Beau Amaral's six RBI and late clutch hitting brought UCLA back to win the game (Photo Credit: Scott Wu)
There haven't been too many times this season where you could say that the offense won UCLA the ballgame, but on Sunday that's just what happened. Actually, it might be more accurate to say that Beau Amaral won the Bruins their rubber match against Arizona in front of 1,319 fans at Jackie Robinson Stadium. The sophomore almost single-handedly brought UCLA back from a 5-2 deficit with a two-run home run that tied then game before a three RBI double that won it as the Bruins took down the Wildcats, 8-5. The victory gave UCLA the key Pac-10 series win and saw them improve to 19-12 overall and 9-3 in conference.
Amaral drove in six runs in the ballgame on three hits and he even scored a pair and walked once to take make an Player of the Game discussion a short one. Cody Keefer added a pair of hits and a run scored, while Jeff Gelalich did his job at the top of the lineup with a hit, two walks and two runs scored. Pat Valaika also got the job done at the bottom of the lineup with a pair of runs scored, while Cody Regis picked up a hit and RBI to stretch his hitting streak to 12 games.
Adam Plutko still can't get a break or a win as the offense waited until he exited the game to get going. He didn't get any defensive help either as the Bruins committed five errors that led to Plutko giving up five runs in six innings, but only two were earned. In the end Plutko pitched through the errors and struck out five without a walk against an explosive Arizona offense to give his team a chance. Mitchell Beacom locked down in his 1.1 innings, allowing just one base runner and Nick Vander Tuig picked up the win to improve to 3-2 on the year with 1.2 scoreless frames.
The defensive talk was focused on the Bruins' inability to catch and throw, but it was actually the Wildcats who made the first defensive mistake. After an Amaral walk in the first inning, an error at shortstop allowed Dean Espy to reach and Amaral to take third. From there, Regis just had to lift a fly ball to center field and Amaral was able to tag and score for the game's first run.
Just a half inning later though, Arizona evened the game up with a sacrifice fly of their own. A lead off single, wild pitch and ground out put a Wildcat on third so a fly ball to right was more than enough for him to come on home and level the game at 1-1.
That tie game would only last until the third when UCLA's defense betrayed them. Consecutive singles put two men on base for the Wildcats when a pick off attempt was awry. Errors by both Valaika and Trevor Brown on the same play saw one man come into score and set the table for the RBI double that would follow for the 3-1 Arizona lead.
It looked like the Bruins might cut into the Arizona lead in the fifth when Valaika led off the inning with a double. A sacrifice bunt that moved him to third made it clear that UCLA was playing for one run, but they didn't even get that because a strike out and fly out ended the inning with Valaika still at third.
That missed opportunity looked even worse the next inning when the Wildcats stretched their lead to 5-2 as the Bruin defense has a nightmare inning. With two outs, Plutko's pick off attempt got away as the base runner moved over to third. It looked like UCLA was going to get out of the inning when the next batter grounded one to third, but Regis threw the ball away and a run was in. A single to left followed, but Keefer made an error in left that allowed the runner to come around from first two score. It looked like UCLA had collapsed, but they came firing back.
A two-out single in the bottom of the sixth by Keefer was followed by a walk by pinch hitter Marc Navarro. That's when Steve Rodriguez singled to right, scoring Keefer and cutting the Arizona lead to 5-3.
Some control issues by the Arizona pitchers had gone unpunished for most of the game as the Bruins couldn't take advantage of hitter's counts, but they finally made the Widcats pay in the seventh. Gelalich led off the frame with a single on a three-ball count to bring up Amaral, who also got into a three-ball count. Knowing that he was going to see a good pitch, Amaral pounced and turned on the next pitch. He sent it flying out to right and off of the hitting facility beyond the fence for a two-run homer that tied the game at 5-5.
The eighth inning brought more control problems for Arizona and more heroics for Amaral. A lead off walk got UCLA started and with one out, Valaika was hit by a pitch. That was followed by Gelalich drawing a walk and the Bruins had the bases loaded with Amaral coming up. The left-handed batter went the other way this time, lacing a ball to left that would have scored two, but the left fielder took a circuitous route to the ball and it went all the way to the wall. That allowed Gelalich to score all the way from first and Amaral to trot into second with a three RBI double that put the Bruins in front 8-5.
Vander Tuig had entered in the eighth inning and retired the two batters he faced so he was in line for the win when Amaral picked up his fourth, fifth and sixth RBI of the game. The freshman was also going to be the guy to close the game out and close it out he did to finish off a thrilling 8-5 comeback win for the Bruins.