Pat Valaika was as clutch as could be on Sunday (Photo Credit: Scott Wu)
The jury is still out on UCLA after two weeks. The pitching has been shaky at times and the offense has sputtered at other times, while the defense has been iffy, but on Sunday against Baylor, they made one thing abundantly clear. This team has pluck. The Bruins fell behind three different times on Sunday, but they came back all three times, capped by a four-run eighth inning that turned a two-run deficit into a two-run lead and then with the Bears threatening to take the lead back in the ninth, the Bruins held on for a huge 8-6 victory. The win gave the Bruins the series win and pushed their record to 4-3 on the year, while handing the Bears their second consecutive loss and only two losses of the season.
It was Pat Valaika who was at the heart of every UCLA comeback on Sunday. His three-hit effort and fine defense was enough for a good game, but it was that all four of his RBI came with two outs that really stood out as the sophomore found himself in the spotlight time and time again. He did get some help from Shane Zeile too, who had a RBI and a run, while Jeff Gelalich and Trevor Brown each had two hits and two runs scored as the Bruins got the offense going for the second consecutive game against a Baylor pitching staff that previously looked untouchable
It wasn't the prettiest of afternoon's on the mound for Zack Weiss, but despite struggling for most of his start, he managed to eat up five innings and pick up four strikeouts, while surrendering five runs. Once again, the bullpen was very good, allowing just one run in their four innings of work. Madison Poole did not retire the only batter he faced, but David Berg worked 1.2 scoreless innings. Ryan Deeter allowed a run in his 0.2 innings and Grant Watson picked up his first career win with 0.2 scoreless innings in the eighth before Scott Griggs came on to retire the side in the ninth for his second save of the year.
As was the case all weekend, Baylor were quick starters. Max Muncy came to the plate after a walk and the Bears' big hitter looked every bit the part of the number three hitter, driving one out to right field for a two-run home run and 2-0 Baylor lead.
Baylor almost added to their lead in the second inning when they put two men in scoring position with only one out, but Weiss got a strikeout then ground out to get of the inning with the lead still just two.
That two-run lead wouldn't last much longer after that. In the bottom half of the frame, Brown singled, took second on a balk and then scored on Zeile's single up the middle. After Zeile moved up 90 feet on a wild pitch, Valaika picked up his first RBI with a run-scoring single and knotted the game up at two.
As quickly as UCLA tied things up, Baylor reclaimed their lead. Muncy did the damage again, this time hitting a blast way out to right field that landed on the hitting facility. The long ball would hurt Weiss one more time in the frame as the Bears got another solo home run two batters later to put themselves up, 4-2.
In the fourth inning, though, Valaika was there again to bring the Bruins back. Gelalich singled and Zeile walked to put two men on for Valaika. The sophomore went to a full count with two outs and then lifted one down the line in right. The Baylor right fielder was almost able to chase it down, but he just barely missed it on the diving attempt. By the time he scrambled to his feet and got the ball in, Valaika was standing on third, Gelalich and Zeile had scored and the game was all tied up once again.
Like UCLA got a two-out triple in the fourth, Baylor got one of their own in the fifth. The Bears' triple only scored one, but it was enough to put them in front, 5-4. Three innings later, the Bears added another run and trailing 6-4, it looked like the Bruins were on their way to defeat.
The Bruins may have looked dead, but they sure didn't play like it as they came fighting back in the bottom of eighth. Cody Keefer and Gelalich picked up consecutive one-out singles, then Brown followed with one of his own to score Keefer and draw the Bruins within one run. Then with two outs, Cody Regis stepped to the plate with his sub-.100 batting average, but he didn't look like a struggling hitter when he worked a full count and certainly didn't when he hit the next pitch hard up the middle. The Baylor second baseman dove for Regis' hot shot and it deflected off his glove and into no-man's land, allowing not just Gelalich to score, but Brown to come all the way around from first to give the Bruins the lead. Valaika then capped his day with a rocket of a double to left-center, scoring Regis and UCLA took a 8-6 lead to the ninth.
With a two-run lead, UCLA turned to their wild closer Griggs to close things out and he made things a little interesting. A pair of two-out walks brought the go-ahead run to the plate and the anxiety resulted in a silent Jackie Robinson Stadium. That's when Griggs found the pitches he needed, though, striking out the final batter of the game and sealing up a vital 8-6 win and series win for the Bruins.