Junior right-hander Ryan Garcia showed why he was the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year.
No. 1 seed UCLA baseball (48-8, 24-5 Pac-12) defeated No. 4 seed Omaha (31-23-1, 20-10 Summit) 5-2 to win its first game of the Los Angeles regional and advance to the winners’ bracket. The Bruins were led by 8 1/3 innings from Garcia four days after he was recognized as the top pitcher in the conference.
Garcia began his outing by getting through Omaha’s lineup without allowing a baserunner and striking out three. Third baseman Breyden Eckhout broke up Garcia’s perfect game with a solo home run to lead off the fourth.
“I made a mistake, he took advantage of it,” Garcia said. “But then it’s just, no one’s going to feel sorry for you. You still have to compete for your team. There’s 26 other guys counting on you to get the next guy.”
Junior left fielder Jack Stronach said he was confident in Garcia’s ability to bounce back after allowing the run.
“When Breyden Eckhout hit that home run, I’m out there in left field like ‘Hey, I know (Garcia)’s going to keep competing,’” Stronach said. “Everybody makes mistakes, but the way (Garcia) goes back and competes after bad stuff happens is really impressive.”
Garcia retired the next six Mavericks following the home run, but he pitched into jams in both the sixth and seventh innings. Garcia escaped the sixth with an inning-ending double play and the seventh with a fly-out that stranded two.
Coach John Savage pulled Garcia after he allowed an unearned run in the ninth, calling for junior right-hander Kyle Mora to get the final two outs of the game.
Garcia’s counterpart, Omaha right-hander Payton Kinney, came into Friday’s matchup with an 11-1 record and Summit League-best 1.65 ERA. Of the first 14 Bruins he faced, only freshman catcher Noah Cardenas – who hit a single in the third – reached base.
“(Kinney)’s a senior that knows what he’s doing,” Savage said. “So, having said that, I’ve got to give them a lot of credit for coming in and really battling.”
The Bruins’ offense showed life in the fifth by loading the bases with singles by Stronach, junior right fielder Jeremy Ydens and Cardenas. Freshman third baseman Matt McLain hit a deep sac fly to left to bring home Stronach and tie the game at one apiece.
Sophomore center fielder Garrett Mitchell followed by knocking a two-RBI single to right to give UCLA a 3-1 lead.
“(Kinney) had a couple of mistakes and we capitalized on those, I think that was the biggest thing,” Mitchell said. “He pitched us well, he was consistent, and we were just able to capitalize on the pitches where he didn’t.”
The Bruins added two insurance runs in the sixth off back-to-back RBI doubles by senior designated hitter Jake Pries and Stronach.
UCLA will face Loyola Marymount for the third time this season at 7 p.m. on Saturday with the chance to play in the championship series Sunday.
“Those Tuesday games where we beat them don’t mean anything at this stage,” Savage said. “You saw it tonight; it’s postseason. You better be prepared to play.”