In a game of cat and mouse, Minnesota pitcher Lance Thonvold repeatedly attempted to pick off UCLA center fielder Brian Carroll.
Five attempts by the Gopher pitcher later, the Bruin junior was still safe at first.
Finally, the Minnesota pitcher relented. UCLA didn’t.
On the next pitch following the failed pickoff attempt, junior shortstop Pat Valaika smacked the ball into the hole vacated by the second baseman moving over to cover the bag on Carroll’s steal attempt.
The Minnesota right fielder scooped up the ball and threw it to second, but Carroll continued past third, sliding feet-first into home plate, uprooting the catcher and scoring just before the ball reached home.
It was the seventh of 14 runs for the Bruins in Sunday’s 14-1 win, as UCLA bounced back from losing on opening night to take the final two games of the series.
“Pat executed the hit-and-run and the guy scored from first base on a ball hit to right-center so it was pretty impressive,” said coach John Savage. “He had all momentum and energy going through the bag and we scored from there.”
On Friday night, No. 2 UCLA struggled with runners in scoring position in a 6-2, extra-inning loss. Junior pitcher Adam Plutko took the ball on opening night for the second consecutive season and finished with another no-decision in the Bruins’ second straight season-opening loss.
“I was just trying to keep it slow, stay within my routine and not do too much because the tendency is to do too much in these kind of situations, so I really just tried doing what I do best,” Plutko said of his performance on Friday.
With runners in scoring position in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings Friday, the Bruins (2-1) failed to take advantage, allowing the game to go into extras.
But the Bruins’ young lineup responded in a big way, pounding out 33 hits and 28 runs over the next two games, including Saturday’s 14-0 win.
“The one thing we didn’t do Friday night is we didn’t hit well with guys on base, and I think Saturday and Sunday we capitalized on our opportunities,” said sophomore third baseman Kevin Kramer. “When guys were in scoring position we capitalized and got the big hits when we needed them.”
With the team’s most experienced returner, senior infielder Cody Regis, ruled academically ineligible for winter quarter, UCLA showed it could still manufacture runs in a variety of ways.
“I think as an offense everyone is expecting us to not be as good as last year. … We’re not trying to live up to anyone’s expectations,” Kramer said. “We’re trying to play our own baseball. We’re not going to hit a lot of home runs, but we’re going to play good baseball – get the guy over, get him in. That’s just our type of baseball.”
The Bruins pushed across six runs in the first inning on Sunday. It was all the run support sophomore pitcher Grant Watson would need. Watson pitched six shutout innings, striking out a career-high eight batters while allowing just two hits.
“We had some big innings, started the game off with a six (Sunday) and I think a couple runs Saturday so we kind of jumped on ’em and stayed on ’em, and pitched well and played good defense,” Savage said.