Just when UCLA baseball’s broken offense began to sound like a broken record, its slump skipped a beat.
The Bruins’ quiet bats finally started to make some noise this weekend after struggling for much of the season. Bolstered by a rare influx of offensive firepower, UCLA won two out of three in its Pac-12 series at Washington State.
Just days removed from suffering an 11-1 defeat, it was No. 9 UCLA putting the hurt on. The Bruins scored 20 throughout the three-game series – more runs than in their previous eight games combined.
“Everything just started clicking. We had a lot more quality at-bats one through nine and we strung them together,” said junior infielder Pat Valaika.
“We’ve had a tough time stringing good at-bats together and this weekend we did.”
UCLA’s offensive revival was helped along by some shoddy defense by Washington State (20-20, 7-11 Pac-12), who committed 11 errors in the series, leading to seven unearned runs for the Bruins (27-13, 11-7).
“As an offense, we try to take advantage of the defense and put pressure on the defense and we try to take advantage of anything that they give us. I think we did a pretty good job of that,” said junior outfielder Brian Carroll.
While the offense was getting hits, UCLA’s pitching was a bit more hit-or-miss over the weekend. Junior pitcher Nick Vander Tuig was one out away from a complete game shutout before surrendering his only run in the bottom of the ninth in Saturday’s 10-1 win.
“(Vander Tuig has) been great all year. He’s had one of the best years in the country if you look at his numbers. I mean he’s got an ERA below 2, he’s got 10 walks in over 70 innings,” said coach John Savage. “Him and (junior pitcher) Adam (Plutko) I think are one of the best combinations in the country.”
But things didn’t go as smoothly for Plutko, who lasted just five innings on Friday, giving up four runs. The Bruins’ early 5-0 lead was gone by the eighth and the team went to extras for the second time in two weeks, where it pulled out a 7-6 win.
“It’s one of the toughest things to do in baseball – to win on the road in extra innings, so we did a good job and we pulled out the game,” Carroll said.
On Sunday, sophomore pitcher Grant Watson continued his recent struggles. Although he gave up just one earned run, Watson struggled with his command and was pulled after just four and one-third innings. Both teams gave away runs because of poor defensive play, but an untimely error in the eighth by junior first baseman Pat Gallagher allowed the Cougars to score the go-ahead run to take a 4-3 win.
“The whole season we’ve shown the ability to play pretty solid defense and today it kind of broke down a little bit,” Valaika said Sunday.
“But those two runs that scored on the errors, those weren’t the reason we lost. We had plenty of opportunities to put the game away and we didn’t take advantage of it.”