New Mexico catcher Ben Woodchick checked his swing. With two strikes and two outs, he was the Lobos last hope in the bottom half of the sixth inning.
After an appeal to the first-base umpire said he swung, Woodchick hurled his bat toward the third-base dugout followed promptly by his helmet. It had been that kind of night for New Mexico against UCLA’s sophomore right-hander Nick Vander Tuig.
Vander Tuig mowed through New Mexico’s lineup, allowing just one hit in eight innings and striking out 11 as UCLA cruised to a 7-1 win on Saturday. After beating Creighton on Friday, UCLA is the only undefeated team left in the Los Angeles Regional – the NCAA baseball tournament’s opening round.
“It was NIck’s night,” UCLA coach John Savage said. “He came out and was very aggressive with all his pitches. He’s one of the hardest working guys in our program. He set the tone this evening.”
Vander Tuig had a perfect game going until the bottom of the fifth inning when junior left fielder Cody Keefer made an error that eventually resulted in New Mexico’s (37-22) only run on the night. His no-hit bid was broken up in the eighth inning on a double to left field from New Mexico senior first baseman Trey Porras.
After undergoing Tommy John surgery as a senior in high school, Vander Tuig struggled through last season as UCLA’s closer. Savage said he’s finally returning pre-surgery form.
“There are little things I’ve been working on all year and I think it’s starting to carry over a little more,” Vander Tuig said.
The shutout came against one of the nation’s most successful offenses. New Mexico owns the NCAA’s fourth-best batting average (.332) and third best slugging percentage (.482).
“If you don’t see those guys on a regular basis, sometimes your success can be your demise,” New Mexico coach Ray Birmingham said. “That guy tonight didn’t make a mistake. He didn’t give you a cookie anytime during an at-bat.”
UCLA has had 10 pitchers drafted over the past two seasons, leaving Savage little time to develop depth in his starting rotation. As such, the bullpen has become a source of stability for the No. 2 Bruins (43-13), especially in the later innings.
So far in the postseason, Savage’s starters have carried the Bruins. UCLA has only had to turn to the bullpen once in the Bruins’ first two games of the regional as sophomore right hander Adam Plutko tossed a complete-game, one-hitter on Friday. Junior closer Scott Griggs broke UCLA’s single-season saves record during the regular season but hasn’t left the dugout all weekend.
UCLA’s offense did its part as well, pounding out 17 hits at all the right moments. Every starter in Saturday’s lineup finished with at least one hit.
Creighton eliminates San Diego
Less than 24 hours after being shutout by UCLA, No. 4 seed Creighton responded with an 8-2 victory over No. 2 seed San Diego in the first elimination game of the regional.
The Blujays (27-29) amassed 11 hits and forced San Diego to rifle through three pitchers in the first three innings.
The Toreros finish their season at 40-17 but struggled down the stretch, losing five of their final nine games.
Creighton will face elimination again today against New Mexico at 3 p.m. The winner of the afternoon game will face elimination again against UCLA at 7 p.m.