In the many decades that UCLA has fielded a baseball team, they had never won back-to-back conference titles, past tense. On Sunday afternoon at Jackie Robinson Stadium, UCLA defeated USC, 7-6, to claim a share of the Pac-12 title with Arizona and consecutive conference titles for the first time in school history. It came hours after UCLA was named a Regional host and sees them finish the season 42-14 on the season, 20-10 in the Pac-12 and with a four-game sweep over the Trojans for the year.
After a couple quiet games, the Bruin offense had a good afternoon on Sunday, totaling 12 hits against the Trojans. Shane Zeile led the way with a 3-for-4 effort and Pat Valaika played the role of hero with the game-winning two-RBI single as part of a three RBI game. Trevor Brown, Tyler Heineman and Kevin Kramer all had three hits, with Brown driving in two, Heineman scoring two and Kramer driving in one.
For the second game in a row, Scott Griggs gave up a Bruin lead, but earned the win when the offense backed him up. He allowed one run on three hits in 1.1 innings, but still got the win to improve to 3-1 on the year. Zack Weiss was shaky in his start, allowing eight hits and walked two in just four innings, but he did well to limit USC to three runs, two earned and keep the Bruins in the ballgame. Chase Brewer and David Berg each worked scoreless frame, while Grant Watson and Ryan Deeter each surrendered an run in 0.2 innings, although Watson's was unearned. It wasn't the best day on the mound for the Bruins and the seven walks will drive John Savage up a wall, but it was enough to pick up the sweet and share of the conference crown.
After loading the bases in the first and coming up empty, USC got on the scoreboard in the second. Consecutive singles and a sacrifice bunt put two men in scoring position before a groundout scored the opening run. The Trojans then pulled off a double steal, sending the man from first two second and then swiping home on the throw down to second for a 2-0 edge.
That lead would only last until the bottom half of the inning because like the Trojans, the Bruins put their first two men on. Jeff Gelalich started the inning with a single and Brown followed with a double so Valaika's fly ball to right was enough for Gelalich to tag and score from third. It looked like Matt Giovinazzo would drive in Brown, but his line drive was right at the third baseman for the second out of the inning. That's when Kramer came through with a two-out single, scoring Brown and evening the game at two apiece.
After his first easy inning of the game in the third, Weiss got into more trouble in the fourth, although his defense was as much at fault as him. With men on first and second and two out, what looked like a routine grounder to second base became a mess. Brown got to it, but Zeile had come too far off first and was scrambling to get back to first. It made the throw for Brown difficult and he threw it away. Weiss got to the overthrow and tried to get the man coming around to score from second on the error, but the throw home was not in time and USC had the lead back.
Again, UCLA had an answer for USC in the next half inning. Zeile led off with a single and Giovinazzo followed with a walk before a sacrifice bunt moved them each up 90 feet. Beau Amaral then jumped on the first pitch he saw and knocked it into left for a RBI single that knotted the teams up once again.
Weiss got the hook after four and Brewer entered for him in the fifth. He walked the first two men he faced, but then induced a double play and got a groundout to escape the inning unscathed.
Watson wouldn't be as luck in the sixth. He got the first two outs of the inning, but then allowed a double and walked a man before getting he hook. That marked the end of his day as Berg entered for him, but Kramer let a grounder get the best of him as it skipped off his glove and into left field for a run scoring error.
That would mark the final time USC would lead in the ballgame. Amaral, Heineman and Cody Keefer all reached with one out to bring up Gelalich, but the Bruins' top hitter couldn't come through. He hit into a fielder's choice that erased Amaral at the plate and there were two outs. That brought up Brown, who has been UCLA's top clutch hitter all year and he showed why, pulling a ground ball through the left side. Heineman and Keefer both came around to score and UCLA had their first lead of the game at 5-4.
UCLA wouldn't just walk away with the win, though. USC gave them a run for it and evened things up in the right. Deeter walked one and gave up a single to put two men on with two outs. That's when Savage turned to Griggs and things got crazy. First, Griggs walked the first batter he faced to load the bases and then he struck out the next batter. The only problem is that strike three came on a wild pitch that went all the way to the backstop. The batter raced down to first and reached, while the tying run came home and even on a strikeout, Griggs allowed the tying run to come across.
Every time USC scored in the top half of an inning on Sunday, UCLA answered in the bottom half of the inning and the eighth would be no difference. Heineman, Gelalich and Brown each reached to bring up Valaika with the bases loaded and one out. After taking a first pitch ball, Valaika knocked a base hit to left, scoring Heineman and Gelalich and UCLA was back in front, 7-5.
Of course, Griggs would not make things easy in the ninth. He gave up consecutive single to start the inning and after beng gifted a popped up bunt for an out, he gave up another single that scored a run. With their lead down to one run, UCLA needed Griggs to buckle down and he did, inducing consecutive fielder's choice outs and the Pac-12 title was heading back to Westwood.
The NCAA named UCLA one of the 16 Regional hosts on Sunday afternoon, but the rest of the postseason field is yet to be announced. The Bruins are expected to be a national seed and should have that, as well as the rest of their Regional revealed on Monday's Selection Show, which will be televised on ESPNU at 9 am PT.