Sometimes it's not velocity that gets it done on the mound. Gerrit Cole, the flamethrower, got touched up a bit because South Carolina was able to reach out and square the ball up some, letting the pitch create the power. Meanwhile, the Gamecocks started their ace, Blake Cooper, on short rest and when it was clear very early that he didn't have much on his fastball, he adjusted and worked his offspeed pitches magnificently. A contrast in styles that didn't turn out in favor of the Bruins now has them on the bring of elimination following their 7-1 loss.
Losers of game one of the best of three Championship Series, UCLA now has no margin for error. One more loss and their season ends with USC dogpiling on the Rosenblatt Stadium mound and holding the national championship trophy aloft. This situation isn't completely foreign to the Bruins and it wasn't too long ago that they dug themselves into a deeper hole. In the Super Regionals versus Cal St. Fullerton, also a best two of three series, UCLA lost the opening game and even was down to their last out in the next game before mounting a comeback. They are not down to their last out now, but they have dropped the opener and will have to make do with the best that they have available because a national championship is in the balance and they no longer have the advantage.
Shockingly, in seven innings of work, Cole struck out just two. This from a pitcher who has the second-most strikeouts in 2010 that any UCLA pitcher has ever had in a single-season.The Gamecocks simply made an effort to put the bat on the ball, regardless of outcome. Of the 11 hits Cole surrendered, only one went for extra bases, but by the time he exited the game, six runs, four of which were earned, had come across to score. Matt Grace allowed a run in 1.1 innings of relief before Matt Griggs retired the final two batters USC would bring to the plate.
Completely dominated by Cooper, the UCLA hitters didn't have much to write home about. Entering the ninth inning, the Bruins had just one hit. Cody Regis extended his hit streak to 13 games with a 1-4, one run effort and Jeff Gelalich joined his fellow freshman with a ninth inning hit. Steve Rodriguez's fifth inning single was the only other Bruin hit and Marc Navarro's ninth inning walk was the only time UCLA reached on balls.
The Bruins very nearly were out of the first inning unscathed. Cole retired the first two batters of the inning and after a bunt single, had a two-strike count on the following batter, but a single put runners on the corners. A simple single to left was all it took from there and the Gamecocks were ahead 1-0. Then, an error by Regis at second made things worse as another runner came in to score for a 2-0 Gamecocks edge.
USC looked to find pitches to hit early in the count and that's what they did with one out in the second on a first pitch triple down the left field line. A single followed and the Gamecocls had stretched their lead to 3-0.
The third inning is where the Bruins really found themselves in a hole and while it cane by way of error, it was the man on the bump who did it. A single and walk started the frame, then Cole couldn't get the out of the sacrifice bunt, loading up the bases. Cole got the next out, but a single to right followed, plating a pair and giving USC a comfortable 5-0 lead.
South Carolina strung together another inning in the fifth to add another run to their lead. Consecutive one out singles put Gamecocks on the corned and when the next batter lifted a fly ball to left field, it was good for a sacrifice fly.
Finally, in the bottom of the fifth, Rodriguez singled to right field with one out to get the Bruins their first hit, but the next two batters went down on their first pitches, ending the inning.
Never letting up, South Carolina added to their tally in the eighth with more small ball. A steal of second moved a Gamecock into scoring position, then a single back up the middle to center scored the runner for a 7-0 USC advantage.
A single by Regis, walk by Navarro and single by Gelalich loaded up the bags with nobody out in the ninth for UCLA and forced South Carolina to give Cooper the hook. After the senior exited the game to a well deserved standing ovation, Trevor Brown hit into a double play that scored the Bruins' only run, but ended any hopes of a comeback.
Now, UCLA will have to take the next two games if they are to take the national title. It begins with getting game two of the Championship Series at 4:30 pm PDT on Tuesday. With head coach John Savage ruling Trevor Bauer out and hinting at Rob Rasmussen getting the start, it looks like the junior will be the Bruin doing his best to push South Carolina to the same place UCLA is, the brink of elimination.