The Bruins are in a slump. With the start of Pac-12 play looming, they have lost six of their last seven games.
UCLA baseball’s (6-9) most recent defeat, a 5-3 loss to UC Irvine (10-5) on Tuesday, marks its fourth straight.
“The whole team is disappointed,” said freshman designated hitter Kyle Cuellar.
Sophomore Justin Hooper started the game for the Bruins. His struggles began in the first inning when he allowed two walks. The Anteaters scored on a wild pitch, giving them an early 1-0 lead.
The following inning, Hooper’s control issues continued. The sophomore loaded the bases with a walk and two hit batsmen before striking out his final batter to retire the side.
The southpaw, who had thrown 53 pitches in two innings, did not return for the third.
“He just wasn’t himself. His command wasn’t very good. His velocity was down,” said coach John Savage. “It looked to me that in the last couple outings, he’s taken a step back.”
Hooper was succeeded by senior Moises Ceja, who pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings. Ceja said his fastball, slider and changeup were all working Tuesday, contributing to his strong outing.
But with Ceja gone in the sixth, the Bruins gave up three runs after two Anteaters reached base on infield hits. They both scored on a single through the right side. Then, with two outs, freshman third baseman Ryan Kreidler overthrew a ground ball that allowed the Anteaters to tack on another run, putting them up 4-1.
“We only had one error, but the defense wasn’t great,” Savage said.
UCLA’s first run came in the fourth. Sophomore center fielder Daniel Amaral recorded the team’s first hit of the game with a single up the middle. After stealing second and taking third on an overthrow, he scored on a single from Cuellar to tie the game at one apiece.
Despite recording another hit and a walk, the Bruins were unable to take the lead. They were plagued with stranded baserunners – nine in total – for the remainder of the game.
In the bottom of the seventh, Cuellar, who ended 3-for-5 on the night, doubled in two runs to cut the Anteaters’ lead to one. He advanced to third on the throw home.
But with Cuellar 90 feet from the plate, junior first baseman and team RBI-leader Sean Bouchard could not tie the score. He struck out swinging to end the inning. UCLA averaged only .182 on the night with runners in scoring position.
“Situational hitting, we didn’t do much of,” Savage said. “We struck out too many times. And you get what you get.”
UC Irvine made its final push in the top of the ninth, when sophomore pitcher Brian Gadsby gave up a single with a runner on second, cementing the 5-3 loss.
“When you’re losing, things do snowball,” Savage said. “That kind of seems like what’s going on right now.”