allowing just three runs in the final five frames. Charles Harrison gave up only one hit over 1.2 innings pitched and Jack Filby recorded a nine-pitch, three up, three down eighth inning.
The Bruins put together a late rally of sorts, scoring runs in the eighth and ninth frames. But the Gauchos went to Conner Roberts out of the bullpen and he retired the Bruins in order to secure the road victory.
The 10-4 final score was UCLA’s worst defeat of the season.
McGreevy struck out twelve and only allowed only the one run over 6 1/3 innings. He picked up the win to improve his record to 7-1. For the Gauchos, Zach Rodriguez went 2-for-4 and led the team with four RBI, and Mason Eng went 3-for-5.
UCLA outhit the Gauchos 15 to 14 in the game, with six different Bruins hitters having multiple hits, but they only had four runs to show for it all as they also struck out 16 times against Gauchos pitching.
Heading into the weekend, UCLA and UCSB were both within striking distance of the College Baseball Nation top 25 heading into the weekend and the winner of the series would likely achieve that goal. After game one, UCSB had two chances to clinch the series.
Saturday afternoon's game switched to the Gauchos home turf in Santa Barbara.
The Gauchos struck first with a home run in the bottom of the first off of Bruins starter Sean Mullen, but Bruins third baseman Kyle Karros (2-for-3) hit a home run over the scoreboard in left field to tie the game against Gauchos starter Rodney Boone.
Still tied at one going into the seventh, UCSB went to the bullpen after a leadoff walk by Boone. The Bruins took a 2-1 lead when Michael Curialle (2-for-4) singled to left, and an error by the left fielder allowed the go-ahead run to round third base and score. UCLA then added an insurance run one out later on a liner to center by JonJon Vaughns that the Gaucho center fielder was unable to field cleanly, as the ball bounced off his shin.
Mullen was replaced after six innings having just allowed the one earned run on three hits and striking out six Gauchos batters. With two outs in the seventh, UCSB's Kyle Johnson hit a solo home run. The Gauchos threatened further with runners on first and second, but the Bruins went to the bullpen for a second time in the inning to finally escape, leading 3-2.
The Bruins increased their lead in the top of the ninth when Kevin Kendall singled to left with a runner on second to bring home a run. Pat Caulfield then hit a ball off the wall in left field to plate Kendall for a 5-2 lead.
Max Rajcic closed out Santa Barbara by retiring the side in the bottom of the ninth securing the 5-2 road win. Rajcic pitched the final 2.1 innings and did not allow a hit or a walk as he earned the save, his sixth of the season. Mullen improved to an impressive 9-1 on the year while Boone fell to 8-4.
Back at Jackie Robinson Field on Sunday for the rubber match, the Bruins and the Gauchos battled with the series on the line.
The Gauchos got on the board quickly in the first when a one-out single by Zach Rodriguez gave UCSB the early 1-0 lead.
Bruin first baseman JT Schwartz (7) hit a home run in the home half of the first that cleared the scoreboard in right field to tie the game.
The Bruins jumped in front in the second inning, doing their damage with two outs. Kendall doubled to right to drive in a run and then Perez hit the first pitch he saw into center field for a two-RBI double and gave UCLA a 4-1 lead.
Johnson homered to right in the fourth for UCSB. It was Johnson's second home run in as many days and cut the UCLA lead to 4-2.
“He fought. That’s all we’re asking our guys to do is to go pitch by pitch and keep fighting.” -UCLA HC John Savage on Jesse Bergin
UCSB got within a run in the fifth when Jordan Sprinkle singled home a run and forced UCLA to go to the bullpen as starter Jesse Bergin exited. Adrian Chaidez took the mound and ended the frame with the Bruins still in front 4-3. UCLA head coach John Savage said of Bergin’s outing: “He fought. That’s all we’re asking our guys to do is to go pitch by pitch and keep fighting.”
The Bruins loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh courtesy of a walk, a single, and an intentional walk to Schwartz. With one out and a count of 3-2, Kyle Cuellar hit a grand slam over the wall in right field. Despite multiple calls to the bullpen, the Gauchos bullpen was unable to retire Bruins batters and with two outs and two on, Vaughns launched a ball over the right field fence for a three-run home run. The seven-run inning put UCLA in front 11-3.
“Those are the moments you play baseball for,” Cuellar said after the game of his grand slam. But he was quick to deflect away from himself, “It was just a really good team win.”
Rajcic ended the game by pitching the final inning and retiring the Gauchos in order on six pitches. Chaidez got the win and moved to 2-0. UCLA took the series with wins in the final two games.
A series that was great on paper and looked like pitching would prevail in the opening innings on Friday, saw two runaway wins and one relatively close game decided late. Savage said of the series after Sunday’s game, “You’ve got to be able to win a lot of different games in a lot of different styles.” That they did this weekend.
UCLA is now 30-16, while UCSB falls to 31-18 with two weekends left in the regular season. UCLA enters the College Baseball Nation top 25 at #22.