David Berg was the tough luck loser on Friday (Photo Credit: Scott Wu)
UCLA wasn't as good as Arizona on Friday night and that was obvious from the opening pitch. Kurt Heyer was on his game from the start, proving early on why he is the front-runner for Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, and while Adam Plutko was strong, the Wildcats offense always looked like they were close to breaking through. Even so, UCLA was first on the board and played Arizona tight all night. It even looked like they might be able to improbably pull the game out, but in the end, they made one error and the Wildcats made them pay. It led to the winning run of the game in the eighth as Arizona topped UCLA, 4-3, to stretch their lead over the Bruins to two games in the Pac-12.
Going up against the top offense in the country, which boasts the top four hitters in the Pac-12, Plutko was in for a tough one and while the Wildcats made him work, he battled right back. The right-hander did allow 11 hits and did not strike out anyone, but he kept Arizona to just three runs and exited the game with the Bruins tied against the Pac-12's top team and offense. David Berg worked two innings of relief of Plutko, allowing just one hit, but he picked up the tough-luck loss thanks to one unearned run.
Once again, it was the top of the UCLA lineup doing the damage. Six of the Bruins' eight hits came from the first three men in the order, with Tyler Heineman picking up three hits to lead the way. Cody Keefer had two hits and scored a run, while Beau Amaral singled and scored to extend his hitting streak to 16 games. Jeff Gelalich scored a run for the Bruins, while Trevor Brown had their lone RBI on his one hit.
Arizona started picking up hits right from the start. They picked up two first inning hits, although they could not cash them in. A second inning double gave them another chance with a man in scoring position, but they couldn't do anything with that either. Two more singles in the third put men on the corners, but a fake to third, throw to first pick off got Plutko out of the inning with Arizona still scoreless.
While the Wildcats were racking up hits in the first three innings, the Bruins were doing nothing. They had just one hit in the first three frames and that was followed by a double play so through three innings, Heyer faced the minimum nine batters.
It looked like the fourth inning would be more of the same for the UCLA offense when the first two men were retired, but they put together a two-out rally. Keefer doubled and that was followed by a Gelalich walk to put two on. Brown followed that up with his team-leading 28th RBI on a single to center and the Bruins were in front. Gelalich also took third on the single and that paid off when Heyer balked, allowing him to score for a 2-0 UCLA lead.
As quickly as the Bruins went in front, the Wildcats erased their lead. A single in the bottom of the fourth got them going then a one-out single moved the runner to third with the throw allowing the batter to take second. A sacrifice fly then scored Arizona's first run and a double followed, scoring another run to tie the game up at two apiece.
The fifth inning saw the Wildcats go in front as a lead off walk came back to bite Plutko. While he did get the next two batters, consecutive two-out singles scored a run and Arizona had their first lead of the game at 3-2.
Just like Arizona came right back when UCLA went in front, the Bruins came right back when the Wildcats went in front. A bunt single by Amaral started the sixth and a bunt single by Heineman put two men on. Keefer dented the Bruin hopes when he popped up his sacrifice bunt attempt, but Amaral was able to take third when Gelalich followed by hitting into a fielder's choice. That's when a Heyer pitch skipped off the catcher's glove and got away, allowing Amaral to race home from third and tie the game at 3-3.
After surrendering a single to leadoff the seventh, Plutko got the hook and the first man to face Berg got a sacrifice bunt down to put the go-ahead run at second. An error by Cody Regis then allowed the next man to reach base, but Berg got the next two batters to ground back to him and the game was still even.
Two two-out singles gave UCLA a chance to go in front in the top of the eighth, but they couldn't make anything of them and that would hurt them a half inning later.
After a ground out to start the inning, Berg got a ground ball to shortstop from the second batter. Valaika fielded it, but he had to rush his throw a bit to get the man at first and ended up throwing it away for an error that allowed the batter to go all the way to second. That proved to be the difference in the game because one batter later, Arizona got a base hit to right that scored the man from second for a 4-3 lead.
Heyer went back out for the ninth inning and looked just as good as he did all game. He got the first two men out and while Chris Keck did pick up a pinch-hit single, he was thrown out trying to take second on the base hit to end the game as the Wildcats prevailed in the series opener.