Nick Vander Tuig carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning on Saturday (Photo Credit: Scott Wu)
New Mexico entered Saturday with one of the nation's top offenses and a 10-game winning streak in which they had outscored their opponents 119-39. Apparently nobody told Nick Vander Tuig. The UCLA right-hander went out on Saturday evening and made a very good Lobos team look foolish in eight innings of one-hit ball, handing the Bruins a 7-1 win that has them one victory away from a Regional championship and a spot in the Super Regionals.
Vander Tuig looked strong from the start and carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning. By the time he exited the game, he had a career-high 11 strikeouts to just one walk and the only run to come across was unearned. Tonight's performance came on the back of Adam Plutko's great start last night and now through two postseason games, the UCLA starting pitchers have allowed only one unearned run on three hits in 17 innings and have struck out 18.
Just because Vander Tuig was dealing doesn't mean the UCLA offense went to sleep either. UCLA totaled 17 hits to New Mexico's two and all 11 Bruin who got an at-bat had at least one hit in the game. Cody Keefer led the way with a 3-for-4, two run, RBI effort and Trevor Brown and Jeff Gelalich each chipped in with two RBI. Beau Amaral set the table in the leadoff spot and scored twice in a game that saw the UCLA execute in every aspect en route to a convincing win over a good ball club.
The Bruins, who were the designated visting team, struck in the first inning to take a lead before the Lobos even got an at-bat. Amaral singled to start the game and Tyler Heineman was hit by a pitch before Keefer's sacrifice bunt moved them each up 90 feet. Gelalich then hit into a simple fielder's choice, allowing Amaral to score and the Bruins were in front early.
It looked like New Mexico might strike back in the bottom half of the inning when the Lobos' best hitter CJ Peterson got a good piece of a 1-0 pitch, but Keefer snared the deep drive with his back against the wall. From that point on, Vander Tuig was dominant.
Vander Tuig sat the Lobos' down in order in the second and third innings to keep the Bruins in front while their offense was leaving men on base left and right. The sophomore struck out the final two batters in the third, then sat the Lobos down in order in the fourth via the strikeout to give him five straight punch outs as he found his groove.
As good as Vander Tuig was, a cushion would have made things more comfortable for UCLA and in the fifth that's what they got. Heineman and Keefer singled to start the inning before Brown smoked one to the wall in left. It one-hopped the wall and the Lobos got it in quickly, but by the time they did Brown was on second and two men had come in to score, much to the delight of the Bruin faithful at Jackie Robinson Stadium. UCLA got one more when Pat Valaika ripped a liner to center, scoring Brown and in the middle of the fifth they had themselves a comfortable 4-0 lead.
Through four innings Vander Tuig had not allowed a Lobo to reach base, but his bid for a perfect game came to an end when Keefer botched a fly ball to left to leadoff the fifth. The error allowed New Mexico to put a man on second with nobody out and after a fly out and groundout, the Lobos had themselves their first run of the ballgame.
After seeing their lead shrink to 4-1 in the fifth, the Bruins got that run and more back the next half inning. Pinch-hitter Shane Zeile singled then moved to second on a sacrifice bunt before Amaral singled to score him and the Bruins had that run back. They were not done, though, as Keefer atoned for his error with a double into the right field corner that scored Amaral to give UCLA a 6-1 lead. A single by Gelalich then plated Amaral and the Bruins were up 7-1 in the sixth.
Despite seeing his bid for a perfect game come apart in the fifth, Vander Tuig never wavered. He put down the next three batters in that inning, then sat the Lobos down in order in the sixth. The seventh inning was more of the same as he easily put New Mexico away 1-2-3 again to take his no-hit bid into the eighth.
New Mexico finally got to Vander Tuig in the eighth, hitting the first pitch of the inning into left for a double and ending the possible no-hitter. The crowd at Jackie Robinson Stadium gave Vander Tuig a much-deserved standing ovation for his effort, but then it was back to work for the right-hander. He put away the next three men he saw to end an masterful outing for the sophomore.
After 124 pitches, Vander Tuig's day was done, but that was fine for the Bruins. David Berg entered in the ninth inning and while he did give up an infield hit, The Bruins never really sweated as he put away New Mexico to wrap up a fantastic night for UCLA and another postseason win.
With the victory, UCLA is sitting pretty in the Los Angeles Regional. They will get Sunday afternoon off, before facing the winner of the 3 pm New Mexico vs. Creighton game at 7 pm. If the Bruins win, they will win the Regional and book a spot in the Super Regionals, but if they lose they will have to come back on Monday at 7 pm and try again to take that Regional title.