UCLA baseball snaps 5-game losing streak with victory over Washington State
Sophomore right-hander Max Rajcic throws a pitch. Rajcic struck out a career-high 14 batters without allowing a run in No. 23 UCLA baseball’s win over Washington State at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Friday. (Olivia Simons/Daily Bruin senior staff)
|No. 23 UCLA||4|
By Jared Tay
May 14, 2022 11:37 a.m.
A high fastball with a faint hint of arm-side run barrelled toward Bryce Matthews.
The Cougar first baseman took a stride and swung at the pitch as it rose toward his shoulder level. His swing came too late, and the ball audibly popped into the mitt of the Bruin catcher behind the plate.
The inning was over and Matthew’s foe on the mound, sophomore right-hander Max Rajcic, ambled back toward his own dugout. He was greeted by the high-fives of his teammates in celebration of his latest punch out which was part of a career-high 14 fanned batters on the night.
Rajcic threw eight innings of a combined one-hitter that paved the way for No. 23 UCLA baseball’s (31-18, 15-10 Pac-12) 4-0 series-opening win over Washington State (23-24, 9-16)on Friday night at Jackie Robinson Stadium. The victory snapped a five-game losing streak for the blue and gold – its longest skid since 2017.
“Clearly we needed it (the win),” said coach John Savage. “That’s what a Friday night guy does. He puts a stop to certain things. He stops losing streaks. That’s what they do in the Major Leagues and that’s what he did for us.”
On Friday, Rajcic faced 13 consecutive batters without allowing a base runner from the second through sixth innings. He struck out the side once during that stretch and recorded at least two strikeouts in five frames.
“I liked everything tonight,” Rajcic said. “I liked my fastball command, I also liked my breaking balls.”
He reached the century mark on his pitch count, but his fastball still held at a steady 93 mph on the pitch gun.
Rajcic’s 13th and 14th strikeouts each came after he slung a heater through the zone, illustrating what Savage said was the sophomore’s best fastball command all season.
“I think he was as sharp tonight as he’s been all year,” Savage said. “Whenever you can hold that stuff, you’re a legitimate starter. He’s given us a competitive start day in and day out.”
It wasn’t just his fastball that induced late swings and looking third strikes from the Cougar offense.
Throughout the night, the sophomore’s curveball broke late and dipped hard. Washington State batters half-swung at offspeed pitches that danced around them. They stared at breaking balls when they bent into the zone and swung at pitches that bounced in the dirt.
“It’s nice to be able to catch him when he’s on,” said junior catcher Darius Perry. “His energy is contagious.”
By the end of his outing, Rajcic threw 115 pitches without allowing a walk, his third consecutive start in which he has not conceded a base on balls.
Rajcic’s start was a bounceback from his outing May 7, in which he allowed a season-high six earned runs on nine hits.
“I thought it was a complete effort for him (Rajcic),” Savage said. “Really from the first pitch to the last.”
All the offense Rajcic needed to earn the win came in the bottom of the first inning. Freshman second baseman Ethan Gourson, sophomore center fielder Carson Yates and sophomore designated hitter Daylen Reyes drove home the Bruins’ four runs on three RBI hits for an early 4-0 advantage. That would be the only Bruin offense of the night as UCLA mustered two hits in their remaining seven innings.
Freshman left-hander Ethan Flanagan will get the ball in game two of the series, with the chance to clinch the series for the Bruins on the back of another quality start.