The Bruins secured the series victory Saturday afternoon – and the series sweep a few hours later.
No. 1 UCLA baseball (27-6, 9-3 Pac-12) won both games of its doubleheader against No. 8 East Carolina (25-10, 8-1 AAC) by scores of 8-5 and 3-0, the first time the Bruins have swept a ranked opponent this season.
The first game ended with the Bruins’ first walk-off home run of the year, a three-run blast from junior first baseman Michael Toglia. It was the second straight game-winning hit for Toglia, who had a two-run double in the eighth inning Friday night to put UCLA ahead 7-5.
Toglia faced an almost identical situation in the ninth inning Saturday, stepping to the plate with two runners on in a 5-5 game. He ended the game on the first pitch, launching a no-doubter over the left field wall.
“It’s surreal to get swarmed by your teammates at home plate,” Toglia said. “It’s certainly something that I’d never experienced before in my entire life. So it’s something that I’m going to cherish.”
The Bruins’ first rally of the game also involved Toglia, who drew a four-pitch walk to lead off the second inning. Redshirt sophomore designated hitter Jarron Silva drove him in from first on a double that bounced over the first baseman’s head, before Silva crossed the plate himself on an RBI single by freshman catcher Noah Cardenas.
The Pirates took the lead a half inning later on three straight two-out hits off of redshirt junior right-hander Jack Ralston. The rally concluded with a two-run single up the middle from shortstop Turner Brown to put East Carolina ahead 3-2.
The top of the fourth saw the Pirates extend their lead without a hit, when second baseman Brady Lloyd drew a walk and made it all the way around the basepaths on a groundout and two wild pitches from Ralston.
UCLA chipped into the deficit in the bottom half of the inning. With two on and two out, junior third baseman Ryan Kreidler hit a line drive that the center fielder bobbled, allowing sophomore shortstop Kevin Kendall to score from second.
The Bruins retook the lead in the bottom of the sixth on a two-run shot to right field from sophomore right fielder Garrett Mitchell, his second home run of the year and first since March 12.
The Bruin lead lasted just half an inning thanks to Brown, who picked up his third RBI of the day on a two-out double into the left-field gap against redshirt senior right-hander Nathan Hadley.
Junior right-hander Kyle Mora took the mound in the top of the eighth and pitched two hitless innings to set the table for Toglia’s walk-off homer. Mora leads UCLA with 27 relief appearances this season.
“(Mora’s) been huge for us,” said junior right-hander Ryan Garcia. “He’s really been embracing his role and keeping us in games in those tight situations.”
After the Bruins celebrated the walk-off win, they took the field 30 minutes later for the second game of the day. UCLA scored 15 runs combined in the first two games of the series, but could only put three across in the series finale.
However, that was more than enough support for Garcia, who threw seven shutout innings and struck out a career-high 13 batters to pick up his fourth win of the season.
“We needed that outing,” said coach John Savage. “(Garcia) was as good as he’s been all season. We didn’t get a great start on Friday from (sophomore right-hander Zach Pettway) and then we got five innings out of (Ralston) in the second game. Garcia going seven innings really picked us up because our bullpen was pretty heavily used over the first two games.”
Garcia surrendered a double to start the game, the first and only time he allowed a runner to reach second base. After walking first baseman Spencer Brickhouse to put two men on with one out, Garcia got the double-play ball to escape the jam.
On the offensive side, the Bruins found a variety of ways to score their three runs.
Freshman center fielder Matt McLain singled to start the bottom of the third, and senior third baseman Jake Hirabayashi walked to put two runners on with no outs. After junior catcher Will McInerny moved both runners over with a groundout, a wild pitch from starter left-hander Jake Kuchmaner brought McLain home for the first run of the game.
UCLA tacked on another run in the bottom of the sixth on line drive shot to left field from junior second baseman Chase Strumpf. It was the fifth home run of the weekend for the Bruins, the most they have hit in a series this season.
With two men on and two out in the eighth inning, senior designated hitter Jake Pries grounded a ball up the line that the first baseman snagged in right field and fired home. Kreidler hustled around third and was just able to sneak his foot past the catcher’s tag to put the Bruins up by three.
“Seeing your offense compete for you definitely motivates you to keep going,” Garcia said. “With tight games like that, it gives you extra motivation to really compete for your team.”
Garcia capped off his start with three hitless innings before turning it over to the bullpen. Mora tossed another hitless eighth, and sophomore right-hander Holden Powell notched his 10th save of the season to close it out.
The 13 strikeouts from Garcia on Saturday made it back-to-back starts with 11-plus punch-outs by the junior, who now holds a mark of about 12.2 strikeouts per nine innings this season.
The Bruins have now won six in a row, their longest streak of the year.
“Any sweep is huge for us,” Garcia said. “When you beat a top-10 team like this, it’s extra fuel to keep going and not let up on the gas pedal.”