After a quiet weekend at the plate, the Bruins found their bats. They recorded more hits Tuesday than in all three games of the Dodger Stadium Classic combined.
UCLA baseball (6-5) amassed a total of 13 hits in its 7-2 victory over Cal State Northridge (6-6), in the teams’ second midweek matchup of the season.
“We’ve been close to tonight a couple of times, but tonight I think you saw it really all come together,” said coach John Savage. “We used the middle of the field. I think we had 15 hard contacts in the middle.”
Last weekend, the Bruins only managed 12 hits in three games. At practice Monday, they made adjustments to their approach at the plate, focusing on hitting the ball on the ground – not in the air – and striking out less, Savage said.
UCLA’s first scoring opportunity came in the bottom of the second. After a pair of hits to center and a fielder’s choice, redshirt sophomore shortstop Nick Valaika scored on a hard-hit single up the middle from freshman third baseman Ryan Kreidler.
Sophomore catcher Gavin Johns followed with a single to center, loading the bases. A sacrifice fly increased the Bruins’ lead to two.
The following inning proceeded in similar fashion. Sophomore designated hitter Jake Pries led off with a walk and junior first baseman Sean Bouchard hit a pop-up single to right. Both base runners scored – Pries on a wild pitch and Bouchard on an RBI ground out – to give UCLA a 4-0 lead.
In the top of the fourth, sophomore lefty Justin Hooper gave up a single and a walk to start the inning. The runners advanced on a balk, and crossed the plate when freshman right fielder Jeremy Ydens misplayed a single.
That was it for Hooper, who, despite recording five strikeouts in 3 1/3 innings, was succeeded by senior Moises Ceja. In his second start of the season – and against the Matadors – Hooper left the game with the Bruins leading 4-2.
“I thought Hooper threw the ball well, but was a little disappointed he couldn’t get out of the fourth inning,” Savage said. “He’s been sick.”
In the fifth, the Bruins lit up CSUN reliever Kyle Nicol, scoring three runs off a hit-by-pitch, four singles and a walk, batting around in the inning.
“I think (after the fourth) we came together and realized we needed to get back to the approach that we’ve been doing in practice that’s working,” said freshman second baseman Chase Strumpf. “We got right back to it, hitting balls up the middle and to right field.”
Meanwhile, UCLA’s relievers had a flawless outing.
Ceja, who earned the night’s win, had three strikeouts and only allowed one hit in his 2 2/3 innings on the mound. Redshirt sophomore Matt Walker, senior Scott Burke and sophomore Brian Gadsby pitched hitless seventh, eighth and ninth innings, respectively.
“The bullpen was fantastic,” Savage said. “I can’t ask anything more than what some of those guys are doing right now.”
With a higher scoring win and a new strategy at the plate, the Bruins will head to Texas this weekend for their first road series of the season against the Longhorns.
“It’s definitely a positive note. It’s good to go on the road having a bunch of hits under your belt,” Kreidler said. “We’re going to go to Texas, take the same philosophy, take the same approach to it.”