Cody Keefer was at the center of an offense that did enough to support a UCLA pitching staff that was dominant once again (Photo Credit: Official Site)
The first weekend of the 2011 UCLA baseball season was all about pitching. Gerrit Cole was incredible on Friday, Trevor Bauer shut the door on Saturday and got back up from the bullpen, but on Sunday the task of shutting down the San Francisco offense turned largely to freshmen. Freshman got 25 of the 27 outs for UCLA on Sunday and just like the more experienced and heralded guys on the two days before, they put the USF bats to sleep to complete the sweep of the Dons with a 3-0 win at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
In their three-game sweep to open the season, UCLA pitches were nearly untouchable. In 27 innings this weekend, Bruin pitchers allowed only 1 unearned run on 12 hits while striking out 32. On Sunday, Adam Plutko made his collegiate debut in getting the start and threw six shutout innings, striking out four and allowing just one hit in the process. Zack Weiss also made his colleguate debut and he struck out a pair in 1.1 scoreless innings, while Mitchell Beacom backed him up by retiring the only two batters he faced. Freshman Nick Vander Tuig wrapping things up by picking up his second save in as many days to put a bow on the opening weekend.
Coming into 2011, Beau Amaral was expected to be the sparkplug at the top of the Bruin lineup after a sensational freshman season in 2010. In the season's first two games though he was hitless with more bad swings than good ones, but on Sunday he finally got going with a pair of hits, one a double off of the wall, and scored a run. Fellow sophomore Cody Keefer also picked up a pair of hits of his own and scored a pair of runs. Jeff Gelalich continued his hot start by driving a run in, Tyler Heineman knocked in one of his own and Pat Gallagher made his collegiate debut off of the bench with a RBI double.
Plutko did well to throw strikes from the get-go and struck out the first batter he faced. The lone hit of the first inning came on a 1-2 pitch, but Plutko came right back to pick the man off of first and get the next batter to ground out on another two-strike count.
As was the case in the first inning, Plutko worked from ahead again in the second inning and retired the Dons in order all on two-strike counts again, but he was betrayed by some shoddy fielding in the third. A two-out error by Tyler Rahmatulla where he dropped a liner that he appeared to be fooled by allowed inning to continue and Plutko walked the next batter to put two men on with two out. Despite being behind in the count, 3-1, Plutko got the pitch he needed and got a soft grounder to second for the third out of the inning.
Some more poor defense got the Bruins in trouble in the fifth, although this time Plutko contributed to it himself. A two-out throwing error by Pat Valaika put a man out instead of the Bruins in the dug out and when the next man tried to bunt for a single, Plutko threw the ball into right field. With runners at the corners, Plutko got a fly out to right field though to get out of his second jam of the game.
In both the third and fourth innings UCLA got a pair of men on base with two outs, but couldn't capitalize either time. In the fifth, the Bruins finally got on the scoreboard. Amaral got his first hit of the season when he smoked the first pitch he saw to deep right-center and by the time the ball hit the wall, bounced back to the center fielder and was thrown in, Amaral was standing on second with a double. Gelalich followed by also hitting the first pitch he saw and it went flying to dead center, falling on the warning track for a triple that scored Amaral and put UCLA ahead 1-0. The Bruins tried to add a run to their lead when they sent Gelalich home on Tyler Rahmatulla's grounder to third, but the Dons made a fine defensive play to get Gelalich at the plate for the out.
While they may have failed to get their second run in the fifth, the Bruins got it done in the sixth. Keefer led off the frame by getting hit by a pitch and took second on Chris Giovinazzo's sacrifice bunt. A fly out made it look like the Bruins would strand Keefer, but Gallagher got his first career at-bat when he pinch hit for Valaika and the freshman lifted a ball to deep left-center. The Dons' centerfielder tracked the ball down, but dropped it on the run, allowing Keefer to score on a ball that was ruled a double, thus good for the RBI.
An easy 1-2-3 sixth was the end of the day for Plutko after 89 pitches as he made way for Weiss, who showed some early jitters in his collegiate debut. A single and a walk put two men on with nobody out and head coach John Savage made a trip to the mound to talk with the freshman. When the meeting at the mound was over, Weiss buckled down and showed some poise in getting consecutive strike outs then a fly out to end the threat.
A four-pitch walk to start the eighth put Weiss in trouble again, but the base runner took off stealing for second. The umpire initially ruled the runner safe, but in his pop up slide, the Don came off of the bag and with the tag still on him, the umpire called the man out for the first out of the inning. Weiss surrendered a single to the next batter he faced and then Savage made the move for the big lefty Beacom. The only non-freshman to throw on Sunday, Beacom looked the part and got the Dons' clean up hitter swinging at strike three before a ground out ended the frame.
Once again, Keefer found himself in the center of a UCLA scoring opportunity. The sophomore hit a lead off double down the right field line and moved ahead 90 feet when Giovinazzo put down another sacrifice bunt. With Keefer at third, Heinieman hit a hard ground to first and threw home. With Keefer barreling down on the catcher on what looked like it would be a close play at the plate, the ball got past the catcher and Keefer was in with the Bruins' third run of the day.
Having put the Dons away in order yesterday to pick up the save in his first collegiate experience, Vander Tuig went back to the mound to pick up his second save in the ninth. The first two batters Vander Tuig faced he had swimming and both went down looking at strike three. The freshman let the next batter battle back from a 1-2 count to a 3-2 count before singling, but he closed up the game with a slow roller to third to put a bow on a perfect 3-0 start for the Bruins.