Coach John Savage started sophomore right-hander Zach Pettway knowing he was made for Fridays.
“Pettway is a competitor,” Savage said. “That’s the one thing he’ll give you day in and day out. He looked like a Friday-night guy to me.”
No. 5 UCLA baseball (1-0) started its season with a 3-2 comeback victory over defending Big East conference champion St. John’s (0-1) after rain delayed the start of the 2019 season by 35 minutes.
Junior right-hander Ryan Garcia’s flexor injury left the No. 1 rotation spot open for the Bruins, who turned to Pettway to make the opening night start. The sophomore gave up two unearned runs and struck out nine batters through six innings.
In the fourth inning, he gave up a two-out RBI-single that put the Red Storm ahead 1-0. The very next at-bat, Pettway balked to move designated hitter Mitchell Henshaw into scoring position after he knocked in the go-ahead run. But Pettway battled back and a struck out the next batter on a 3-2 fastball.
“When you realize you’re down and you are in a red zone, (you) treat it like a stoplight,” Pettway said. “Realizing when you are there, to then step off, catch your breath and then get yourself into a green light so that you’re ready to go.”
At the plate, the Bruins managed three hits through just over five innings against right-hander Sean Mooney – who struck out eight batters. UCLA’s second, third and fourth hitters as a group went a combined one-for-eight against the righty, with the trio’s only hit being an infield single by junior second baseman Chase Strumpf.
“Sometimes we’ll go barrel after barrel and the results aren’t there and so we kinda just get frustrated,” said Strumpf. “But you know we’ve gotten better over time at sticking to that approach that we’ll get rewarded eventually.”
In the sixth, the Bruins scored their first run run thanks off a pinch-hit RBI-triple by senior outfielder Jake Pries minimizing the Red Storm’s lead to 2-1. After a pitching change going into the seventh inning, junior third baseman Ryan Kreidler reached on an infield single and eventually scored the tying run when Strumpf walked with the bases loaded. With two out and the bases still loaded, freshman center fielder Matt McLain gave the Bruins the lead for good when he drew a walk after a nine-pitch battle with lefty Nick Mondak.
“(McLain) fought, he fought right in the middle of that at-bat,” Savage said. “It goes to show you how mature he is. I think there was some good patience there and vision … and it changed the game.”
Sophomore right-hander Holden Powell closed out the game in the ninth and earned the save to secure UCLA’s victory.
“I’m happy with (the result),” Savage said. “It wasn’t perfect but it was a good start.”
UCLA will continue its series with St. John’s on Saturday at 2 p.m.