Adam Plutko wasn't at his best, but was still effective and helped UCLA top USC (Photo Credit: Scott Wu)
UCLA has owned USC ever since John Savage took over in Westwood. The Bruins entered Friday with 16 wins in their last 21 against the Trojans and having not lost the season series against their crosstown rivals in the last six years. Make that 17 of their last 22 and seven years. The Bruins beat the Trojans, 3-1, on Friday night at Jackie Robinson Stadium to continue their dominance over USC and, thanks to an Oregon St. win over Oregon, move within a game of first place Oregon and Arizona in the Pac-12.
With the offense taking the night off, it was the pitching that had to come through for the Bruins and it did. Adam Plutko wasn't his sharpest in walking five, but he was still very effective and picked up the win to improve to 9-3. The sophomore allowed just one run on four hits and has now given up one run or fewer in each of his last four outings. Rubber arm David Berg and Ryan Deeter each struck out one in a perfect inning apiece and Scott Griggs withstood some wildness to pick up his 15th save of the season.
The UCLA offense totaled just seven hits on the game and six of those came from three players. Beau Amaral had two hits, two RBI and a run scored to lead the way and Pat Valaika and Cody Regis had two hits and a run each to make up almost all of the Bruin offense. Cody Keefer added the last hit and a RBI, but the offense was quiet and only really seemed to get something going when they got one of their six walks. Still, it was enough as the Bruins moved a step closer to a national seed and possible defense of their conference title.
Plutko found himself in trouble in the first inning and it would be a theme the rest of the way. He surrendered a single to start the ballgame and a sacrifice bunt move the Trojan into scoring position, but Plutko got USC's number three and four hitters out to end the inning. Three more men reached in the second inning for Plutko, but Tyler Heineman threw out two of them trying to stealing to keep the Bruins from falling behind.
All of the offense that UCLA would need came in the second inning. Valaika walked and Regis singled to put two on, then Kevin Kramer walked with two outs to load the bases. That brought up Amaral, who took a first pitch ball before dropping a base hit into right field. Valaika and Regis came around to score and the Bruins had themselves a 2-0 lead.
USC continued to put pressure on Plutko in the third and finally scored with some small ball. After consecutive singles put men on the corners wit nobody out, the Trojans executed a textbook safety squeeze to score a man and the UCLA lead was cut in half. A walk followed so the tying run was on second and the go-ahead run on first, but a pair of fly outs got Plutko out of the inning.
After an easy fourth inning, USC almost scored again in the fifth, albeit with some help from UCLA. A one-out error put a man on base then with two outs, Plutko left a pitch up. The Trojans took advantage with a good drive into the left center field gap that looked like it could score a run, but Keefer went deep into the gap and made a fine running catch to end the inning.
Naturally, Plutko allowed a man into scoring position in his sixth and final inning as well, but as was the case with most of the night, he worked his way out of it. When Berg came on in the seventh, he worked an easy 1-2-3 frame that seemed almost foreign to the Bruins at that point.
The Bruins' offense did wake up some in the seventh inning and give the bullpen a bit of a cushion. Amaral walked to start the inning and Heineman bunted him over so when Keefer pulled a low liner through the right side, Amaral was able to race around and score for a 3-1 UCLA lead.
Deeter made things easy in the eighth, but Griggs had himself a rocky ninth. After a quick strikeout of the lead off man, Griggs allowed a soft infield single and all of a sudden, he lost his command. He walked the next man on four pitches to bring the tying run to the plate. He didn't look particularly comfortable after that, going to full counts on the next two batters, but he got both looking to end the several potential heart attacks in the stands and seal up another UCLA win over USC.
The Bruins now sit at 40-14 on the season and 18-10 in the Pac-12. Oregon and Arizona lead the conference at 19-9 and UCLA is one game out of first place. Stanford and Arizona St. are a game behind UCLA with two games left in the regular season for all teams.