The UCLA Bruins baseball team (48-8) overcame a slow start with their bats tonight, scoring three runs in the fifth inning and two runs in the sixth inning, to overcome a 1-0 deficit, ultimately beating the Omaha Mavericks (31-23-1), 5-2. UCLA’s Ryan Garcia outdueled Omaha’s Payton Kinney, despite a great start by Kinney through four innings.
Earlier in the day, the Loyola Marymount Lions surprised the Baylor Bears, prevailing 3-1, in the first game of the Los Angeles Regional. The Bruins will play the Lions tomorrow at 7 pm PT.
In the early innings of the contest, both UCLA starter Garcia, the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, and Omaha’s Friday night ace Kinney, the Summit League Pitcher of the Year, were absolutely dealing with both pitchers making their hitting counterparts look bad at the plate. Indeed, neither team had a hit through two innings and the game was still scoreless through three innings with only UCLA’s Noah Cardenas reaching base on an infield hit with one out in the bottom of the third.
But then Omaha surprised the crowd at Jackie Robinson Stadium in the top of the fourth inning when third baseman Breyden Eckhout clubbed a high fastball over the left field fence for a solo home run and a 1-0 lead. It was the first hit surrendered by Garcia in the game.
After UCLA went down easily in order in the bottom half of the frame, the unthinkable suddenly became plausible. Could UCLA get to Kinney? But Ryan Kreidler made a tough over the shoulder catch in shallow left field in the top of the fifth and that seemed to kick start UCLA’s offense in the bottom half of the inning.
After Jake Pries flew out, Jack Stronach started things off with a single to right field. Jeremy Ydens followed with an infield single to the hole between third and short on a hit-and-run play with the shortstop’s throw coming late and pulling the first baseman off the bag. Then, Cardenas hit a high chopper to third base and was able to leg out yet another infield single.
Matt McLain came up with the bases loaded and lofted the first pitch deep to left center field, scoring Stronach on a sacrifice fly. That tied the game at 1-1. More importantly, both Cardenas and Ydens tagged and advanced to second and third, respectively. Garrett Mitchell came up with two outs and two on and he promptly laced the first pitch into right field, scoring Ydens and Cardenas and giving the Bruins a 3-1 lead.
Omaha threatened in the top of the sixth, putting runners on first and second with one out, but Garcia induced a 4-6-3 double play to end the inning and the threat, preserving the Bruins’ two run advantage.
UCLA tacked on two more runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Chase Strumpf started with a lead-off walk and, after Michael Toglia struck out, Pries doubled to the gap in right center field, allowing Strumpf to score all the way from first base and extending UCLA’s lead to 4-1. Stronach followed with a double to right, scoring Pries from second and bringing the score to 5-1.
Kinney, who would suffer only his second loss of the season, did not return to pitch after the sixth inning. He finished the game allowing five runs, all earned, and seven hits in his six innings. He struck out eight.
Omaha put two on with one out in the top of the seventh inning, but Garcia induced a fly ball to left for the second out and put the cherry on top with a dominant strikeout swinging to end the threat.
Garcia allowed a one-out single in the eighth inning and a controversial balk erased a successful pick-off play and moved the runner over to second. But UCLA’s ace got a ground out and, once again, struck out a Maverick swinging to end the top half inning.
UCLA Head Coach John Savage let Garcia try to get the complete game, but a throwing error by McLain put a runner on second and, after an out, Omaha’s Brett Bonar delivered with a line drive RBI single up the middle, scoring a run and making the score, 5-2. That sent Garcia to the showers and Savage brought in Kyle Mora, who retired the last two Omaha batters to end the game. Garcia’s final stat line was solid: 81⁄3 innings pitched, five hits, two runs, one of which was earned, and six strikeouts.
Tomorrow, at 7 pm PT, the Bruins face Loyola Marymount in Game 4 of the Los Angeles Regional. Jack Ralston (11-0, 2.43 ERA) will take the hill for the Bruins. Based on the Lions’ track record, expect senior Josh Agnew (6-4, 3.28 ERA) to start for Loyola Marymount.