Grant Watson had the best outing of his young career (Photo Credit: Scott Wu)
As UCLA gets ready for their toughest stretch of the season so far, they couldn't ask for any more momentum. With a trip to Georgia on the slate for this weekend, then a battle against USC in the Dodgertown Classic followed by a visit from Arizona St. to open Pac-12 play, the Bruins have a gauntlet ahead of them and on Tuesday night they ensured that they would go into it hot. Five pitchers combined to limit UC Riverside to four hits and the offense did enough on a cold night at Jackie Robinson Stadium to get a 4-0 win and stretch the Bruins' win streak to seven games.
Grant Watson turned in the best performance of his young career on Tuesday, tossing a career-high 5.1 innings and limiting the Highlanders to two hits with no runs across. He got the job done not by overpowering opposing hitters, but by throwing strikes low in the zone so all Riverside could do was pound the ball into the ground and he was rewarded with the win that pushes his record to 3-0 on the year. Watson handed the ball to Shane Zeile, who walked the only two batters he faced, but Chase Brewer bailed him out with 1.2 solid innings before Ryan Deeter and Scott Griggs wrapped things up.
Once again, Tyler Heineman picked up a hit to push his hitting streak to 12 games and Beau Amaral set the table at the top of the lineup with three hits. He added a run, RBI and stolen base, while Cody Regis chipped in with a pair of hits and runs scored in a game that saw seven of the Bruins' nine starters reach base.
While the four runs may not open many eyes, the Bruins did do a good job at the plate of working the Highlanders' pitching staff. It started in the first inning when they saw 38 pitches and started the process of getting into the Riverside bullpen, which did a little to make up for leaving the bases loaded.
The Bruins did got the opening run an inning later with a trio of singles. First Regis singled to second and Kevin Williams followed with a single up the middle so when Amaral dropped a base hit into right field, Regis was able to come around and score from second for the 1-0 Bruin lead.
It took until the fifth inning for UCLA to tally again. Amaral started things off with a double and Heineman followed with a bunch single. After a Cody Keefer walk loaded the bags, Trevor Brown hit a sacrifice fly to right that allowed Amaral to tag and score. Heineman's ability to tag and take third on the play too might have gone unnoticed at the time, but it didn't a batter later when Brian Carroll reached on an infield single. The Riverside bench thought that Carroll was out at first, but the umpire ruled him safe and Heineman was able to score from third on the hit as the Bruins grabbed a three-run lead.
After Watson got the first out of the sixth inning, he exited the game to a deserved applause, but that's when things got dicey. Zeile walked the first two men he faced and Brewer came on to give up a single to the first batter he faced. He then hit the next batter, forcing a runner in to score, except the umpire ruled that the batter didn't make an attempt to get out of the way. That proved to be huge when he got back in the box and hit into an inning-ending double play that kept the Highlanders off of the scoreboard.
UCLA then added to their lead in the bottom half of the inning. Regis singled to start the inning and eventually moved to third. Then with two outs, Keefer surprised the Highlanders with a bunt that was good for a RBI single and the Bruins lead was 4-0.
Deeter came on in the eighth inning to make his 10th appearance in 12 games this season and cruised before handing the ball to Griggs in the ninth. It wasn't a save situation for the right-hander, but it didn't matter to him. He put the Highlanders down in order and the Bruins were winners of seven straight.