On Thursday, UCLA flew into Omaha, Nebraska, their first trip to the city since losing in the College World Series Championship Series eighth months ago. The Bruins' trip wasn't to go revisit their stunning 2010 season. After landing in Omaha, UCLA drove 50 miles to Lincoln for their work trip, a three-game series against Nebraska. On Friday in game one of the series, the Bruins had to do extra work though, but on the back of fantastic pitching managed to get past the Cornhuskers, 1-0, in 11 innings.
Gerrit Cole had himself a rough start last week against San Jose St. and was dealt his first loss of the season as a result. On Friday, he showed that he could bounce back just fine in a thoroughly dominating performance that had everything but the win for the junior. Cole went nine innings for the Bruins on just 101 pitches, striking out eight and his only two walks of the game were both of the intentional variety. The right-hander was fantastic from the beginning, retiring the first 20 batters to take a perfect game into the seventh inning. By the end of the day, Cole had thrown his nine innings without surrendering a run and having allowed only two hits.
Once the curtain came down on Cole, Nick Vander Tuig came on and the freshman showed great poise in getting out of an 11th inning jam to earn the first win of his career. The Bruins needed the great pitching because the offense was anemic, registering just four hits in the ballgame. Through the first 10 innings, UCLA had only two hits, both by Cody Keefer, but hits by Tyler Rahmatulla and Dean Espy led to the winning run in the 11th that pushed UCLA's record to 7-2.
UCLA actually had a chance to get on the board early on, but couldn't capitalize. In the first inning the Bruins did not register a hit, but they still loaded the bases. Walks by Tyler Rahmatulla and Dean Espy, along with a hit by pitch by Beau Amaral loaded up the bases for the Bruins, but Keefer hit into a double play to end the inning.
The following inning, UCLA put two men on with two out when Chris Giovinazzo walked and Adrian Williams reached on an error, but Jeff Gelalich had himself a rough day and struck out for the second of three times in the game to strand the runners.
It took until the fourth inning for either team to finally pick up a hit and it came when Keefer singled right back up the middle to lead off the inning, but it didn't do any good. A strike out put the first out on the scoreboard and then Keefer got thrown out trying to steal second on strike three to the next batter, ending the frame.
While the Bruin offense was struggling to get a man across the plate, Cole was dealing. He was punching guys out with ease and never even had to stress much. When the right-hander finally allowed his first base runner of the game with two outs in the seventh inning he had only faced four two-ball counts, let alone three-ball counts. Cole also continued a UCLA trend of picking off runners this season, picking a man off of first to end the eighth inning for the Bruins' fourth pick off of the season.
The ninth inning brought UCLA's second hit of the game and the second hit for Keefer. The junior smacked one into left field for the hit, but it came with two hits and was followed by a strike out so the Bruins were still looking at a zero on the scoreboard.
In the bottom half of the inning it looked like Nebraska would break through. A lead off single through the left side for the Huskers going and a sacrifice bunt moved the man on to second with out out. An intentional walk set up the double play for the Bruins and also avoided the left-handed batter for the right-handed Cole. A ground ball to third base was good for an out, but it wasn't hit hard enough for the double play and the runners moved up 90 feet to put the winning run on third. Another intentional walk avoided another left-handed batter, but loaded the bases. It wasn't an issue for Cole though who came back throwing gas for the inning ending strike out that sent the game to extra innings.
A quiet 10th inning gave way to the deciding 11th inning. With one out, Rahmatulla singled to center field to get the Bruins going. Amaral followed with a ground out that moved Rahmatulla to third, but an error at first allowed the junior to motor on over to third. That error proved to be the key as Espy picked up the RBI single, but it never made it out of the infield and Rahmatulla wouldn't have been able to score from second on it. Rahmatulla was on third though so he scampered home and UCLA was up 1-0.
Vander Tuig went out for his second inning of work in the bottom of the 11th trying to finish off the game, but he walked the lead off man. A sacrifice bunt moved the tying run to second base and the freshman was in a bit of jam, but he responded with a great 2-2 pitch for a strike out. Vander Tuig followed that up with a full count walk though, putting the winning run on base, but again in a 2-2 count the freshman found a great strike out pitch to hand UCLA the win.
The Bruins and Cornhuskers will now move onto game two and hope that it's a little warmer than game one was. Friday's game was played in 29 degree weather with a 15 degree wind chill, but the Bruins pulled the win out. Now they turn to Trevor Bauer on Saturday looking to wrap up the series.