Offense was always going to be hard to come by for UCLA, and that was when they thought they'd be healthy. They're not -- Eric Filia and Kevin Kramer are out for the season and Kevin Williams is sidelined until March -- and unsurprisingly, the Bruins struggled at the plate in their season opening series.
Still, they came away with a series win. They got the job done.
UCLA was shutout in their season opener, making it three consecutive opening day losses for the program, but bounced back with wins on Saturday and Sunday to take the series against Portland. The three-game set came down to extra innings, with the Bruins and Pilots playing into the 11th inning Sunday, when Shane Zeile ripped one down the left field line to score Brian Carroll and make UCLA walk-off winners.
The Bruins' offensive woes started from the beginning and hung new Friday night starter James Kaprielian out to dry. The sophomore looked like a pitcher making his first collegiate start in the first inning, allowing two hits, committing a balk and walking one to load the bases before hitting a batter to force a run in.
Unfortunately for UCLA, that would prove to be all the Pilots needed. The Bruins mustered just four hits all game, but it's not as if they didn't have chances. They loaded the bases in the fifth only to come up empty, got Brett Stephens to third with nobody out in the seventh, but left him there, and loaded the bases in the eighth. In the end, they just couldn't get a run across and wasted a strong start by Kaprielian (five innings, one run, seven strikeouts) and a great effort by the bullpen, which struck out eight in four shutout innings.
There was some concern that Saturday would be more of the same for the Bruins, who were shutout in the first three innings and saw the Pilots take a lead in the top of the fourth, but the bats finally came alive and powered them to victory. Chris Keck led the way with a 4-for-5, three run, one RBI effort, while Trent Chatterton drove in three and Carroll went 3-for-3.
UCLA answered Portland's fourth inning run with two of their own in the bottom half of the inning. Keck tripled home Zeile to get the Bruins even, then Keck scored on a wild pitch and UCLA had their first lead of the seaosn.
The big breakout inning came in the sixth, when four hits, a walk, hit by pitch and error combined to bring five runs across. It was a classic offensive inning for the Bruins, who didn't have an extra base hit in the inning, just a string of singles, aggressive base running and continually putting the ball in play to pressure the Pilots defense.
UCLA put the game away in the seventh inning, and this time it came with some big hits. Keck led off the frame with a double, Luke Persico followed with a triple and Christoph Bono added a double of his own to plate two runs without an out. A Chatterton single followed, scoring Bono, and the Bruins had a 10-1 lead.
While the Bruins' offense was crushing the ball, Grant Watson was methodically setting down Pilot after Pilot. The junior looked as calm and composed as he always has for the Bruins, striking out eight and walking just one in seven innings of three-hit, one-run ball to capture the win as UCLA cruised, 12-1.
Saturday's offensive explosion was supposed to jumpstart the UCLA offense, but that didn't quite happen. The Bruins totaled 14 hits on Sunday, only to leave 12 men on base and find themselves in a tight battle with the Pilots.
Once again, Portland scored first with a run in the third, but UCLA responded in the bottom half of the inning. Bono led off with a double and scored on Carroll's one-out single. Carroll then took second on Brett Stephens' single and scored on a base hit by Ty Moore -- who went 4-for-4 on the day -- to give UCLA the lead. An inning later, Bono got things going again with a one-out hit by pitch before scoring on a Chatterton double to stretch the Bruins' lead to 3-1.
For a while, it looked like UCLA's two-run advantage would hold up, but Portland drew even in the seventh. Nick Kerm allowed a two-out walk, then a RBI double that cut the Bruins' lead in half. The next batter then worked the count full before knocking one through the right side, scoring the runner from second and tying the game at 3-3.
UCLA had chances to re-take the lead and win in the seventh and ninth inning, putting two men on base in both, but each time they were stranded on base. Meanwhile, David Berg was his always dominant self, allowing just one hit in four innings after coming in to start the eighth.
Berg's dominance gave the Bruins a chance to win the game in the 11th, which they did. Carroll singled to lead off the inning, followed by a sacrifice bunt. That brought Zeile to the plate with one out and he jumped all over the first pitch he saw, lacing it down the left field line and sending the UCLA team pouring off the bench. The mobbed Zeile as soon as Carroll touched home plate, celebrating a successful -- if not always pretty -- start to the season.