LOS ANGELES — A few days before the postseason, UCLA coach John Savage wondered how many fans would pack Jackie Robinson Stadium for the team’s fourth straight hosted regional. Despite two trips to Omaha in the last three seasons, Bruins baseball is hardly the campus’ hottest draw.
Some extra buzz couldn’t hurt.
On Saturday evening, the noise came. The Bruins kickstarted the crowd of 1,749 with an impressive turnaround, spoiling Cal Poly’s no-hit bid with a 6-4 win. UCLA advanced to Sunday’s 6 p.m. tilt against either the Mustangs or San Diego, needing just one more win to reach a Super Regional.
The transformation was palpable. After five feeble innings — no hits, one walk, a 4-0 deficit — the Bruins battered freshman lefty Matt Imhof and sent him to the dugout. First baseman Pat Gallagher led with a drought-ending double that pumped life into the stands, sparking applause and a “Let’s go, Bruins!” chant.
The flame, however small, was lit. UCLA kept stoking it: a single and a hit-by-pitch to load the bases, a sac fly for the team’s first run.
The fire came soon. Right fielder Eric Filia singled up the middle to again put three Bruins on. Two at-bats later, Kevin Williams knocked the ball high into right field — a routine pop-up that turned into a base-clearing triple as right fielder Nick Torres lost it in the lights. Tie game.
“Off the bat, I just saw it pop up,” said Torres, who couldn’t find the ball at all until it was too late. “It didn’t look like he hit it too well.”
UCLA tapped in two more runs in the seventh, seizing the lead on a bouncing infield single to third base and stretching it with a bases-loaded walk.
The Bruins eased up on the mound too. Starter Nick Vander Tuig — who had allowed four runs on eight hits through the first four innings — re-emerged on the mound finally resembling his all-conference self. After flirting with an early hook, he survived on 108 pitches in six innings and retired six of his last seven batters.
“If they would’ve got to five or six (runs), you would’ve seen somebody else,” Savage said. “I have a ton of faith in Nick. I had a feeling he was going to throw a couple of zeroes up and he did. … He’s a preparation guy, and he deserves to pitch out of that.”
Reliever James Kaprielian went three up, three down in both the seventh and the eighth, striking out four along the way before Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year David Berg ended the game easily. Collectively, the trio retired 15 of the last 16 Cal Poly batters.
San Diego eliminates crosstown rival SDSU
San Diego State swept rival San Diego to open the season, but the latter laughed last — ending the Aztecs’ season with a 6-3 win.
With both teams already bearing one loss each in the NCAA regional, the Toreros seized control with a five-run fifth inning. USD advances to another elimination game on Sunday at 2 p.m., facing Cal Poly. The winner will need to beat UCLA at 6 p.m.
“It’s a little in-town rivalry we have going on,” said San Diego catcher Austin Green, whose two-RBI single gave the Toreros the lead. “It feels great that we got them at the end of the year. It’s much better to beat them in the end than it is in the beginning because nobody remembers that.
“We’re going to remember this one right here and now.”