The UCLA baseball team traveled to Salt Lake City hoping for a sweep of last place Utah, but it was not to be. The Bruins did win 2 out of 3 to keep pace with conference leader Washington.
The series was bumped up a day to Thursday-Saturday, because of Easter, from the usual Friday-Sunday schedule. In the following recap, when we talk about records in "Friday" games, we will include the Thursday game against Utah. When we talk about records in "Saturday" games, we will include the Friday game against Utah. And when we talk about records in "Sunday" games, we will include the Saturday game against Utah.
On Thursday, James Kaprielian did his usual stellar job to put the Bruins in position to win the opening game of the series, as he limited the Utes to 1 run in 6.2 innings. Unfortunately, the Bruins offense was AWOL, as the score was 1-0 Utes going to the 8th inning. Ty Moore tied the game with a sac fly, in an inning which was helped by 2 Utah errors. In the top of the 9th, Luke Persico doubled with 1 out. He was on 3rd base with 2 outs, when freshman reliever Nick Kern came in as a pinch hitter. And in his very first collegiate at-bat, he hit a 2 run homer to left to put the Bruins ahead 3-1. Kern currently has an OPS of 5.00 (1.00 on base + 4.00 slugging). He kept his superman cape on, and pitched a scoreless 9th inning to earn his 1st save. So if David Berg is unable to pitch due to injury, as was the case this weekend, simply bring in Kern to hit bombs and record saves. This game was a lot closer than it should have been on paper, but all's well that ends well. The win extended UCLA's win streak in Friday games to 4, thanks to Kaprieilian again setting the table with dominant pitching.
In game 2 of the series, the Bruins extended another streak, but this was a streak which needs to end. In the top of the 1st, Kevin Williams had a 2 run double to put UCLA up 2-0. Brett Stephens, playing in the place of injured Brian Carroll (still recovering from his Arizona collision), knocked in Trent Chatterton with a double to put the Bruins up 3-0 in the 2nd inning. Starting pitcher Grant Watson allowed a solo homer in the bottom of the 3rd, but UCLA was still in front 3-1. Shane Zeile hit a 2 run triple in the top of the 5th, and the Bruins were up 5-1. At this point, the wheels came off, as Watson was again hit for a big inning by the opposition, which has been an all too frequent occurrence this year. When the dust had settled, Utah had scored 7 (!) runs in the bottom of the 5th to take an 8-5 lead. 5 of the runs were charged to Watson, who did not retire a batter in the inning, and another 2 runs were charged to Grant Dyer, who also did not record an out. Brett Stephens scored on an RBI ground out by Ty Moore in the top of the 9th. But that was all she wrote, as UCLA lost 8-6. This was the 4th straight loss in Saturday games for the Bruins, which again is a streak which needs to be broken. And, more troubling, this dropped the UCLA record in games where the Bruins score at least 5 runs to 11-6. Last year, the national champions were 30-1 when they scored at least 5 runs. That is probably all you need to know, if you are wondering about the postseason.
In yesterday's final game of the series, UCLA needed a victory to clinch the series over the lowly Utes. Cody Poteet was dealing for the Bruins, in his best performance since a month ago in Berkeley. The offense also kicked into gear. Funny how good pitching and good offense can win ball games. Kevin Williams tripled in the 2nd and scored on Luke Persico's sac fly. After Utah tied the game in the bottom of the 2nd, the Bruins put together a 4 run rally with 2 outs in the top of the 3rd to take a 5-1 lead. The key plays were RBI singles by Kevin Williams and Christoph Bono, and a 2 run double by Justin Hazard, who started in place of Pat Gallagher. This was the same score as the day before, but Poteet did not allow the big comeback. After Utah had scored another run, Shane Zeile knocked in 2 for the Bruins to put the Bruins up 7-2 in the 7th inning. Utah scored their final run in the bottom of the 7th. The final score was UCLA 7, Utah 3. The victory broke a 3 game losing streak in Sunday games. Funny how the math works. If you win on Friday, but lose on Saturday and Sunday, you lose the series. And if you lose on Saturday, you cannot sweep, even if you are playing the last place time.
With the 2 wins in 3 games, UCLA moves to 21-16 (9-6 in conference games). This leaves UCLA in 5th place, still 3.5 games behind league leader Washington. Washington won 2 out of 3 at Cal, to move to 14-4. 2nd place Oregon State is 1.5 games behind Washington, at 11-4. Oregon is 1 more game back at 10-5. The Bruins have upcoming series against all these teams, and can move up in the standings by winning games when scoring 5 runs. Arizona State is in 4th place, 3 games behind Washington and 0.5 games up on UCLA. The Bruins lost the home series to Arizona State, so would need help to move past the Sun Devils.
Next up for the Bruins is a home game on Tuesday against Loyola Marymount, and then more bottom feeding with a weekend home series against $C.
Go Bruins !!