This post was updated June 2 at 5:12 p.m.
Facing elimination, the Bruins used the long ball to stay alive – at least for a few more hours.
No. 1 seed UCLA baseball (49-9, 24-5 Pac-12) took down Baylor (35-18, 14-8 Big 12) 11-6 in the NCAA regionals Sunday, hitting four home runs to pull away late. The win sets up a 6 p.m. rematch with Loyola Marymount, which pushed the Bruins to the losers’ bracket with a 3-2 upset victory Saturday.
“Last night was a big blow, whenever you lose that second game in the winners’ bracket,” said coach John Savage. “This group has shown resilience all season … and at the end of the day, we survived and moved on to tonight.”
UCLA matched its run total from Saturday with one swing of the bat in the first inning Sunday. After junior second baseman Chase Strumpf drew a two-out walk, senior designated hitter Jake Pries smacked a line drive over the left field wall to give the Bruins the early 2-0 lead.
The Bears responded in the top of the second with back-to-back doubles off freshman right-hander Jesse Bergin, scoring a run and prompting coach John Savage get arms warmed up the bullpen early. However, Bergin stayed in the game and right fielder Cole Haring drove a two-run homer to dead center, giving Baylor a 3-2 lead.
Savage pulled Bergin and brought in junior right-hander Felix Rubi, who let a runner reach third but got the groundout to keep the deficit at one run.
The Bruins tied the game in the bottom of the third with some help from the top of their order. With one out, sophomore right fielder Garrett Mitchell ripped a triple into the right field corner and came home on a sacrifice fly from junior shortstop Ryan Kreidler.
Haring gave the Bears the lead again a half inning later with his second home run of the day, a towering solo shot over the left field foul pole.
UCLA took the lead back in the bottom of the fourth. With runners at first and third, junior center fielder Jeremy Ydens roped a double into the left center gap to score both. Ydens later beat the tag at home plate to score on left fielder Jack Stronach’s sacrifice fly to shallow right, making it 6-4 Bruins.
Baylor got a run back in the top of the fifth on a wild pitch from junior right-hander Nathan Hadley that also moved a runner over to second. Hadley was able to record the final two outs and preserve the lead.
The Bruins broke the game open in the bottom of the inning with a pair of homers. Junior first baseman Michael Toglia launched a no-doubter over the Jack and Rhodine Gifford Hitting Facility in right to drive in a pair and freshman catcher Noah Cardenas smashed a solo shot to left to push the lead to 9-5.
Kreidler gave UCLA its fourth and final homer of the day with a two-run shot to center in the bottom of the sixth, extending the lead to five after the Bears got a run back in the top of the inning.
The Bruins’ 11 runs were their most in a playoff game since 2012.
“I think the biggest thing for us is approach,” Mitchell said. “Using (the) middle of the field is big for us. It keeps us on most pitches and I think we did a really good job of using the middle of the field today.”
Working with a five-run cushion, junior right-hander Kyle Mora tossed two scoreless innings before walking the first two batters in the ninth. Savage brought in sophomore right-hander Holden Powell, who needed just four pitches to get the final three outs.
“If you look at what they’ve done all season, we’d never be in the position where we are now without that bullpen,” Savage said. “At the end of the day, we really leaned on them and they gave us what we need today.”
Overall, the UCLA bullpen held Baylor to three runs in eight innings one day after the Bears scored 24 runs. Baylor catcher Shea Langeliers – who drove in 11 runs against Omaha on Saturday – went 0-for-4 on Sunday.
“That’s probably one of the reasons why UCLA is the No. 1 team in the country,” said Baylor coach Steve Rodriguez. “There’s a reason why they have one of the best ERAs and most strikeouts in the country.”
UCLA will now take the field for the third time in 24 hours for a rematch against LMU at 6 p.m.
“We’ve been in a similar situation where we have to win some games,” Pries said. “The biggest thing we do is we trust each other. When we’re trusting each other, that’s when our confidence builds and we get a little momentum.”