In an unassuming, low-scoring weekend, the Bruins had the final game and the series in the bag with two frames remaining.
Then it all fell apart.
“We just let one inning get away,” said coach John Savage. “And that was the difference in the series.”
No. 15 UCLA baseball (16-7, 6-3 Pac-12) had a one-run lead in the bottom of the eighth inning with a chance to take the rubber match against California (16-10, 3-6), but gave up six runs en route to an 8-3 loss Saturday at Evans Diamond in Berkeley. It was the first series lost by the Bruins this season.
The Golden Bears’ six-run eighth inning matched the total combined score of Friday’s game and was just one run less than the combined score of Thursday’s series opener.
California kicked off the inning by putting two men on base courtesy of a hit by pitch and a fielding error by redshirt junior pitcher Nathan Hadley. Then, Hadley and sophomore catcher Will McInerny had a miscommunication while fielding a bunt, allowing the Golden Bears to load the bases with no outs.
California drove home three runs to take a two-run lead, and then tacked on another three runs after sophomore right-hander Kyle Mora was summoned from the bullpen to limit the damage.
“It was frustrating. We think we can win every series we play in,” Savage said. “Up 3-2 in the eighth inning and we couldn’t make a couple (of) plays, a couple (of) bunt plays; one thing led to another and (Cal) gets a big inning.”
The Bruins took the lead for the first time in the seventh inning from two unearned runs. Freshman right fielder Garrett Mitchell was brought to third on a throwing error and sophomore pinch hitter Jarron Silva brought him home to tie the game.
Mitchell replaced injured sophomore right fielder Jeremy Ydens for the weekend, who before this series was second on the team in hits and third in runs. Mitchell went 1-for-7 the first two games of the series, but ended Saturday 2-for-4 with two runs.
“We missed (Ydens). That was a big blow. (He) hasn’t played the last two weekends – that’s been tough – and we’re hoping to get him back next week,” Savage said. “Mitchell is a very talented player. You see his speed, and you know he’s going to be a very good player for us. We need to get him as many reps as we possibly can.”
It was the freshman’s first set of games back following a concussion three weeks ago.
“(My) mental game I would say is pretty strong, even though taking three weeks off and not playing put me a click away,” Mitchell said. “I think I started off a little slow the first couple (of) games and then stepped it up a lot – more energy, more focus, just playing my game.”
Redshirt sophomore Jack Ralston started on the mound for UCLA, but only pitched two innings after allowing a two-run homer in the first frame and a double in the second. Sophomore Ryan Garcia, the normal Tuesday starter, replaced him and pitched three scoreless innings with two hits allowed.
On Friday, freshman Zach Pettway improved his record to 5-0 in a six-inning, six-hit, six-strikeout performance to take down California 4-2.
In the wake of several injuries to UCLA’s pitching staff, Pettway has emerged as one of Savage’s main options, tying senior Jake Bird with the most innings pitched on the team with 38 1/3, while leading the team with 32 strikeouts to Bird’s 2.
Pettway allowed one run on Friday – a home run to right field in the second inning. California held that lead until the fifth inning, when junior center fielder Daniel Amaral hit a two-run homer to make it 2-1.
Garcia made his first appearance since suffering an oblique strain March 14, relieving Pettway in the seventh inning. He didn’t allow a hit in the one inning he pitched, but the batter he walked eventually earned California’s second run in the eighth.
“I thought (my weekend) went well. It was good to get back in that competitive mindset being off two weeks,” Garcia said. “I think it just falls back to just competing and just giving it what you have no matter how you feel.”
The Bruins left 11 batters on base and only had four hits to the Golden Bears’ seven. However, they were walked nine times and added two crucial insurance runs in the eighth inning by earning the free bases. California, by comparison, walked just twice on the night and struck out nine times, four more than UCLA.
California opened up the series with a 5-2 victory Thursday night.
Not one batter on either team was walked in Thursday’s game.
Bird went seven innings for the third time this year but earned his second loss, bringing his record to 2-2. The junior allowed 14 hits, double his previous career high of seven recorded last week against Arizona State.
Bird also gave up all five runs of the game, with four coming in the fourth inning. California took a 3-0 lead on a fielding error by sophomore shortstop Ryan Kreidler. This led to Bird loading the bases on a hit by pitch to give the Golden Bears two more runs.
Kreidler redeemed himself in the next frame by doubling in a run, while sophomore second baseman Chase Strumpf connected on his fifth home run of the season in the seventh to make it 5-2. The Bruin bats recorded eight hits and just four strikeouts on the night, but couldn’t recover from the Golden Bear’s bombardment in the fourth frame.
“As a team, our hitting got a little bit better as the week went on,” Mitchell said. “We started off really slow, and we started to figure it out more towards the end of the weekend. Even though we lost a couple (of) games I’m proud of the way we all played together and worked as a team.”
UCLA will face Loyola Marymount for the second time this season in an away game 6 p.m. Tuesday before facing No. 3 Stanford in a home series starting Friday.