The UCLA Bruin baseball team (48-9) was shocked last night by Loyola Marymount (34-23), who broke a 2-2 tie with a timely RBI single in the seventh inning and held off the Bruins in the late innings to prevail, 3-2. The loss was very damaging as it puts the Bruins in the unenviable position of having to win three straight games to escape the Los Angeles Regional.
UCLA needs to refocus quickly. It will face a better-rested Baylor Bears (35-18) squad at noon PT today. Those Bears absolutely hammered Omaha yesterday in the first elimination game of the Los Angeles Regional, pounding out 23 hits and scoring 24 runs in a dominant, football score victory, 24-6. The Bears scored in every inning of that game, except the eighth.
The Bruins never really got their bats going last night, recording only seven hits on the night. More importantly, they never got the clutch hit with runners in scoring position, stranding eight runners on base. Three of those runners were left on base in the seventh inning, when the game was still 2-2, and the Bruins left two more on base in the eighth inning after the Lions took the lead.
Loyola got on the board first, loading the bases with no outs in the bottom of the first inning (UCLA was designated as the “road” team in this one due to NCAA tournament rules). But UCLA starting pitcher Jack Ralston (11-1), who would ultimately take the loss, his first of the season, only allowed one run on a sacrifice fly.
The Bruins evened the ledger on a solo home run by Jake Pries to lead off the second inning and they then took the lead, 2-1, with a bit of luck in the top of the third inning. Chase Strumpf hit a routine fly ball to right field that the LMU player lost in the lights, resulting in a “triple” as it sailed over the right fielder’s head. Strumpf then scored on a sacrifice fly by Michael Toglia.
The Bruins would score no more after that.
The Lions tied the game immediately in the bottom half of the third on an infield single where Ralston fielded a high chopper over the mound, but slipped on the rosin bag behind the hill, allowing the runner to reach. Bad luck. The next batter was Trevin Esquerra and he doubled on an 0-2 pitch and, just like that, the score was tied, 2-2.
Both starting pitchers got through the middle innings, but that changed in the seventh inning. UCLA loaded the bases with two outs in the top-half of the frame on a Jack Stronach single, a Noah Cardenas single, and a Garrett Mitchell walk. But Ryan Kreidler, facing LMU reliever CJ Fernandezees, could not come up with a clutch hit, flying out to left field, ending the threat.
UCLA would concede the game winning run in the bottom of the seventh when a tiring Ralston allowed a lead-off single to DH Ethan Patrick and then Patrick was moved over to second on a well-executed sacrifice bunt. Ralston exited the game for Nate Hadley, who has been good all season, just not last night.
Hadley’s first pitch was a change up to the Lions’ number nine hitter catcher Cooper Uhl which went the opposite way, driving an RBI single through the hole on the right side of the infield, scoring Patrick and putting Loyola Marymount up, 3-2. Hadley would get out of the inning without further damage, but the Lions would only need that one run.
UCLA had a golden opportunity to score in the eighth inning. Both Toglia and Strumpf led off the inning with back-to-back walks and Jake Pries laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt—his first of the season—to move Strumpf, the tying run, to third and Toglia, the go-ahead run, to second with just one out.
But the Lions’ closer Nick Frasso, who throws serious heat, struck out Jack Stronach swinging on a high fastball and then blew away pinch-hitter Kevin Kendall on another fastball. Neither hitter could catch up to Frasso’s 95 mph velocity. UCLA went down in order in the ninth, ending the game.
Fernandezees earned the win with just 2⁄3 of an inning pitched and Frasso locked down the save, his ninth of the year.
So, now, the Bruins are on the precipice. First, they need to beat Baylor at noon today. If UCLA manages to prevail against Baylor—and that is a big “if” considering Baylor’s offensive performance yesterday and the Bruins lack thereof—they would then need to beat LMU in the second game today at 6 pm PT. Assuming UCLA is able to pull off that feat, the Bruins would then face off against the Lions in a winner-take-all contest on Monday.
Just one hit in the seventh or eighth innings and UCLA might have been in the cat bird’s seat. Now, they have a long road just to stay alive.
Who knows which pitcher UCLA Head Coach John Savage will send to the hill versus Baylor today? Freshman Jessie Bergin (5-0, 4.09 ERA), who was the Sunday starter for most of the season, was not listed as the Sunday starter last week; rather, UCLA listed the pitcher as “TBA.” But that game was rained out, so we never got to see who Savage planned to pitch. No matter what, an all-hands on deck approach from this UCLA pitching staff is going to be needed to give the Bruins a shot.
The same question could be asked of Baylor. Who starts today? Sophomore Jacob Ashkinos (2-4, 4.95 ERA) has started the last few Sunday games for the Bears, but he was hit hard in his last two appearances, allowing three runs in three innings in a loss to TCU and seven runs in 22⁄3 innings in a loss to Kansas State.
One thing is certain: if UCLA is even to get a whiff of LMU, the Bruins must cool off Baylor’s bats. The Bears hit .307 as a team and, obviously, hit their stride yesterday pounding out 23 hits and scoring 24 (!) runs against Omaha.
Hope springs eternal, but hope is not a strategy. UCLA will need to hit the ball today versus the Bears to have a chance to play a second game against the Lions. Lions and Bears, oh my.
This is your UCLA Bruins versus Baylor Bears NCAA Los Angeles Regional Game Five open thread.