Spring break is working wonders on the Bruins’ bats.
UCLA baseball (11-11) scored eight runs in the fourth to come up with a 9-7 win over No. 10 Cal State Fullerton (15-9) on Tuesday. The Bruins have now scored at least nine in all four of their games since winter quarter finished up.
“Coming out of the fall and January, we thought we were going to score some runs,” said senior left fielder Brett Stephens. “It didn’t really work out the first part of the season, but the last four games have really shown that this team can hit.”
UCLA entered the fourth trailing 5-1. An RBI-single and two bases-loaded walks later, Stephens stepped to the plate with his team trailing by a run. The left-handed hitter rifled a bases-clearing in double to left center. The Bruins would cash in two more runs.
“That eight-run inning probably could have been a four-run inning, but we had 10 straight quality at-bats,” said coach John Savage. “Moved a guy over, sac fly. When you play good baseball, that compounds problems.”
Justin Hooper failed to pitch deep into the game for the fourth time this season. The sophomore threw 2 2/3 IP, allowing four runs on five hits with two strikeouts and two hit batsmen across a start that Savage called erratic and inefficient.
“He’s better than that – he’ll tell you the same thing,” Savage said. “We need to get a better start out of that role. We gotta look at that and determine what we want to do.”
Two of the four runs Hooper let in were unearned because of an error by redshirt senior shortsop Nick Kern, who was playing because redshirt sophomore Nick Valaika got hit by a pitch and broke his hand Sunday. Valaika’s X-rays were positive.
Savage said that the left side of the infield will be combination of Kern and freshmen Ryan Kreidler and Jack Stronach for a while.
Though Savage said Valaika’s timetable was still an unknown as of Tuesday night, Jake Bird is on the mend. After missing four starts with shoulder issues, the junior sinkerballer tossed an inning of relief in the seventh, facing six batters and surrendering one run.
“I was encouraged,” Savage said. “It wasn’t a clean inning, but his stuff was good. His velocity was back up. So I think it was encouraging.”
Bird will not re-enter the rotation this weekend, but he will be available out of the bullpen according to Savage.
A circus play
The Titans loaded the bases in the eighth inning, trailing by just two runs. With one out, sophomore closer Brian Gadsby gloved a line-drive come backer and fired an errant through to first base, which he said drilled the umpire in the shin.
Bouchard found the ball and threw home just in time to get a Fullerton base runner, completing a 1-3-2 double play and getting the Bruins out of the eighth up 9-7.
Gadsby is no longer Savage’s closer; that job now belongs to senior Scott Burke, who retired the side in order in the ninth Tuesday night to seal the victory.
The Bruins continue conference play with a three-game weekend series on the road against Arizona State (11-12) – who has gone 1-5 against the Pac-12 – on Friday. UCLA has gone 4-2 against conference teams.
Probable pitchers for the weekend are junior Griffin Canning on Friday, senior Moises Ceja on Saturday and sophomore Jon Olsen on Sunday.