Bases loaded, two outs in the ninth inning and the winning run at the plate. UCLA had their chance, but they missed it when the home plate umpire called for strike three...again. It was a fitting end to a game in which the Bruins were the inferior team from the start and were absolutely lost at the plate. San Francisco bested the Bruins at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Friday night, 3-0, to start off Regional play and move UCLA one game away from elimination. While the Dons will move to the comfortable winner's bracket game on Saturday at 6 pm PDT against UC Irvine, UCLA will fight for their lives against Fresno St. at 2 pm PDT with the loser's season coming to a close.
Going into the ninth inning, UCLA had just two hits to their name. By the time the game came to an end, UCLA had just four as USF starter Kyle Zimmer absolutely dominated the Bruins. He didn't walk one and only once went to a three-ball count as the Bruins watched a lot of first pitch strikes, then chased a lot of bad pitches after that. It didn't help that the home plate umpire was somewhere between awful and terrible, but the simple fact is that as bad as the umpire may have been, the UCLA offense was worse. Jeff Gelalich was the only Bruin that looked competent at the dish, picking up a pair of hits as the rest of team just flailed away.
Gerrit Cole certainly wasn't as his best and that was clear from the start. While his pure stuff was there with a good firm fastball that topped out at 98 mph, great bite on his slider and a good change up, he struggled to spot those pitches, especially on the inner half of the plate. As a result, the Dons were able to hang over the plate and punish Cole to the tune of 11 hits in 7.1 innings. Cole gave up three runs on the evening and struck out 11, not his best effort, but enough to get a win if he had some run support. Nick Vander Tuig tossed 1.2 perfect innings of relief, but keeping the Bruins in the game ended up not mattering.
UCLA had the first chance to score when Gelalich doubled down the right field line with one out in the first inning. Consecutive groundouts stranded Gelalich though and it would be a long time before the Bruins even had the chance to strand a runner again.
An error almost bit the Bruins in the second, but Cole pitched his way out of it. A two-base error by Cody Regis followed a lead off single and with nobody out, USF had men at second and third. Cole got the next man swinging at strike three, but then walked the next batter to load the bases. No matter, a strikeout followed and a fly out ended the inning with none across.
Like the second inning, the third inning started with a single. A sacrifice bunt moved the runner to the second, then the next batter hit a slow dribbler along the first base line. Cole gave chance and when he reached down to grab the ball, his foot got caught on the lip between the grass and dirt running lane, causing Cole to fall and grab his ankle. He got up gingerly, but stayed in the game. The next three pitches he threw went for balls then on a 3-0 count, the Dons got a line drive RBI single to left and the underdogs had themselves a 1-0 lead.
Things never looked as bad for the UCLA offense as they did in the fourth. The two, three and four hitters in the Bruin lineup all went down looking at strike three and the Bruin offense was still hitless since Gelalich's first inning single.
With the offense struggling, every run the Dons got was a big deal and they got one more in the fifth. A one-out single put a man on and while Cole struck out the following better, the ball got away on strike three so the runner was able to take second base. That proved to be huge as the next batter rolled one up the middle. Kevin Williams gave chase and got his glove to hit, but he couldn't snag it and it went off his glove into center field. A run scored on the play and the Dons' lead was up to 2-0.
Finally in the fifth, UCLA got their second hit of the game. Regis led off the frame with a base hit to left and he was bunted over to second base as pinch-hitter Marc Navarro came to the plate. He hit a hard ground ball back up the middle, but Zimmer reached out and knocked it down with his bare hand before throwing to first for the out. Regis made it as far as third in the inning, but that was it.
A lead off double in the eighth had the Dons threatening to score again and a sacrifice bunt moved the runner over to third. The next batter laced a single to right, scoring a run and putting San Francisco ahead, 3-0. That marked the end of Cole's night as he left the field for possibly his last time in a UCLA uniform. Vander Tuig entered and quickly got the Bruins out of the inning.
The first two Bruins in the ninth inning went down and the Dons were only one out away from victory, but then things got interesting. Gelalich put down a perfect bunt for a single and Dean Espy singled to bring Cody Keefer to the plate as the tying run. He got behind in a two strike count, but got hit on the knee by a curveball to load up the bases and bring Regis to the plate as the winning run. Regis, UCLA's leading home run hitter, got ahead in the count 2-1, but then took a fastball that many in attendance felt was off the plate, but the umpire called for strike three. Zimmer came back with the same fastball away, this time a little further off the plate, but the umpire rung Regis up on the pitch.
Bad calls or not to sit Regis down and end the UCLA comeback, there is no doubt that San Francisco was the better club on Friday night. With 11 hits to the Bruins' four and a flawless defensive game to a shoddy one for UCLA, the Dons were deserving winners in front of 1,925 fans at Jackie Robinson Stadium.