It has been a rough three starts for Gerrit Cole. The highly-touted junior had spent two and a half seasons dominating for UCLA on Friday nights, but he allowed at least five runs in each of the last three starts in what has undoubtedly been the shakiest stretch of his magnificent career. With the Bruins coming off of consecutive series losses though, UCLA needed Cole to return to form and he did. He also got the support of his offense as they knocked out 11 hits and the Bruins grabbed the opening game of the weekend's three-game set to improve to 25-16 and 12-7 in the conference.
It took the offense until late in the game to really put the Ducks away as they tallied five times in the last four innings to get some separation. The Bruins managed their seven runs despite just one extra base hit thanks to six walks, two stolen bases, two sacrifice bunts, two sacrifice flies and some help from Oregon in the form of a wild pitch and error. Cody Regis drove in three runs for the Bruins and Pat Valaika two, while Dean Espy led the team with three hits in the contest to go along with a run scored and stolen base. Beau Amaral picked up a pair of hits, walked twice and scored twice, while Cody Keefer also had two hits in the ballgame.
Cole bounced back with 7.1 innings of one run ball on just six hits. While five strike outs may not be as prolific a number as usual from Cole, he was efficient and only walked one to improve to 5-5 on the year. Mitchell Beacom hit a batter and was victimized by an error in against the two batters he faced, but Nick Vander Tuig hurled a fantastic 1.2 innings after entering in a tough situation to earn his six save of the season.
A double steal in the first put Bruins at second and third with two outs, but a pop up ended the inning with nobody inning. Oregon also left two on in the second when a hit by pitch and single gave the Ducks a chance with one out, but Cole got out of the jam.
Consecutive walks by Chris Giovinazzo and Amaral put two men on with the Bruins with one out in the third, although after Espy flied out it looked as if UCLA may waste another opportunity. That's when Regis was able to get a 2-2 pitch through the left side for a single that scored Giovinazzo from second and the Bruins had themselves a 1-0 lead.
In the bottom of the third Oregon put two men on again, but once again Cole out of it. A lead off walk and sacrifice bunt gave the Ducks another chance the following inning, but there was Cole to get out of trouble again. A strike out and ground out ended the inning and UCLA's lead was intact after four innings.
That lead would grow in the fifth though. Steve Rodriguez was hit by a pitch to start the frame and Giovinazzo followed with a single before a perfect bunt by Amaral went for a single to load up the bases. Espy struck out to put the first out of the inning on the board and then Regis lifted one deep to center. It looked destined for extra bases until the Oregon centerfield went all the way back to the warning track and make a great diving catch to rob Regis. Regis' drive did go for a sacrifice fly though so the Bruins had added to their lead.
It didn't take much for Keefer to make it a 3-0 UCLA lead in the sixth. He singled, but then an attempted pick off went awry and Keefer galloped over to third. A passed ball followed and Keefer came in to score. That lead went to 4-0 later in the inning with more creative base running. Trevor Brown was at third and Rodriguez at first with two out when Rodriguez got caught between first and second on a pick off. The junior stayed in the rundown long enough for Brown to score from third before he was tagged out though so UCLA was up 4-0.
A triple to deep center for the Ducks going in the bottom half of the sixth and it led to their finally getting on a scoreboard. The following batter hit a grounder to shortstop, but Valaika threw the ball away so the man came on in from the third and the Bruins' lead was cut by a run.
A Regis sacrifice fly got UCLA that run back in the seventh. Amaral started off the frame with a double and a bunt single by Espy moved him over to third so when Regis lifted a fly ball to center, it was easy for Amaral to tage and score for the 5-1 UCLA advantage.
Oregon picked up a one-out single in the eighth and that was the end of Cole's day. He made way for Beacom who got the first man to ground to third, where Regis booted the ball away. When Beacom hit the next batter, the Ducks had the bases loaded and head coach John Savage made the move to bring Vander Tuig in. In a sticky situation, the freshman got a strike out right away for the inning's second out before a slow roller to Valaika up the middle allowed him to step on second for the inning's final out.
Valaika came through again in the ninth. A walk by Amaral, single by Espy and walk by Regis loaded the bases so when Valaika fought off a pitch and poked it through the right side for a single both Amaral and Espy scored for a 7-1 lead.
The Ducks singled with one out off of Vander Tuig in the ninth, but it didn't mean much. With the ball near the right field line the batter tried to turn the single into a double, but Giovinazzo rifled the ball to second to get the out. A fly out to center followed and UCLA were winners of the series' opening game.