UCLA drops heartbreaker

After taking lead in extra innings, Bruins' miscues fuel Anteater comeback, hamper postseason hopes

Senior infielder Cody Decker hit a go-ahead home run in the 10th inning of UCLA's 5-4 loss to No. 1 UC Irvine on Tuesday night at Anteater Ballpark.

Senior infielder Cody Decker hit a go-ahead home run in the 10th inning of UCLA's 5-4 loss to No. 1 UC Irvine on Tuesday night at Anteater Ballpark. Kyle Lishok

IRVINE “”mdash; At one point, members of the UCLA baseball team were making all the noise.

But their joy disappeared in an instant.

After senior Cody Decker hit a dramatic solo home run to hand the Bruins a 4-3 lead in the top of the 10th inning, the UCLA dugout could not contain itself. The entire team greeted Decker outside of the visitor’s dugout after he rounded the bases.

Yet the ecstasy was short-lived, as top-ranked UC Irvine capitalized on a pair of Bruin mistakes to score twice in the bottom half of the same inning and walk off with a 5-4 victory.

“It’s heartbreak city,” coach John Savage said. “It was just a tough loss, but I’m proud of our guys and the way they competed.”

Freshman pitcher Gerrit Cole was on the mound making his first relief appearance of the season trying to preserve the Bruins’ one-run lead in the bottom of the 10th. The Anteaters (41-12) had the tying run standing at third base with two outs.

Cole got Ronnie Shaeffer to hit what looked like a routine grounder to the left side of the infield, but sophomore shortstop Niko Gallego was unable to field the ball cleanly. Shaeffer reached first base and Tommy Reyes, who had doubled off junior reliever Gavin Brooks and advanced to third on a groundout, crossed home plate to score the game-tying run.

“We got the pitch we wanted, and unfortunately, we didn’t make the play,” Savage said.

Cole then threw a pitch to the backstop, allowing Shaeffer to advance into scoring position. Casey Stevenson followed with a bloop single to left-center field and Shaeffer eased his way home without drawing a throw.

It was the Anteaters’ turn to make some noise.

As the UC Irvine dugout emptied onto the field to mob both Shaeffer and Stevenson, the Bruin fielders remained on the field in disbelief.

“That was one of the worst things I’ve had to endure,” Decker said. “That was not fun.”

Tuesday night’s game was yet another intense affair in what has become a solid baseball rivalry. UCLA (26-27) had won the last two games it played in Irvine.

The Bruins assumed three leads Tuesday, but the Anteaters had an answer for each.

UCLA scored a run in the first inning and added two in the third. But the Anteaters responded each time with a run in the second and two more in the sixth.

Following the two-run third inning, the Bruins’ bats went cold. In relief of starter Brock Bardeen, UC Irvine pitcher Kyle Necke held UCLA scoreless for 4 1/3 innings.

“I told the team that the game was lost in the middle (innings),” Savage said. “It’s not one play or one guy that lost us the ball game.”

UCLA could not figure out the right-hander Necke, who struck out eight batters and surrendered just one hit.

“He hit his spots,” Decker said referring to Necke. “He got us to get ourselves out; we struck ourselves out. He did a very good job of that.”

Decker finally sparked the offense in extra innings with his 20th home run of the season, which leads the Pac-10 conference.

“I was excited because I thought it gave us a good chance to win,” Decker said.

“This was an important game, we really needed to win it.”

“It was set up perfectly,” Savage said. “But unfortunately, the game ended the way it did. That’s the toughest loss of the year.”

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