Jeff Gelalich hit two home runs and earned Regional Most Outstanding Player honors (Photo Credit: Scott Wu)
A year ago, UCLA's season ended in the Regional final because their offense couldn't get the job done, but they made sure that wasn't going to happen again this season. The Bruins, led by Jeff Gelalich's two home runs, crushed Creighton on Sunday night in the Regional final, 13-5, to finish the Los Angeles Regional a perfect 3-0 and not just book their spot in next weekend's Super Regionals, but put an exclamation point on a sensational weekend at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Gelalich was the clear star of the night, going 3-for-3 with two home runs, two walks, four RBI and three runs scored and he proved to be the star of the weekend too. The junior was named the Regional's Most Outstanding Player after going 5-for-11 in the weekend's three games. Kevin Kramer added two hits of his own, while Trevor Brown and Pat Valaika each had one hit, two RBI and two runs scored. Cody Keefer didn't have a hit in the contest, but he did walk twice and score three times as the Bruin offense put the game away early and never slowed down.
The Bruins needed their offense to be good because the pitching was a little shaky, especially early on. After getting outstanding pitching performances on Friday and Saturday, UCLA had some trouble with Zack Weiss on the mound against the Blue Jays. The right-hander never quite got comfortable and was never particularly good, but he really battled on the mound and did well to keep the Bruins in the ballgame despite not being sharp. By the time he exited he had thrown five inning of three-run ball and earned the win for his efforts.
David Berg struck out three in two scoreless innings and Ryan Deeter worked a perfect eighth in relief. Scott Griggs had trouble in the ninth, allowing two runs on four hits, but then he struck out three to put an emphatic end to a statement weekend for the Bruins.
Creighton struck first, plating two runs in the first inning against a struggling Weiss. A double started the game and after a one-out walk, a double scored the opening run of the ballgame. A groundout then scored a second run and the Blue Jays had early momentum.
After the first two Bruins went down in the bottom half of the first, momentum was clearly on the side of Creighton. But that's when Keefer walked to bring up Gelalich, who picked out a 2-1 pitch and deposited over the fence in right to flip momentum over to the home dugout where it would remain for the rest of the game.
The second inning didn't look much better for Weiss as he walked two, hit one batter and threw two wild pitches, but he made the pitches he needed when he had to and got out of the inning unscathed. The third inning was also hairy as the Blue Jays started the inning with two singles, prompting UCLA to get two men up in the bullpen, but Weiss worked out of that jam as well.
With Weiss struggling, he could have really used some help from his offense and that's what he got in the third. Kramer and Amaral singled to put men on the corners with nobody out and Tyler Heineman hit a run-scoring groundout to give UCLA the lead. After an error allowed Keefer to reach, Gelalich walked to load the bases. That's when Brown came through with team-leading RBI numbers 49 and 50 on the season with a line drive to centerfield that scored two. A perfect squeeze bunt by Valaika then scored another and the Bruins were up, 6-2. Even pinch-hitter Shane Zeile got in on the action, singling to left so Brown could come around to score for a 7-2 lead.
With a five-run cushion, Weiss settled in some. He worked through a relatively easy fourth inning and while he did give up a run in the fifth, he "limited the damage". Limiting the damage seemed to be his mantra on this night, which was all he really had to do with the offense clicking so after four and a half the Bruins had themselves a comfortable 7-3 lead.
It wouldn't be 7-3 for a pitch longer, though. Gelalich led off the bottom of the fifth inning by jumping all over the first pitch he saw and crushing it way out to right field for his second dinger of the game. Valaika then went to work in extending the Bruins' lead as he walked, stole second, took third on a passed ball and then scored on Chris Keck's sacrifice fly. By the time he was done moving around 90 feet at a time, UCLA led Creighton, 9-3.
The Bruins still had one more big inning in them, too. Heineman doubled and Keefer walked with one out in the sixth, bringing up Gelalich yet again. He didn't hit his third home run, but he did rip a single back up the middle to score Heineman for his fourth RBI of the contest. Valaika then added to his RBI total with a base hit that scored Keefer and later on in the inning Regis got in on the action with a RBI single of his own. Six innings were in the books, but the entire game might as well have been as the Bruins led, 13-3.
Berg, pitching for the 19th game in the Bruins' last 20, tossed an easy sixth and then worked out of a seventh inning jam to keep his incredible season going. Deeter then followed with his first appearance of the postseason, a 1-2-3 eighth inning that moved the Bruins to within three outs of the Regional title.
UCLA turned to Griggs to take care of the things in the ninth and while he did make things interesting, he was able to wrap it up. He allowed the first four men he faced to pick up hits, which scored two runs for the Blue Jays, but then he buckled down. He struck out the next three men he faced and the Bruins emptied out of the dugout to high five each other as Regional champions.
As expected when a team dominates a Regional like UCLA did -- outscoring their opponents 23-6 -- they placed their fair share of players on the All-Regional team. Most Outstanding Player Gelalich was obviously on the team, but he was also joined by Brown, Valaika, Amaral, Keefer, Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig.
With the Regional win, the Bruins advance to the Super Regionals, which they will host next weekend as the number two national seed. They will face the winner of Monday's College Station Regional final between TCU and Ole Miss and will learn the game dates and times on Monday night at 8 pm PT.