UCLA played with fire in a testy eighth inning, but held on to defeat Utah 5-4 on Saturday at Jackie Robinson Stadium. The Bruins are now 30-13 on the season and 13-7 in the Pac-12, but because Oregon and Oregon St. also won, they are still 3.5 games back of first place in the conference.
Nick Vander Tuig kept his sensational season going with 6.2 innings of six-hit, two-run ball. The junior struck out six and walked just one in his 11th start of six innings or more in 12 starts this season as he improved to 8-3 on the campaign. David Berg took care of things on the back end, striking out all four batters he faced to earn his 12th save.
Vander Tuig got into trouble when a single, wild pitch and single scored a run for Utah in the first, but UCLA answered in the bottom half of the inning. Kevin Kramer roped a double into right center then Eric Filia followed with a single to score him and the game was all tied up again.
Two singles and a fielder's choice plated another run for the Utes in the second inning, but just like the previous frame, the Bruins answered right back. Pat Gallagher was hit by a pitch to start the inning then moved into scoring position on Brenton Allen's sacrifice bunt before Brian Carroll laced a RBI single and once again, the game was all even.
The 2-2 score held through the third, fourth and fifth innings despite each team having a couple chances to go in front, but when UCLA got their chance in the sixth, they took advantage. Valaika led off the inning with a single and Cody Regis followed with a walk. A wild pitch then allowed Valaika to take third, which proved huge because when Gallagher lifted a fly ball to right, the junior was able to tag and score to give the Bruins their first lead of the game.
Allen added to the Bruins' lead when he started off the seventh by jumping on a 3-2 pitch and crushing it out to right center for his second home run of the season. Kramer and Valaika then teamed up to tack on another run when the former walked and stole second and the latter singled him home to give UCLA a 5-2 lead.
After James Kaprielian relieved Vander Tuig in the seventh and got the last out of the inning, Zack Weiss game in for the eighth, but he didn't dare as well. He hit the first man he faced and after a groundout moved the runner to second, a RBI single cut the UCLA lead to 5-3. That ended his day and brought on Ryan Deeter, but he also hit the first man he faced before a fielder's choice and error plated another run. With the Bruins' lead down to 5-4, John Savage went to Berg and the magnificent sophomore came through. He struck out the first man he saw, then picked a man off first to end the inning and keep UCLA in front.
From there, it just took a 1-2-3, three strikeout inning in the ninth by Berg and UCLA had themselves a 30-win season for the seventh time in Savage's nine years in Westwood.