The UCLA Bruin baseball team (37-19) did not look like the better of the two teams for the majority of its postseason opener against Gonzaga (33-23) yesterday in Game One of the Minneapolis Regional.
UCLA’s typically reliable Friday starter, Jake Bird (7-4, 2.18 ERA), got off to what could be described as his worst start to a game this season, allowing three runs in the first three innings (it could have been more, especially in the second inning), struggling to find the plate, and allowing the Bulldogs to go deep in most counts.
At the plate, UCLA had only one hit in the first five innings, a two out double by Chase Strumpf in the first. Even with the lack of hits, the Bruins had stranded five runners (four in scoring position) through five innings, due in large part to three batters getting hit by pitches.
It looking like this would be one of the Bruins’ “offensively challenged” games, one of several games this season in which the Bruins—who average well over seven runs per game—cannot seem to get timely hits. In fact, Jake Bird took hard luck losses in two such games in he last month in which he had pitched much, much better than yesterday, a pair of 2-0 losses at Arizona and then, three weeks later, at Oregon State. How would he fare in a similar game in which he did not have his best stuff?
Although Bird settled down in the middle innings, retiring the Zags in order in the fourth, fifth, and seventh innings, and the Bruins pushed across two runs in the sixth innings, the Zags were able to score runs in the sixth and eighth innings and, as such, the Bruins went into the bottom of the ninth inning down 5-2, and had only mustered five hits.
The Bruins were 0-16 on the season when trailing while going into the ninth inning. The bottom of UCLA’s line-up was scheduled to hit. Indeed, the odds of a Bruins victory seemed long.
And then, the incredible happened.
Gonzaga’s closer, Casey Legumina, hit Ryan Kreidler with his first pitch of the ninth inning. Head Coach John Savage opted to pinch hit for Will McInerny, by using freshman RJ Teijeiro, who only had 29 at-bats in his collegiate career.
Teijeiro delivered stroking a double down the right field line. UCLA had runners on second and third, with no outs and the top of the order coming up with the tying run at the plate.
After a ground out, another freshman, Kevin Kendall, legged out an infield single, scoring Kreidler. 5-3 ballgame. Up came UCLA’s best hitter of the season, Chase Strumpf, who was already leading the Bruins on the day with two hits. After starting with an 0-2 count, Strumpf fouled off a pitch and took a ball before going opposite field with a single to right center field, scoring Teijeiro.
UCLA had cut the lead to 5-4 and now had the tying run on third and the winning run on first, with one out and switch hitting slugger Michael Toglia coming to the plate.
With a favorable 2-0 count and a hitter’s pitch coming, Toglia ripped a line drive about two feet inside the right field line, scoring Kendall easily from third base and tying the game, 5-5. The Bruins were unlucky, however, on the trampoline-like artificial surface at Siebert Field, as the ball kangarooed over the right field fence, forcing the potential winning run, Strumpf, to stop at third base on the ground rule double.
That brought Jake Pries to the dish with runners on second and third and one out. On a 0-1 count, Pries lifted a deep fly ball to left field, allowing Strumpf to score the winning run from third in walk-off fashion, emptying the Bruin dugout for a celebration on the right side of the infield.
If you want some visuals, check out this video clip of the at-bats of Strumpf, Toglia, and Pries to end the game:
The UCLA victory, while thrilling, was not pretty and things looked bleak for almost the entire game, but the Bruins did what they needed to do and managed to win in dramatic fashion.
UCLA reliever, Kyle Mora (6-2, 1.64 ERA) earned the victory in his team-leading 33rd appearance of the season, after throwing 1 and 1⁄3 innings to finish the game. Legumina (3-3, 2.79 ERA) suffered the heartbreaking loss for the Zags.
Today, the Minneapolis Regional continues as Gonzaga faces Canisius, losers to Minnesota in front of a record crowd yesterday by the score of 10-1. That elimination games starts at 11 a.m. PT.
The Bruins will face a red hot Minnesota team today on the Gophers’ home field in what figures to be another record-breaking crowd of fans clad in maroon and gold. The Gophers have won their last ten games, 14 of their last 15, and 24 of their last 27. Minnesota has not lost since May 11th and has only lost three times since the beginning of April.
Freshman Zach Pettway (8-4, 3.51 ERA), UCLA’s usual Saturday starter, figures to take the hill for the Bruins. Minnesota figures to start freshman Patrick Fredrickson (9-0, 1.78 ERA). Fredrickson has not lost all season long, a remarkable accomplishment for a guy who was playing high school ball last season.
FUN FACT: Minnesota’s Fredrickson and UCLA’s Toglia were teammates at Gig Harbor High School in Washington, although Toglia, now a sophomore, graduated one year ahead of Fredrickson. Perhpas Toglia knows the book on Fredrickson, which could give UCLA a advantage in a game where any and every advantage might be needed to win.
I am setting the over/under on how many times the announcers say “Gig Harbor” in the broadcast today at six.
The Bruins and Gophers have already squares off this season, on March 4th, with UCLA prevailing 6-1 at U.S. Bank Stadium (home of the Minnesota Vikings) in the Dairy Queen Classic (a PAC 12 versus Big 10 challenge). Pettway started that game for the Bruins, earning the win and allowing only one run in six innings of work.
This Minnesota team appears to have matured a ton since that game almost three months ago, and will present what appears to be a much different challenge to UCLA.
Will the Bruins be up to the challenge in a hostile environment? Tune in a 5 p.m. to find out.
This is your UCLA Bruin baseball versus Minnesota Gophers open thread. Let us know what you think about yesterday’s game, today’s match up, or any of the other college baseball games today in the comments below.