UCLA's non-conference play was some combination of inconsistent, disappointing and a growing process, but if their first weekend of Pac-12 action was any indication, they have figured things out in time for the conference season. Admittedly, the Bruins took on an average Cal team, but they pitched well, hit and played their best defense of the season to sweep the Bears in Berkeley.
The Bruins' weekend actually started poorly, and predictably, as three singles and an error plated a first inning run for the Bears in the series opener, but that would be the last error UCLA would commit all weekend and two innings later, they were tied.
The red hot Christoph Bono got the Bruins going with a two-out double in the third then defending Pac-12 Player of the Week Shane Zeile singled home home to even the game at a run apiece. It wasn't long before the Bruins had the lead either as Brian Carroll singled to leadoff the fifth and Ty Moore singled him home, but that lead would only last to the seventh. That's when Cal got a double and single to bring the game even again.
After the Bruins and Bears drew blanks in the eighth, it looked like extra innings was beckoning, but Bono came through one again to deliver UCLA the win. Trent Chatterton reached on an error to lead off the inning then with two outs, Bono laced a pitch to left center, scoring Chatterton and giving UCLA a 3-2 lead.
James Kaprielian did his job on the mount, limiting Cal to two runs on seven hits in eight innings and handed the ball to David Berg in the ninth, who retired the Bears on 10 pitches to wrap up the game. UCLA's weekend was off to a strong start.
As was the case on Friday, UCLA fell behind early on Saturday. This time the Bears got on the board in the second on a solo homer, but the Bruins answered the following inning. Chatterton singled and Carroll added a base hit of his own to put two on and two out. That brought Bono to the plate and what did he do? He singled a run home, of course, and the game was tied at 1-1.
After the second inning, neither team would put a man in scoring position until the seventh inning. The pitching was fabulous so when Luke Persico walked to lead off the UCLA seventh, it looked like a major breakthrough. Little did they know that Kevin Williams would work a full count then go the other way, driving one to deep left center and over the fence for a two-run homer. The senior had come through and a 3-1 lead was more than enough for Grant Watson and Berg.
Watson was nearly unhittable, tossing eight innings of one-run, two-hit ball. He did it all on 96 pitches and Berg had no problem picking up his fifth save of the season to hand UCLA the series win, but it was Williams' homer that really propelled them to victory.
With two wins in hand, UCLA had the luxury of going for the sweep on Sunday and just to keep things consistent, they fell behind again. This time it was a first inning solo home run and Cal had a 1-0 edge.
This time, it took the Bruins two innings to tie the game, but they did even better -- they then took the lead. Pat Gallagher and Carroll singled to start the third then Bono proved clutch once again, doubling home a run to tie the game. Zeile then singled to score Carroll before a Persico fly ball scored Bono and UCLA had a 3-1 lead.
Three runs was more than enough for Cody Poteet, who had another great start. The sophomore only allowed one run on three hits in seven innings and by the time he left, he had a 4-1 lead. Bono scored a run on an error in the seventh and the Bruins actually added another in the eighth when Carroll walked with the bases loaded and Williams singled in one more in the ninth just for good measure.
Although it was not a save situation, Berg still entered in the ninth to finish the game, which is exactly what he did. The Bruins had a formula in Berkeley -- get a fantastic start, play good defense, come through with timely hitting and let Berg finish things off. It worked perfectly and they got three wins to show for it.
The Bruins needed a strong start to conference play, with the schedule giving them series against Cal and Washington St. before a tough middle of the slate, and they're off to a good start. At 3-0, UCLA is tied with Oregon St. atop the Pac-12, although they will probably need to open up a bit of a lead on the Beavers before May because the Bruins play them in Corvallis this season in what may be the marquee series of the season.
For now, UCLA is perfect in Pac-12 play and playing their most complete ball of the season to boot.