This post was updated June 9 at 10:55 p.m.
Just like they did the last time they were the top team in the country, the Bruins fell short of Omaha.
No. 1 seed UCLA baseball (52-11, 24-5 Pac-12) lost to Michigan (46-20, 16-7 Big Ten) 4-2 in a winner-take-all elimination game at Jackie Robinson Stadium for a spot in the 2019 College World Series. The super regional defeat was the first time the Bruins lost a three-game series all year.
“(We) hadn’t lost a series all season long, I’ve never really heard of that,” said coach John Savage. “So this one’s a very very tough one to take.”
UCLA left seven runners on base in the loss and was 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position.
Two of those stranded runners came in the bottom of the ninth.
Right after Michigan added an insurance run in the top of the inning, UCLA started a rally thanks to a single by Ydens – who would later advance to second on a wild pitch. Cardenas reached first on a hit-by-pitch and was quickly taken out for pinch runner redshirt sophomore outfielder Jordan Prendiz.
“We had a lot of trust in each other,” said junior right-hander Kyle Mora. “I think it showed throughout. We just came out on the wrong end of it.”
Pinch hitter freshman infielder Jake Moberg hit a deep fly to right center that advanced both Prendiz and Ydens. With two outs, McLain stepped up to the plate and grounded out to short, ending UCLA’s season.
“We’ve had some really good teams,” Savage said. “Some have gone to Omaha and some haven’t gone to Omaha, and this is our best that hasn’t gone to Omaha.”
Back in the first inning, but teams failed to reach base, but Michigan broke through with a one-out walk by third baseman Blake Nelson and double down the first base line by left fielder Christan Bullock. Shortstop Jack Blomgren grounded out to junior shortstop Ryan Kreidler, advancing Bullock to third and knocking in Nelson to give the Wolverines a 1-0 advantage.
Freshman right-hander Nick Nastrini was able to get out of the second with a groundout that deflected off of his glove and was fielded by junior second baseman Chase Strumpf for a bang-bang play at first.
In his last game at Jackie Robinson Stadium, senior designated hitter Jake Pries tied the game in the second with a solo homer to over the left center field wall. Pries’ last homer was in an elimination game victory over Baylor in last week’s Los Angeles Regional.
Sophomore center fielder Garrett Mitchell ripped a ball to right field with one down in the third, causing right fielder Jordan Brewer – the Big Ten Player of the Year – to slip and fall. The ball rolled past Brewer and Mitchell was able to leg out his 12th triple of the year.
The next at-bat, Kreidler grounded out to the shortstop, scoring Mitchell from third and giving UCLA a one-run lead.
The Bruins looked to threaten in the fourth as junior right fielder Jeremy Ydens singled to left with two outs. Freshman catcher Noah Cardenas bounced a grounder to Nelson, who fumbled the ball before throwing to first, which went past the reach of first baseman Jimmy Kerr.
As the Wolverines tried to get the ball back into the infield, Ydens looked to score from home, but got thrown out at the plate to end the inning.
Michigan started a comeback effort in the fifth with a leadoff walk of Nastrini. Coach John Savage pulled the freshman after 75 pitches in his second start since returning from an injury that kept him off the field for three months.
In his second elimination game start, Nastrini went four-plus innings, allowing two earned runs and striking out four Wolverines. The freshman allowed just one earned run over five innings in an elimination game victory over Loyola Marymount on June 2.
Blomgren hit a line drive back up the middle off Mora, putting runners on the corners with no outs. Two batters later with one down, Mora tried to pickoff at first base, which forced Blomgren to run for second, but he slid safely past the tag.
Later in the at-bat, second baseman Ako Thomas’ two-RBI single put the Wolverines back ahead by one – and they never looked back.
“To come in here as a Big Ten team – and an upstart team certainly – maybe (a win) was not expected,” said coach Erik Bakich. “But the group of kids we got on this team, they’re fighters, they’re believers, they’re gritty, they’re tough. We’re here because of those guys.”
UCLA tried to mount a comeback in the seventh when Cardenas led off with a double into the right-center gap. It was Cardenas’ first hit since June 2 – when the Bruins eliminated Baylor in the Los Angeles Regional – and his first in his previous 17 at-bats. A sacrifice bunt by junior left fielder Jack Stronach moved Cardenas to third with one out.
With the infield in, freshman third baseman Matt McLain’s groundout held Cardenas at third. Mitchell could not score Cardenas as he slapped a soft grounder to first base and was called out when left-hander Tommy Henry beat Mitchell to the bag.
“It was a tough weekend offensively,” Savage said. “(Michigan) has outstanding pitching. (Michigan) has probably as good of three starters as you’ll see in the country. They have three No. 1s really.”
Michigan entered the game as the only team to beat UCLA more than once this season and is now the only team to own a winning record against the Bruins.
“(I’m) so proud of my guys and this season,” Savage said. “It was just a tough way to finish. But it’s baseball. You deal with it and you move on. This program is in very good shape, obviously, and (it’s) time to look toward the future.”