It was a battle of attrition for the UCLA baseball team on Tuesday.
After struggling with strikeouts early in the season, the UCLA coaching staff made it a point of emphasis this week for the Bruins to be more relentless in their two-strike approach on offense. The team continued to press the Cal State Northridge defense Tuesday until the Matadors finally gave way to the Bruins’ comeback efforts, committing six errors and losing the lead late in UCLA’s 5-4 win.
“We put a lot of pressure on the other team. They had six errors, and really that speaks to how much pressure we put on them,” said sophomore reliever David Berg, who picked up the save with two scoreless innings. “We fought offensively; we had a lot of good at bats.”
No. 11 UCLA spoiled CSUN’s upset bid, scoring the game’s final three runs, two of which were unearned. In addition to nine hits, the Bruins (12-3) also had five walks and one hit by pitch, as they continued to whittle away at the Matadors’ lead.
“It was kind of a battle,” said sophomore third baseman Kevin Kramer, who finished with two runs batted in.
“We kind of had to chip away, we weren’t going to score 10 runs in one inning … I think it was more of a process game than a direct result, more of a marathon than a sprint.”
The Matadors scored all four of their runs in the bottom of the third inning, including a three-run homer to take a 4-2 lead. UCLA battled back, scoring one run each in the fifth, seventh and eighth, while the bullpen pitched four scoreless innings.
“It was a grinding game, there’s no doubt about it,” said coach John Savage. “It seems like a lot of our games have been that way, but that’s kind of the identity this team is forming so we’ll take it.”
The game Tuesday was the team’s last before the start of Pac-12 conference play. In addition to the win, Savage was pleased to find out that the MRI on freshman pitcher James Kaprielian’s shoulder came back “clean.”
Savage said the closer could be back as early as this weekend, when the team hosts Washington in its Pac-12 series opener at Jackie Robinson Stadium. In Kaprielian’s absence, Berg has stepped in to close out games, something the sophomore had experience with last season.
“Well, I mean what can you say, the guy’s picked up where he left off last year,” Savage said of Berg. “He had a couple of rough outings early and then he’s really settled down … it seems like the more he pitches, the better he pitches.”
While pitching and defense remain the team’s strengths, the Bruins continue to preach having the right approach at the plate with such a youthful lineup. With the series against Washington, Savage said it was important to continue the progress the team has made up to this point in the season.
“You have to learn what we’ve done well and really adjust and fix some of the things we haven’t done well,” Savage said. “I think they know their roles a little more than they did before, 15 games ago, and I think now you’re starting to see some guys perform at a pretty good level.”