UCLA baseball’s season was decided on a hit batsman.
With the bases loaded in the top of the 13th, senior Scott Burke came in for relief with one out. The first pitch he threw struck the San Diego State batter, forcing the leading run home. The Bruins did not recover.
“I’m surprised I don’t have gray hair, but I probably should,” said coach John Savage. “Those games are a little bit like UCLA baseball, like the last 13 years. … Those are painful at times, as this one was.”
UCLA fell 3-2 to San Diego State on Saturday in its second game of the Long Beach Regional, eliminating the Bruins from the NCAA Tournament.
UCLA’s final game of the season was filled with missed opportunities. The Bruins left 15 men on base, three of whom were stranded in the bottom of the ninth.
With the score tied, Daniel Rosica reached on an error to start the inning. Savage immediately pinch ran for the redshirt sophomore catcher with junior Curtis Godin.
Godin – a state track champion in high school – stole second and made it to third on a sacrifice bunt. San Diego State intentionally walked the bases loaded to face redshirt sophomore pinch hitter Zander Clarke, who struck out, and freshman right fielder Michael Toglia, who fouled out, to keep UCLA from walking off.
“Clearly we left a lot of opportunities on the field,” Savage said. “We did enough to win today, we just couldn’t come up with that big fly ball, big ground ball, big base hit.”
The Bruins’ offense first sparked in the fourth inning. Toglia roped a one-out double to the left field wall, advancing to third on a pop up to right. Sophomore third baseman Jake Hirabayashi drove him in with a single up the middle – his second hit of the game – to cut the Aztecs’ lead in half.
UCLA did not score again until the bottom of the eighth inning. Junior first baseman Sean Bouchard led off with a single to left center, advancing to second on a sacrifice bunt. He crossed the plate when freshman Jack Stronach – pinch hitting for Hirabayashi – singled through left side.
“I just trusted my swing and wanted to see the ball well,” Stronach said. “That first pitch was probably the one I wanted to hit, and I took it.”
Sophomore Jon Olsen started on the mound for the Bruins. He let in two runs in the top of the second, when a pair of singles followed by a hit batsman loaded the bases with one out. An infield hit scored the first run of the game, and a sacrifice fly to center subsequently doubled the Aztec lead.
Olsen went on to retire the next 13 batters he faced in order. The right hander recorded three strikeouts and a walk, throwing 111 pitches in his 7 2/3 innings on the mound.
Jake Bird took over after Olsen gave up a two-out single up the middle in the eighth. The junior tossed 4 2/3 innings of relief, allowing two hits and striking out three batters in the process of what will likely be his final collegiate outing.
“It feels like we’ve been playing these kind of games all year – close,” Bird said. “Although it may mean more, to me it feels like the same thing. Nothing changes.”
In the 13th inning, freshman second baseman Chase Strumpf made a fielding error to give the Aztecs a leadoff baserunner. A single and a sacrifice bunt later, Savage replaced Bird with sophomore Justin Hooper. But in a lefty-on-lefty matchup, Hooper loaded the bases with a five-pitch walk. He was succeeded by Burke, whose first pitch allowed the winning run to score.
“There’s nothing really we could’ve done,” Savage said. “I thought we pulled all the strings in the right way. We just didn’t get it done.”