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Strong pitching leads UCLA to victory over Long Beach State

Sophomore catcher Gavin Johns went 3-for-3 with 2 RBI against No. 9 Long Beach State on Tuesday, and he drove in the go-ahead run with a single up the middle in the second inning.(Habeba Mostafa/Daily Bruin)

By Dylan Sanders

April 26, 2017 1:26 a.m.

Make it two good starts in a row for Justin Hooper.

Throughout March, the sophomore southpaw struggled to last four innings on the mound. But in the past two weeks Hooper seems to have found his groove, pitching throughout the fifth each time. Tuesday night he earned his first win of the season and lasted a career-high 5 2/3 innings.

“He’s pitching with his fastball and his slider has gotten better,” said coach John Savage. “The last two games he just seems to have those ingredients that will allow him to be successful.”

Hooper’s dominant start led UCLA (19-18, 10-8 Pac-12) to a 5-1 victory Tuesday night, handing No. 9 Long Beach State (25-15, 10-2 Big West) its third home loss of the year.

The Bruins fell behind early in the first when Dirtbags’ first baseman Daniel Jackson launched a solo home run in the bottom of the inning.

The deficit would not last long. With runners on first and third in the top of the second, freshman third baseman Jack Stronach sent a sacrifice fly to center that allowed UCLA to even the score. Two batters later, sophomore catcher Gavin Johns put the Bruins ahead with an RBI single, driving in the first run of his Division I career.

The pair had a similar scoring combination in the seventh, when Stronach added another run to UCLA’s lead with a fielder’s choice and Johns followed with another RBI single.

Junior first baseman Sean Bouchard tacked on another run in the third on a leadoff home run to left center.

“(Last weekend’s Oregon State series) kind of put into perspective how good we are and what we’re capable of, and we brought that energy tonight,” Johns said.

Hooper picked up his first win of the season on the mound and recorded five strikeouts and only three walks. The home run in the first inning was the only run he would allow.

“I was attacking them just like I did last week, trying to get the ball put in play,” Hooper said. “I used my change up quite a bit. That helped me in some backwards counts.”

But after Hooper walked two batters in the sixth, junior Jake Bird came in for relief. He struck out four batters in his two full innings, allowing only one hit.

“(Bird) had a tough Friday and Sunday and it was really good to see his perseverance and fortitude of coming back and believing in himself,” Savage said. “The more he pitches the more effective I think he’s going to become.”

Senior Scott Burke shut Long Beach down in the ninth to help UCLA secure the victory. Savage said that Bird may have found his role as the long-man reliever, and that Burke will take over as the closer.

The Dirtbags, on the other hand, burned through eight different pitchers in their loss, none of whom lasted more than two full innings.

UCLA batters lit up the struggling hurlers, recording at least one hit in six straight frames starting in the second inning. Fellow freshmen second baseman Chase Strumpf and right fielder Michael Toglia each had a pair of timely hits that set Stronach and Johns up to put runs on the board.

“That’s always a good sign in late April, getting contributions from this many freshman,” Savage said. “It just goes to show you that they have developed.”

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Dylan Sanders | Alumnus
Sanders joined the Bruin as a freshman in 2016 and contributed until 2017. He spent time on the baseball, softball and men's soccer beats.
Sanders joined the Bruin as a freshman in 2016 and contributed until 2017. He spent time on the baseball, softball and men's soccer beats.
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