Gerrit Cole tossed his first career complete game in a dominating shutout performance that included 11 strikeouts (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
It's no secret that UCLA is going to lean on their two aces this season, Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, and it took all of one game for one of those two to throw the rest of the team on his back and hand the team a win. Cole threw a shutout, allowed only four hits, struck out 11 and walked just one in his second career complete game to lead UCLA to a 1-0 win over San Francisco in the team's season opener at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Also helped UCLA to their fifth consecutive opening day win was Trevor Brown, who went 2-3 with a double and scored the game's only run. Dean Espy picked up the RBI on the Bruins' lone run and Jeff Gelalich had the only other hit for UCLA on a day that both the Bruins and Dons mustered only four hits each.
Most of the game's action came early on as both teams came flying out of the gates in an early noon game that was pushed up to avoid the evening's forecasted rain. In the top half of the first, USF got a lead off walk, the only way Cole would surrender all game. The next batter hit a sharp grounder to shortstop Pat Valaika, a freshman in his first game, and Valaika bobbled the ball so instead of the double play he had to throw across to first for the sure out. After a ground out moved the runner to third, Cole got a fly out to end the Dons' threat in the first.
Beau Amaral led off the UCLA first and struck out in a preview of how the Bruin left-handed hitters would fare against the USF left-handed pitcher. Brown got UCLA going by smacking a one-out line drive to left field that sent the sophomore diving into second base for a double. With two outs, Brown took third on a ball in the dirt and then UCLA's leading RBI man from last season, Espy, hit a clean single between third base and shortstop. Espy's single scored Brown and handed the Bruins a 1-0 lead they would hold onto for the rest of the game.
A couple pop ups and ground out put USF away in the second, but in the third inning is when Cole found his groove. With the Dons looking to hit the fastball, Cole relied on his slider and change up to baffle the USF hitters and struck out the side in a 1-2-3 third. A 1-2-3 fourth inning followed, but a bloop single to lead off the fifth inning got the Dons their first hit of the game. Cole got the next batter to hit into a double play though and any threat was quelled.
It wasn't until the seventh inning that the Dons really put UCLA's lead in any danger. Consecutive singles put Dons runners at the corners and the Bruins fans on edge. Cole got ahead of the next batter 1-2 and after the batter got a small piece of a pitch by his ankles, Cole dialed up one of his fastballs at the eyes for a swinging strikeout. The next batter didn't even get the opportunity to finish his at-bat. When the runner at first took off to steal second, catcher Steve Rodriguez popped up and made a hard pump fake of the throw to second, which got the runner at third to start running home. With the runner at third caught off the base, UCLA was able to him out in the run down to end the inning with their 1-0 lead intact.
While Cole was dominating USF batters, UCLA couldn't get much going themselves. A single to lead off the third inning was the Bruins' last of the game and it was the left-handed hitters who had the biggest issues. Of the Bruins; nine strikeouts, six came from the three left-handed hitters in the UCLA lineup as the left-handed USF pitcher had them completely flummoxed. The new bats also made their presence felt, never more so than in the eight when Tyler Rahamatulla roped a line drive to right field, only for the right fielder to settle under it at the warning track.
The eighth and ninth innings went very much like the rest of the rest of the game for Cole as he notched a pair of strikeouts in each inning to finish off the Dons for the complete game.
Now 1-0 on the young season, UCLA and USF will continue their three-game series on Saturday at 2 pm PST. The scheduled pitchers are Trevor Bauer for UCLA and Kyle Zimmer for USF, but rain is in the forecast and it looks unlikely that the game will be played. Keep an eye on my UCLA baseball twitter for all scheduling changes or updates as the weather wreaks havoc on this opening weekend of baseball.