UCLA baseball was six outs away from a two-run victory when things started to go south.
It started in the eighth when junior reliever Jake Bird’s hit batsman and a pair of singles cut the lead in half. The following inning, senior closer Scott Burke allowed a pair of home runs, sandwiched around a single, that gave San Diego State a two-run lead of their own.
“It happens, unfortunately,” said coach John Savage. “When you pitch like that at the end of the game it’s usually a recipe to lose.”
The late-inning runs in the Tuesday slugfest allowed SDSU (31-15) to claim an 8-6 victory over UCLA (21-20) in their second midweek matchup of the season.
Both teams came out swinging early. In the first four innings alone the Bruins amassed a total of eight hits, while the Aztecs put up four of their own.
The hit parade began in the top of the first, when sophomore Justin Hooper allowed a two-out solo home run that gave SDSU an early lead. UCLA bounced back in the bottom half of the inning with a leadoff double from senior center fielder Brett Stephens followed by a single from junior first baseman Sean Bouchard that evened the score.
“We did a really good job on the offensive side by coming back and answering,” Bouchard said. “I think the momentum was kind of going back and forth but I was definitely impressed with our offensive approach at the beginning of the game.”
The scoring continued as the Aztecs managed to add a run off Hooper in each of the following two innings.
But the Bruins’ freshmen answered in the bottom of the third with a series of deep balls that put them up 4-3. Left fielder Jeremy Ydens started off with a one-out solo homer to left field. Two batters later, designated hitter Kyle Cuellar flied out to the warning track, just shy of the center field wall. Then, with a runner on first and two outs, right fielder Michael Toglia sent a laser shot over the right field fence to give UCLA the lead.
“We try to stay aggressive,” Toglia said. “We started doing that and we started producing in the early innings where we’ve been struggling.”
Although the Bruins would add a run the following inning off an RBI single from Stephens and another off a wild pitch, that would be it from their offense. They fell silent at the plate after the fourth, recording 16 straight outs in a row. No UCLA batter would reach base the rest of the game.
“It’s a nine-inning game and you gotta keep punching,” Savage said. “They’re throwing punches, we’re throwing punches, then we stop throwing punches after the fourth and we lose.”
Hooper struggled throughout his start, giving up an earned run in each of his four innings and a total of five hits. He recorded four strike outs and only one walk. The southpaw was pulled in the fifth inning.
“Hooper was inconsistent, at times pretty good and other times just okay,” Savage said. “Just not quite where we want him to be.”
Neither offense settled down until the fifth, the first scoreless inning of the night. At that point the Aztecs were on their fourth pitcher and redshirt sophomore Matt Walker had taken over for the Bruins.
Walker and freshman Ryan Garcia shut down SDSU in the respective fifth and sixth innings, and then freshman Nick Scheidler and sophomore Brian Gadsby split a scoreless seventh on the bump. But despite the solid outings, Bird and Burke could not maintain the lead.
“This time of year, these are the type of games we’ve got to win,” Savage said.