The threat of a no-hitter was looming over the heads of UCLA’s fans and players Saturday night, and the tension was palpable.
The Bruins couldn’t manage to notch a hit. Batter after batter came to the plate and left it, dispersed by the strong arm of Cal Poly’s Matt Imhof.
Then, in the top of the sixth, junior Pat Gallagher’s bat made contact with the ball. Not only did it make contact, but it also sent the ball soaring into the outfield and the ball dropped safely.
The held-in tension of the Jackie Robinson Stadium crowd released, and even though UCLA was still down 4-0, it was clear that it was a different ballgame.
And indeed it was – UCLA scored four runs that inning, essential to its 6-4 win that was anything but guaranteed through the first few innings.
“Two story lines tonight … they mugged us, basically. They did a great job against Nick, then the game turned. We had a few breaks,” said coach John Savage.
In the early going, the Mustangs’ Imhof was a study in confidence, no-hitting the Bruins through five innings. But he broke down in the sixth as the Bruins managed to add on hit after hit.
“I wasn’t tired at all, I just think they kind of figured it out a little bit,” Imhof said of how UCLA managed to get such a good read on his pitches.
UCLA junior starter Nick Vander Tuig gave up some early hits that, paired with defensive misjudgments, gave way to an early Cal Poly (40-18) lead.
“They battled me pretty well, they were aggressive. They had good at bats against me and I made some mistakes … It was huge, our hitters coming through. Our offense did a good job and battled and gave me a chance,” Vander Tuig said.
But once the Bruins (41-17) tied up the game, Vander Tuig and the offense put together some strong innings, with the starter making way later on for freshman reliever James Kaprielian. The game completely flipped after UCLA bats started making contact, and Cal Poly looked lost as its opponent loaded the bases inning after inning.
Sophomore reliever David Berg closed out the game with a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his 20th save of the season.
UCLA will face either San Diego, who beat San Diego State, or Cal Poly on Sunday. The Mustangs will face the Toreros in the early game, with the winner advancing to face the Bruins at 6 p.m.