If last weekend was UCLA's final test before Pac-12 play, they failed, but it wasn't a complete disaster. After all, they still beat USC.
The Bruins were hoping to come away with at least a two-win weekend, a nice springboard to take them into their Pac-12 opener against Cal, but instead they picked up just one. Surprisingly, it wasn't all down to the offense either. Nobody would call the weekend an offensive explosion, but they picked up a fair number of runs. The problem was that their normally excellent was merely pedestrian and their defense was a disaster.
Pitching was the biggest problem in the Bruins' opener against Pepperdine and, surprisingly, it was James Kaprielian who got hit hard. The UCLA ace, who had been unhittable to that point in the season, was tagged for seven runs in just 5.1 innings. Steve Burke and Max Schuh didn't do much to help him out, coming in with the bases loaded and each walking in a runner, while allowing a sacrifice fly too, but Kaprielian is the one who got into trouble and put UCLA into a 7-1 hole after six innings.
A six-run deficit could have easily been the end of the game, but the UCLA offense found their bats in the seventh. Kevin Williams made his return from injury by htting the first pitch he saw for a RBI single and Shane Zeile doubled hom three before scoring on a a Christoph Bono single and in one inning, the Bruins' deficit had shrunk from six runs to one run.
Unfortunately for UCLA, Pepperdine picked up a run in the ninth off of David Berg, a run that would prove to be the game winner. Zeile hit a homer in the bottom of the ninth -- the Bruins' first home run of the season -- but that wasn't enough as they fell, 8-7.
With one loss under their belts, the Bruins had the unenviable task of taking on Houston to try and get even on the weekend, but things started well with a three spot in the first. Brian Carroll and Zeile singled to put two on before Luke Persico singled a man in. Bono and Pat Gallagher then added a singles of their own to plate runs and UCLA had an early 3-0 lead.
That would be all the Bruins would muster, though, and with the defense booting the ball around, it wasn't enough. A two-out double got the Bruins into trouble before an error by Chris Keck allowed the Cougars to get on the board. Three innings later, Houston strung together three singles to score another and the UCLA lead was down to 3-2. Still, Grant Watson excited the game after six innings with the Bruins up and in line for the win.
Only Watson, nor the Bruins would get the win and defense would be the culprit. A leadoff walk for the Bruins in trouble and a sacrifice bunt moved him into scoring position, but it was an error by Trent Chatterton that plated the tying run. Then, with two outs, a single brought the winning run across when UCLA should have been out of the inning.
UCLA didn't muster anything offensively down the stretch, leaving them to wonder what could have been had they defended better. Only they didn't; they committed two errors, good for three unearned tuns in a 4-3 loss.
With the Bruins back down to .500 at 7-7, they desperately needed a win against USC and luckily for them, they own USC.
Of course, they had to overcome some more shoddy defense to take care of business at Dedeaux Field. An error allowed the leadoff man in the sixth and a double scored him, before a Pat Gallagher error allowed another run to come in. With three innings to go, UCLA was down 2-0 and their offense had been MIA.
Thankfully for the Bruins, their offense woke up in the seventh, albeit with some help from the USC defense. Keck reached on a two-out error before Brian Carroll was hit by a pitch to put two men on. Williams then singled to left, scoring Keck and the Bruins finally had themselves a run. The Trojans then intentionally walked Zeile to load the bases, bringing up Persico. The freshman got into some trouble with a two-strike out and a chopper to second should have ended the inning, but a poor throw allowed him to reach and a man to score. With that, UCLA was all tied up, but then Ty Moore came to the plate and broke the tie, lacing a single up the middle to plate a pair and go ahead, 4-2.
Cody Poteet was throwing a great game, not allowing a Trojan to reach second base until the sixth, when errors did him in, but a leadoff single in the seventh marked the end of his day. Schuh entered and allowed a single before John Savage had seen enough and went to Berg. The problem is that Berg allowed a single too, but he was able to get out of the bases loaded, no out jam with only a run across.
UCLA then added to their lead in the eighth when Keck blasted a solo shot to right, but that 5-3 lead disappeared in the bottom of the inning thanks to -- you guessed it -- bad defense. Berg put himself in trouble to begin with, loading the bases with nobody out, but he should have gotten out of the inning with a one-out double play ball. Keck fielded and threw to Persico at second for the first out, but when the freshman made the turn, his throw sailed high. Gallagher had to come off the bag, allowing the man to reach and the throw got away from him, allowing not just the man from third to score, but the man from second too. The Trojans had plated a pair and the game was all tied up.
Once again, UCLA called upon their offense and, once again, it came through. Zeile led off with a single, making him 4-for-4 on the day, then a sacrifice bunt moved him to second. That set the stage for Bono, who pulled a single through the left side. Zeile came flying around third and a great throw made it a close play at the plate, but a terrific slide allowed Zeile to get his hand to the plate in time and notch the winning run.
Things wouldn't be easy for the Bruins in the bottom of the ninth as yet another error put the leadoff man on, but Berg stranded him and third and UCLA was able to hold on for a 6-5 win.
With the win, UCLA got back above .500 at 8-7 and made it nine straight wins over the Trojans. It wasn't a perfect weekend, or even a good one with the Bruins limping into Pac-12 play, but a win over USC will cure a lot of ills.