UCLA moved into a first place tie with their win over Arizona St. (Photo Credit: Scott Wu)
All of a sudden, maybe a Pac-10 title doesn't seem so unlikely. UCLA faced long odds going into the season's final weekend. They had to play at the nation's number eight team, Arizona St., who had gotten the better of them for several years and trailing Oregon St. by a game in the conference, needed the Beavers to lose at least two games to a struggling Oregon team. Just one day into the weekend though, the Beavers have lost a game to the Ducks and UCLA took down Arizona St., 10-3. The win moved the Bruins to 32-21 on the season and 17-8 in the Pac-10, tied with Oregon St. for the best mark in the conference.
Strangely, it was the offense that got the job done for the Bruins in a season where the offense has been the team's biggest Achilles heel. Eight different Bruins picked up hits in the team's 12-hit effort and five errors by the Sun Devils undoubtedly helped. Cody Regis and Pat Valaika led the way for UCLA with two hits, two RBI and a run apiece, while Cody Keefer chipped in with a hit, two walks and two runs scored. Steve Rodriguez also had two RBI for the Bruins and Beau Amaral and Dean Espy each had two hits, a run and a RBI.
Just because the offense led the way doesn't mean the pitching didn't get the job done. In fact, the Bruin pitching did exactly what they had to win. They kept Arizona St. from putting together any big innings, never allowing more than a run in any inning against the Pac-10's second-highest scoring offense. Gerrit Cole went eight strong innings for the Bruins, surrendering three runs on nine hits. He allowed four walks, but did strike out nine to get the win and improve to 6-7 on the season. He also went over the 100 strikeout mark for the season, making him the first pitcher in UCLA history to strike out at least 100 in all three season. Nick Vander Tuig wrapped things up with a perfect ninth inning and the Bruins were into a first place tie.
UCLA had struggled some this season taking pitches and getting behind in counts. With Arizona St.'s starter having walked just seven batters all season though, the Bruins couldn't afford to take pitches and they came out aggressive. Amaral, Jeff Gelalich and Espy all singled to start the game. Espy's single scored Amaral and the Bruins were up 1-0 with two men still on base. With runners at the corners and one out, Regis rolled one to first base, where it was bobbled for an error, allowing Gelalich to score from third for a 2-0 UCLA lead.
Even against Cole's heat, the Sun Devils were never going to go away and they didn't. Cole missed with a fastball over the plate on a 2-2 count in the second inning and he was made to pay for it with a solo home run that cut UCLA's lead to 2-1.
Two innings later, Arizona St. evened up the game with a pair of extra base hits. A double started off the Sun Devils' fourth and two batters later they got a second double. That one scored a run and the game was all knotted up at two apiece.
The fifth inning saw Arizona St. grab a lead, but it could have been a lot worse. A walk and catcher's interference put two men on with one out and a single to left followed. The single scored the go-ahead run for the Sun Devils, but then Keefer bobbled the ball in left. That allowed the runners to move up to second and third and when Cole walked the next man the pressure was really on him with the bases loaded. That's when Cole came through with his big fastball, striking out consecutive batters with fastballs of 98 mph and 97 mph to end the inning.
After falling behind for the first time all game, it didn't take UCLA long to respond. Espy started off the sixth with a double and a single by Keefer put runners at the corners. Regis followed with a single of his own, scoring Espy to tie the game at 3-3. That's when the Bruins' took advantage of poor ASU defense. Chris Giovinazzo put down a sacrifice bunt, but it was bobbled at third and all the runners were safe. Marc Navarro then came on as a pinch-hitter and hit a chopper to third that could have been a 5-2-3 double play. The Sun Devils threw the ball away at the plate though, allowing Keefer and Regis to score for a 5-3 UCLA lead. It also moved the runners to second and third so when Rodriguez hit a fly ball to right, Giovinazzo was able to tag and score for another run. Then, Valaika roped to a single to left that scored Navarro and the Bruins held a 7-3 advantage.
The Bruins added to their lead in the eighth when Trevor Brown singled to start the frame. Rodriguez bunted him over to second and Valaika doubled to left, scoring Brown easily. Amaral followed with a triple to right center, scoring Valaika just as easily and UCLA was up 9-3.
That wasn't all for the Bruins though. Another Sun Devil error helped the Bruins out in the ninth inning so Rodriguez just needed a simple ground out to drive in another run and UCLA had their 10-3 final scoreline.