The UCLA baseball team (1-0) dug themselves out of a two-run hole, coming back to top the UC Riverside Highlanders (0-1) in a 4-2 contest in the teams’ season opener at Jackie Robinson Stadium last night. The two teams will square off again today, at 2 pm. UCLA is looking for the series win, while UCR will look to even the series.
Last night, Riverside struck first with two outs in the top of the third inning. Leadoff hitter Travis Bohall singled to center field off UCLA starter Zach Pettway and, then, UCR catcher Cole Pofek drove Pettway’s next pitch into the right center field night for a 2-0 Riverside lead.
That would be all of the Highlanders’ scoring on the evening.
After squandering a two on, no out situation in the bottom of the fourth inning and failing to score, the Bruins tied things up in the bottom of the fifth inning, pretty much the same way that Riverside scored its runs. With two outs, UCLA leadoff hitter Garrett Mitchell singled, and freshman second baseman Michael Curialle made his first hit in a UCLA uniform count, with a two-run home run to left field.
The game was knotted up at 2-2, with four innings to play.
Neither team got on the board in the sixth inning and Head Coach John Savage turned to junior Michael Townsend to pitch the seventh inning. Townsend retired the side in order, and would ultimately earn the win for the Bruins.
In the bottom of the frame, after the first two UCLA batters reached base on a walk and a single, things got weird. After Curialle’s home run in his last at-bat, Coach Savage asked the freshman to bunt the runners over into scoring position. Curialle laid down the bunt. The UCR first baseman successfully fielded it and cut down the UCLA runner at third, but the third baseman, seeking to turn a double play, threw the ball away for an error. That put Bruins runners on second and third with one out.
After Matt McLain struck out for the second out and a pitching change by Riverside, UCLA freshman first baseman JT Schwartz hit a flare to left field. The Riverside left fielder got a glove on it, but the umpire ruled that he trapped the ball, allowing two UCLA runs. Riverside Head Coach Troy Percival argued that his man made the catch, which would have ended the inning but, with no TV replay, the umpiring crew could not review or overturn the call. UCLA led 4-2. It was a lead that the Bruins would not relinquish.
Kyle Mora came in to pitch the eighth inning and recorded the first two outs before allowing a single. Coach Savage immediately called for the reigning Stopper of the Year, junior Holden Powell, who induced a strikeout to end the inning.
Powell also pitched the ninth, allowing a one-out double but striking out two more batters, one swinging and one looking to end the game. Powell earned the four-out save.
Today, the Bruins will look for he series win. Sophomore Nick Nastrini will take the mound for the Bruins. The UCLA right-hander pitched well early and late last season, going 1-0 with a 1.37 ERA, although he missed the bulk of the 2019 campaign with thoracic outlet syndrome, a rare nerve condition that affects the shoulder. Former NBA number one pick Markelle Fultz is recovering from the same issue.
UC Riverside seeks to even the series and will counter with junior right-hander Abbott Haffar. Haffar was 4-3 last season, with a 4.35 ERA, allowing 34 earned runs in 70.1 innings, including eight starts.