The start of the 2012 UCLA season looks a lot like the 2011 season. The Bruins got a tremendous pitching performance from their starter, but their anemic offense couldn't pull away so when they had to go to the bullpen, they were in trouble. On Friday night in their season opener against Maryland, that is exactly what happened. Adam Plutko was fantastic, but the Bruins only mustered one run so when they turned to the bullpen, the pressure was on and that pressure got the best of the bullpen. Two runs in the ninth inning turned a one-run UCLA lead into a one-run Maryland advantage and an empty bottom of the ninth sent the Bruins to a 2-1 loss.
Plutko looked every bit the part of an ace in his debut as the Bruins' Friday night starter. He went 1-2-3 in the first inning, setting the tone for the rest of the game. By the time he exited after seven innings, he had allowed just five hits, while striking out 10 and walking just one. Grant Watson and Ryan Deeter combined for a scoreless eighth inning, but Scott Griggs gave up two runs in the ninth to blow the save and pick up the loss on the evening.
Offensively, the Bruins didn't set the world on fire despite going up against a pitcher who had plenty of problems last season. They totaled just seven hits, with Jeff Gelalich and Cody Keefer each picking up a pair. Kevin Williams and Brenton Allen each had a hit and two walks, with Allen scoring the Bruins' only run and Williams driving him in, but that wasn't nearly enough offense for UCLA.
UCLA had the first chance to get on the scoreboard when they loaded the bases in the second. Walks by Trevor Brown and Williams and a single by Tyler Heineman filled up the bags, but a Beau Amaral fly out left them out there.
It took until the fourth inning, but the Bruins finally got a run across and it all came with two outs. Allen doubled with two down and an error on a Heineman grounder kept the inning alive for Williams. The sophomore then came through with a single to score Allen and the Bruins were ahead, 1-0. Again, though, Amaral left men on when he hit into a fielder's choice to end the inning.
At the same time, Plutko was throwing a gem. It took until the sixth inning for Maryland to get a man to second base and when they finally did, Plutko got some help from his defense. The Terps singled with a man on first and that baserunner tried to go to third on the play, but Gelalich came up with a great throw from right to nab the runner at third, ending the threat.
The offense just could not pick Plutko up, though. In the bottom half of the sixth, the Bruins loaded the bases with a hit by pitch and two walks, but a Amaral fielder's choice forced an out at the plate for out number two and then a ground out by Gelalich ended the frame with the lead still just 1-0.
Maryland came back with a threat of their own in the seventh when a walk, error and single loaded up the bags for the visitors, but Plutko stepped up to the challenge. The right-hander struck out consecutive batters then got a line out to end the inning and his evening at an efficient 96 pitches.
Watson and Deeter got the Bruins through the eighth and handed the ball to the Bruins' new closer, Griggs, but the right-hander's old nemesis came back to bite him. He just could not find the plate, hitting a batter, being victimized by an error and walking another to load the bases. From there, a walk and hit by pitch forced in the two runs that Maryland would need to go in front and win the ballgame, 2-1.
Now UCLA has to win the final two games of the weekend to take the series and they will need an offense and bullpen to do it. They'll get to work on that on Saturday at 2 pm PT when they host the Terps at Jackie Robinson Stadium with Nick Vander Tuig on the mound.