Tuesday, April 24

Baseball snaps losing streak with comeback victory against Arizona

Kyle Cuellar now leads the Bruins with a .441 batting average. The freshman designated hitter went 7-for-12 with three RBIs in three games against Arizona over the weekend. (Laura Uzes/Daily Bruin)

Kyle Cuellar now leads the Bruins with a .441 batting average. The freshman designated hitter went 7-for-12 with three RBIs in three games against Arizona over the weekend. (Laura Uzes/Daily Bruin)

UCLA baseball was about to get swept.

The Bruins’ offense tallied runs in both the seventh and eighth to put the team within striking distance, but the Arizona Wildcats countered with runs of their own to head into the ninth with a 6-5 lead.

That’s when UCLA’s offense took charge.

Freshman outfielder Michael Toglia and sophomore center fielder Daniel Amaral notched singles and junior first baseman Sean Bouchard was hit by a pitch to bring freshman designated hitter Kyle Cuellar to the plate with two outs and the bases loaded.

Down to his last strike, Cuellar stroked a liner to right field, plating two runs to tie the game. UCLA (7-11, 1-2 Pac-12) scored in the 10th inning on a wild pitch to steal the 8-7 win from No. 9 Arizona (15-4, 2-1), avoiding the team’s seventh straight loss.

“It’s a huge deal,” said redshirt sophomore shortstop Nick Valaika. “(Volunteer assistant) coach (Niko) Gallego brought us up in the sixth and said we’ve gotta win every inning – seventh, eighth and ninth. That could propel us throughout the season.”

The Bruins looked poised to rebound from Saturday’s back-to-back losses, taking the lead in the opening frame. Freshman Jeremy Ydens singled up the middle, stole second and advanced to third on a balk before Bouchard smacked an RBI single past the Wildcats’ shortstop.

[Related: UCLA baseball loses doubleheader to No. 9 Arizona]

Arizona wasn’t kept off the board for long.

UCLA junior ace Griffin Canning, who pitched 1 1/3 innings in the series opener, struggled through four innings of work, relinquishing four runs on six hits while garnering two strikeouts – a season-low for the righty.

“He wasn’t himself and (it was a) tough situation to be put in for him, and we got him out at the right time,” said coach John Savage. “It’s kind of ironic that we got eight runs with how he pitched.”

Arizona’s starting pitcher kept the Bruins in check for much of the game following the run in the opening inning. But in the seventh, UCLA’s bats came alive.

Sophomore designated hitter Jake Pries drilled a pinch-hit double into left-center field. Freshman third baseman Ryan Kreidler promptly followed with a two-out, two-run jack over the left field fence to make it 4-3.

“Our team showed a ton of resiliency,” Savage said. “We responded, we kept on battling and we salvaged the series – that’s all you can say.”

The Wildcats notched two runs in the eighth on back-to-back homers off sophomore Jon Olsen, but the Bruins scored two in the bottom of the inning off a two-run double from redshirt sophomore Zander Clarke to pull the game back to 7-5.

Following the drama in the ninth inning, Arizona had a chance in the 10th with runners on first and second, but redshirt sophomore reliever Matt Walker squashed the opportunity.

Sophomore second baseman Jake Hirabayashi lined a single up the middle to open the bottom of the inning. After a wild pitch by Arizona’s Alfonso Rivas III, Valaika dropped a perfect bunt down to get Hirabayashi to third.

With the winning run on third and Kreidler at the dish, Rivas skipped a breaking ball in the dirt past the catcher to hand the Bruins the victory.

“This win could have a snowball effect for our team,” Cuellar said. “I mean, wins like this are a huge momentum boost. We come from behind against a good team like Arizona – I think it can only get better from here.”

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