UCLA baseball ties series against Santa Barbara with victory on the road
After a two-out home run in the first inning, junior right-hander Sean Mullen did not allow another run in No. 23 UCLA baseball’s series-evening win over Santa Barbara on Saturday. (Antonio Martinez/Daily Bruin)
|No. 23 UCLA||5|
|UC Santa Barbara||2|
By Taiyo Keilin
May 16, 2021 11:35 a.m.
After losing the series opener on home turf, the Bruins traveled north on U.S. Route 101 and got even with the Gauchos.
In game two of the home-and-home between two Southern California University of California schools, No. 23 UCLA baseball (29-16, 14-10 Pac-12) defeated UC Santa Barbara (31-17, 21-11 Big West) 5-2 on Saturday afternoon in Isla Vista. Coach John Savage said the win will prove big for his team as the postseason approaches, especially after an uncompetitive loss Friday.
“It’s a really good win against a really good team on the road after a tough loss,” Savage said. “We got beat up pretty good last night and we had a quick turnaround, got up early and drove out here and I thought the guys really responded. … We got to get really good on the road.”
The Bruins went down in order in the top of the first, and with two outs in the bottom half, Gaucho left fielder Broc Mortensen teed off on a first-pitch fastball, sending a no-doubter over the right-center field wall. UCLA responded almost immediately with a solo home run of its own when freshman third baseman Kyle Karros left the park on a 1-1 fastball with one out in the top of the second for his third round-tripper of the season.
“Getting up there and seeing two fastballs, one for a strike and one for a ball, I was pretty on time,” Karros said. “And luckily, he threw another fastball, so I was pretty on time and ready for that one.”
Following the first-inning homer, junior right-hander Sean Mullen settled in, retiring nine consecutive Gauchos and 15 of 21, highlighted by senior left fielder Pat Caulfield’s diving catch in left-center to close out the bottom of the fourth. Mullen’s afternoon ended with six innings of one-run ball on three hits and only one walk. The Bruins’ No. 2 had walked 15 batters in his previous 13.1 innings of work but said his preparation in the past week helped his improved command en route to his Pac-12-leading ninth win of the season.
“I had a good week of work leading up to today and it put me in the best position to get on the mound,” Mullen said. “The week was about building up confidence and today was just about going out and doing it.”
The 1-1 deadlock remained until the top of the seventh when sophomore right fielder Michael Curialle singled through the left side, scoring Karros from second thanks to a miscue by Mortensen. Curialle came around to score on freshman center fielder JonJon Vaughns’ bloop double two batters later, giving the Bruins a 3-1 advantage.
After taking its first lead of the game, UCLA called on senior right-hander Michael Townsend to work the seventh. He retired the first two batters on six pitches before pinch hitter Kyle Johnson ran into a 1-2 offering, cutting the lead to one with his first home run of the season.
Freshman right-hander Max Rajcic recorded the final seven outs of the contest to nail down his sixth save in his longest collegiate appearance.
“He thrives in (high-leverage situations),” Savage said. “He’s a very young pitcher who seems to really relish being in the big moment – tight games, stress situations. (You) got to have a certain temperament about you and confidence about you and he clearly is forming that identity.”
In the top of the ninth, the Bruins tacked on a pair of insurance runs off an RBI single by redshirt junior second baseman Kevin Kendall and a run-scoring double off the bat of Caulfield, bringing the final score to 5-2.
First pitch of the rubber match in UCLA’s final nonconference series of 2021 will be at 2 p.m. on Sunday back at Jackie Robinson Stadium.