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Depth in the bullpen keeps UCLA baseball undefeated with win against Pepperdine

Sophomore second baseman Duce Gourson fouls off a pitch. Gourson’s three hits tied for the team high in Tuesday’s contest against Pepperdine. (Myka Fromm/Daily Bruin)


No. 17 UCLA11

By Anthony Aroyan

Feb. 22, 2023 2:06 p.m.

Last edited Feb. 22 at 9:57 p.m.

As the ball soared past the outfield and into the trees, Jackie Robinson Stadium erupted with joy. At the same time, junior outfielder JonJon Vaughns rounded the bases and celebrated his third homer of the season.

Following a sweep of Omaha, No. 17 UCLA (4-0) came out with an 11-2 win against Pepperdine (1-3) in its first midweek contest of the season. The matchup featured seven different pitchers for the Bruins.

The game saw the first start of the season for freshman right-hander Michael Barnett. In his first inning on the rubber, Barnett was able to strike out two batters, while a fly ball was taken care of by sophomore center fielder Malakhi Knight.

After UCLA’s defense kept a clean slate in the first, the offense opened the scoring in the bottom of the frame with a seven-run rally, culminating in the two-run home run by Vaughns.

“I really thought we kept our focus throughout the game,” said coach John Savage. “Even though we put up seven, which is a pretty rare number, I thought we played a nine-inning, complete game.”

The second inning presented more balanced scoring, with sophomore second baseman Duce Gourson hitting a single, allowing redshirt sophomore infielder AJ Salgado to reach home plate.

During his first start, Barnett struck out four hitters across two innings and allowed one run as the Waves began to connect on a few pitches during the second frame.

“It was awesome, and I was very grateful that Coach chose me,” Barnett said. “My approach was just preparing to go pitch-to-pitch and trust Coach Savage’s pitch calls.”

Throughout the contest, the Bruins kept a fresh arm on the mound, with six pitchers covering the remaining seven innings after Barnett’s departure. Redshirt sophomore right-hander Chris Aldrich was the only other pitcher to throw for more than one inning, striking out four hitters across the third and fourth innings.

The game against Pepperdine marked the second consecutive game where Savage utilized seven pitchers. In the previous game – the finale against Omaha – Savage also called on the depth in his bullpen to finish the series.

“Whenever you throw as many guys as you did – seven guys – and have them all pitch pretty well, it’s not easy to do,” Savage said. “We love building roles in the bullpen.”

After the second inning, both teams were held scoreless until the sixth, when Pepperdine notched a solo home run off junior right-hander Caedon Kottinger. The Bruins responded with a run of their own off the bat of sophomore designated hitter Jack Holman, whose double drove in Gourson.

Gourson attributed his individual success to his team’s ability to put him in the right place at the right time.

“I thought my offensive performance was good,” Gourson said. “The team contributed a lot to put me in good situations. We had a good all-around performance.”

Statistically, Gourson led the Bruins’ offense, recording two runs, three hits and two RBIs. While no player took sole control of the lead in any one statistic, Gourson tied the game-high in all three categories. The second baseman also turned an inning-ending double play in the fifth to stop a Pepperdine scoring threat.

For the rest of the game, the Bruins were able to hold the Waves at bay while scoring three more runs off the bats of Holman, junior third baseman Kyle Karros and Knight in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings respectively.

UCLA will travel to Nashville, Tennessee, for a three-game series against No. 10 Vanderbilt starting Friday.

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Anthony Aroyan
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