After beating Baylor to keep the season alive this afternoon, the UCLA Bruins baseball team (50-9) needed a second win on tonight over Loyola Marymount to extend the season for at least one more day. The Bruins delivered, prevailing over the Lions (34-24), by the score of 6-1.
The two teams will play one more in a winner-take-all contest Monday night at 7 pm PT.
In a bit of a surprise move, UCLA Head Coach John Savage started freshman Nick Nastrini, who missed the bulk of the season with thoracic outlet syndrome and had not pitched in a game since February at Cal State Northridge. Nastrini, however, pitched well against LMU earlier in the season, throwing 42⁄3 innings of no-run, two-hit ball against the Lions.
The strategy worked. Savage knows his pitchers. Nastrini allowed only one run through five innings, while the Bruins rode three home runs to a 5-1 lead.
Michael Toglia started things off for the Bruins in the top of the second inning, launching a solo home run over the left field fence and onto a car’s hood from the right side of the plate. UCLA led 1-0.
The Bruins would tack on three more runs in the top of the third. First, Matt McLain legged out an infield single with one out. After Garrett Mitchell struck out looking, Ryan Kreidler singled to center with two outs. Up to the plate came Chase Strumpf, who blasted a no-doubt three-run home run to left, putting the Bruins on top by the score of 4-0 that proved to be the game-winner.
Jeremy Ydens extended UCLA’s lead with a solo home run in the top of the fourth inning with another bomb well over the left field fence. The Bruins led 5-0.
Meanwhile, Nastrini was absolutely dealing on the mound for the Bruins, striking out six Lions in the first four innings and allowing only two hits. It was a great performance and a much-needed respite for the bullpen.
But the freshman hurler ran into trouble in the fifth inning, loading the bases with one out on a walk and back-to-back singles. After a visit to the mound by Savage, in which the skipper showed great faith in Nastrini in letting the kid stay in the game, Nastrini limited the damage, allowing only one run on a sacrifice fly and getting a called strike three to end the inning. The Bruins still led comfortably, 5-1.
Nathan Hadley took over pitching for UCLA in the sixth inning and promptly gave up a single. He recovered by inducing a fly ball to left and then a 6-4-3 double play to retire the side. Hadley also pitched in the seventh, allowing a walk, but no runs.
UCLA closer Holden Powell would come in to pitch the eighth inning and he started poorly, walking the first two batters he faced. But he got into his groove and got a fly-out to left and then struck out LMU’s most dangerous hitter Trevin Esquerra on three straight pitches. A fielder’s choice ground-out to third would end the threat and send the game to the final frame with the Bruins still leading 5-1.
Stronach led off the ninth by driving a ball into the right center gap, tripling for the first time all season. After McLain grounded out, Mitchell chopped a single over the infield into right field, driving in Stronach and extending UCLA’s lead to five.
Powell came back to pitch the ninth inning and he retired the Lions in order including two strikeouts to end the game.
It was a great day if you like the long ball as UCLA hit seven home runs over the two games they played. Let’s hope the bombs keep falling for the Bruins tomorrow as they battle to try to move on to the Super Regionals.
Like today, who knows what John Savage will do tomorrow with his pitchers? But you have to like how UCLA bounced back today with two must-win games after such a demoralizing loss yesterday.