The Los Angeles Marathon took place over the weekend, but the UCLA baseball team didn’t know it would be taking part in one of its own.
The Bruins’ Pac-12 conference opener took two days and a total of 15 innings to complete after Friday night’s game was suspended in the fourth inning because of fog. UCLA outlasted Washington 3-2 in a come-from-behind victory thanks to redshirt freshman left fielder Christoph Bono’s two-strike, two-out, walk-off single on Saturday.
It didn’t end there for the two teams. Less than an hour after the first game, the Bruins and Huskies were back out on the field to play their originally scheduled Saturday game as well.
“(The first game of the series) was such a grind,” said coach John Savage. “It absolutely felt like the third game of the series, and I’m thinking to myself, ‘Wait a minute, we’ve still got (18-plus) more innings, the series hasn’t even started yet.’ I haven’t seen a game like that since probably that 16-inning game at Oregon State (in 2010). … It was unbelievable.”
The ending to the five-hour, 35-minute game resembled a marathon too as Bono was chased around by his teammates once the ball landed safely deep in right-center field.
“I have to say I didn’t even really watch it all the way to the drop after I hit it,” said Bono, who hit his first career home run in the second game of the day. “I was just rounding first and I saw everyone running out so I knew that was it. … It was scary seeing the whole team running out after me. I evaded for as long as I could.”
After using seven relievers to finish out Saturday’s marathon first game, junior pitcher Nick Vander Tuig gave UCLA just what it needed in his best start of the season during the second game of the series. Vander Tuig pitched his first career complete game, striking out eight in a 5-0 win.
“You talk about timing,” Savage said of Vander Tuig’s shutout. “On the same day, not the day before, the same day (that they used seven relievers) … it was the biggest (performance) … for what we needed at that time, we needed a nine-inning pitched game, and I think they probably felt the same way, and wow, was it impressive.”
The Bruins closed out the series with a 3-0 win Sunday as sophomore pitcher Grant Watson threw six shutout innings, giving up just four hits to improve to 4-0 on the year.
With two out in the third, junior shortstop Pat Valaika smacked a first-pitch solo home run to left to give UCLA an early 2-0 lead. Sophomore reliever David Berg closed things out with a four-out save, his fifth of the season.
“To say it was a long weekend wouldn’t do it justice,” Valaika said. “It felt like we were here the whole weekend and never left, but it was good and we came out with three wins. … I think we can build off of it.”
Savage pointed to the defense and pitching, which held Washington scoreless over the final 31 innings of the series, as something the team can carry with it into its next series.
“We pitched and we played defense as well as we have all season this weekend,” Savage said. “(They were) tight games; we had to. If we’re going to win games, you’ve got to keep people off the scoreboard and our guys did a good job of that this weekend.”
The Bruins have now won five straight games, and will host the California Golden Bears, who also swept their opening conference series, on March 22-24 in Pac-12 play.