Yesterday’s NCAA Regional game played out a lot like the entire season. The Bruins got good pitching from starter Jon Olsen as well as from Jake Bird, Justin Hooper and Scott Burke in relief, but UCLA just couldn’t score enough runs to win. That’s not the only way yesterday’s game looked like the season.
The Bruins gave up a couple of runs early to the Aztecs, resembling the team’s struggles early in the year during their non-conference schedule. In the second inning, SDSU used two hits and a hit-by-pitch to load the bases. Dean Nevarez then hit the ball hard back towards Olsen. It hit his ankle and rolled to the gap on the right side, scoring a run and leaving the bases still loaded. Tyler Adkinson then hit a sacrifice fly to score the second run of the inning for the Aztecs.
SDSU would hold that 2-0 lead going into the bottom of the fourth inning. Michael Toglia doubled with one out. Chase Strumpf advanced Toglia to third with a flyout to right and Jake Hirabayashi singled up the middle to bring him home.
But, the Bruins were still down a run heading after seven and a half innings. Sean Bouchard got things started for UCLA, much like he has all season, with a single. Zander Clarke pinch hit for Kyle Cuellar and bunted Bouchard to second. Toglia flew out and Strumpf walked to give the Bruins runners on first and second with two outs. John Savage then called on Jack Stronach to pinch hit for Hirabayashi and he delivered a single through the left side of the infield that brought Bouchard home to tie the game 2-2.
In the ninth, the Bruins had the bases loaded with just one out, but neither Clarke nor Toglia could drive in the winning run. So, it was off to extra innings.
In the tenth, UCLA had another opportunity to end the game. Ryan Kreidler got on with an infield single to second. Aztec pitcher CJ Saylor then threw a wild pitch and Kreidler took off. If he had stopped at second, the Bruins would have had a runner in scoring position with two outs, but Kreidler violated one of the cardinal rules of baseball. He made the final out of the inning at third base when he kept running past second straight to third and Nevarez threw a strike to get him.
The Bruins had a third opportunity to win the game in the eleventh inning. Gavin Johns, who replaced Daniel Rosica behind the plate after Savage sent a pinch-runner in for Rosica in the bottom of the ninth, walked to start the inning and was sacrificed over to second. After Bouchard was intentionally walked, UCLA had runners on first and second with two outs. But, again, the Bruins couldn’t get the winning run across and the teams went to the twelfth and then the thirteenth.
Thirteen would prove to be UCLA’s unlucky number. Nevarez walked to lead things off for SDSU and they would eventually load the bases. Burke came in to relieve Hooper and he proceeded to hit Danny Sheehan with a pitch that brought Nevarez home and giving the Aztecs a 3-2 lead.
In the bottom half of the inning, Brett Stephens singled to put the tying runner on first with two outs, but Daniel Amaral flew out to center ending the game and the Bruins’ season.
Overall, the Bruins finished the game the way they played the season. It was an up-and-down game in an up-and-down season. They struggled all season long to play well consistently, much like they struggled in the late innings to score that winning run that they couldn’t get across several times.
In the end, the team just wasn’t good enough to advance any further than they did. Having made the tournament this year after missing it altogether last season, it was an improvement over last year and could provide a building block for a better year next season.
The big question heading into next season, as always, is which players will choose to return. Griffin Canning will likely be drafted highly enough that he has probably played his last game in a Bruin uniform. What about Sean Bouchard? And, then, of course, there’s Jake Bird. The fact that Bird missed a significant chunk of the season could mean he will opt to return for one more year in hope of improving his draft status. Will MLB teams again look to John Savage’s commitment list as their own draft board like they did last year?
These are all questions which could be answered as soon as next week when Major League Baseball holds its draft on June 12th.