The difference between winning your first two games of a Regional and splitting your first two is gigantic. If you win your first two, you get to play Sunday night with your number three pitcher on the mound and if you lose, you get another chance on Monday to win with a win in either game sending you through to the Super Regionals. If you split your first two games, you need to play on Sunday afternoon with a loss in that game eliminating you. Then, you need to play Sunday night with your number four pitcher on the mound, once again with a loss eliminating you. If you can win both games Sunday, you get to play Monday with a loss there eliminating you.
Less through fortune and more through very sound play with exceptional pitching, UCLA found themselves in the "win your first two" group after taking down LSU, 6-3, Saturday night at Jackie Robinson Stadium. 2,613 fans packed the ballpark for a new stadium record and were treated to a heck of a show. Even those who had to go out into right field and watch from beyond the fence got their money's worth as the Bruins chipped and chipped away at the LSU pitching while leaning back and watching Trevor Bauer put on a pitching exhibition versus the defending national champions,
Bauer has long had trouble in the first couple innings and Saturday night was no difference. The sophomore battled his way through those first two, though, and then found his groove. By the end of the day, all LSU power hitter Blake Dean could say was, "you just have to tip your hat to the guy." That you do because Bauer carried a shutout all the way to the ninth inning. By the end, he had allowed three runs, only one of which was earned, while striking out 11 and walking just two in eight-plus innings. Dan Klein relieved Bauer when the starter ran into some ninth inning trouble and the UCLA closer picked up three outs on four pitches to put a ribbon on the game.
In a change from the norm, the UCLA offense was led by some power with three home runs in the contest. Dean Espy hit one off of the bench and finished 2-2 with two RBI and a run scored in the game. Jeff Gelalich also hit one out, his first collegiate home run, as part of a 2-3, two run, one RBI, one stolen base effort. Cody Regis hit the first home run in the game and finished 1-4 with two RBI and a run. Beau Amaral led the team with three hits in the ballgame, while also scoring a run and driving one in, while Steve Rodriguez picked up a pair of hits.
LSU was the designated home team despite the game being played at top-seeded UCLA's home field and the Tigers picked up some hits early on. The bottom half of the first started with a single, but he was thrown out trying to steal second as the Bruins called a perfect pitch out. After another single it looked as if the Tigers might get to Bauer, but a double play ended the frame.
As was the case all night, LSU starting pitcher Anthony Ranaudo struggled to find his command. Leading off the second inning, Regis took ball one and then got the fastball he was looking for, hitting a moonshot to left center to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
In the next half inning, LSU got another rally started with a lead off single and walk, but then Bauer flashes the stuff that he would have for the rest of the game. After a fly out, Bauer struck out the next two he faced to close the inning.
The top of the third brought another UCLA run, although instead of power, they used patience. Rodriguez started the inning with a single and Amaral followed with one of his own. After a pair of strikeouts, Justin Uribe worked a walk to load the bases. That brought up Regis, who fell behind in the count 1-2, but battled back to draw another walk. That ball four forced in Rodriguez from third and the UCLA lead was stretched to 2-0.
If there was ever a time to hit your first collegiate home run, the Regionals versus the defending national champions is it. That's what Gelalich did when he took ball one as the fourth inning's lead off batter, then turned on one for a fly ball that found the overflow crowd beyond the right field fence.
Gelalich was at the center of the action again in the sixth when he led off the frame with a walk, stole second and took third on a sacrifice bunt. A strike out by Rodriguez made it look as if Gelalich's efforts would be wasted, but Amaral hit the first pitch he saw to the warning track in left for a RBI double and 4-0 Bruin lead.
In a role that he has thrived in, Espy once again stepped to the plate as a pinch hitter and once again he delivered. With the inefficient Ranaudo done after throwing 126 pitchers in six innings, Espy got to face the shaky LSU bullpen. He greeted that bullpen with a mammoth shot to left that easily cleared the fence and then cleared the netting beyond the fence meant to keep the bird sanctuary behind it safe.
With a 5-0 edge, the Bruins looked to be cruising, but knowing LSU's penchant for comebacks, UCLA kept pushing. In the ninth, that pushing paid off when Amaral led off with a single and took second on a sacrifice bunt. With two outs, Espy was able to reach out and pull a grounder through the left side of the infield, easily scoring Amaral to tack on another Bruin run.
Bauer took to the mound in the ninth to a hearty applause, but he left the mound in disgust. After a towering pop up was dropped by a back pedaling Tyler Rahmatulla, a double to left center got the Tigers on the scoreboard at 6-1. UCLA head coach John Savage paid of a visit to Bauer after the double, but chose to leave the right-hander in. He wasn't in for much longer as the Tigers hit another double, this one a foot from the top of the wall in left that brought in another run. With the Bruin lead just 6-2 now, Savage pulled Bauer and the LSU fans joined the UCLA faithful in applauding the tremendous performance by the sophomore. Klein got a ground ball, fly ball and then pop up to second base on just four pitches to end the game and while he let one of Bauer's runs in, he more than did his job.
Now, the Bruins will wait for the winner of the LSU vs. Irvine game to be played at 2 pm PDT Sunday. When that game ends, UCLA will prep to play the winner at 6 pm PDT at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Rob Rasmussen (9-2, 2.89 ERA) will get the nod for the Bruins versus what is likely to be a depleted LSU or UC Irvine pitching staff with a win sending the Bruins on to the Super Regionals for the second time in four years.