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‘Keep passing the baton’: UCLA baseball rallies to defeat Gonzaga on Opening Day

Junior shortstop Cody Schrier claps his hands after advancing to second base on his game-winning single. (Michael Gallagher/Daily Bruin)

Baseball


Gonzaga7
No. 22 UCLA8

By Benjamin Royer

Feb. 17, 2024 9:41 a.m.

Pass the baton.

The Bruins did it all game long.

Handing off at-bats to their teammates with a metaphorical baton was not just a mantra Friday night – it was reality.

“That’s one of our goals there, is just to get the leadoff (runner) on and then just keep passing the baton,” said junior shortstop Cody Schrier. “Keep it simple, and just keep the line moving.”

Coach John Savage called on 15 position players, including six Bruin debutants, for Opening Day. The substitutions paid off when the team needed it the most – down one in the bottom of the eighth.

As a pinch hitter, freshman infielder Cameron Kim scorched a single into right field to tie the game at seven. Moments later, freshman infielder Phoenix Call – pinch-running for Kim – crossed home on a go-ahead single from Schrier, enabling No. 22 UCLA baseball (1-0) to escape defeat with a comeback 8-7 victory over Gonzaga (0-1).

“We used a lot of guys and obviously, quite a few arms,” Savage said. “It wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t pretty, but at the same time, it was competitive. And at the end of the day, that’s kind of what you’re looking for – is competitiveness throughout the night.”

Kim was not the only newcomer to make an impact in the eighth inning Friday.

Graduate student catcher Quintt Landis, a Pepperdine transfer, struck an RBI double to bring the score within one in the same frame. With the newfound lead after the eighth, his ninth-inning battery mate, graduate student right-hander Rashad Ruff, closed the door and struck out two to secure the save.

Ruff, a Coppin State transfer, is from Southern California and returned to close out his collegiate career in Westwood.

Graduate student right-hander Rashad Ruff delivers a pitch. (Michael Gallagher/Daily Bruin)
Graduate student right-hander Rashad Ruff delivers a pitch. (Michael Gallagher/Daily Bruin)

“It’s a really good feeling in a new spot, new school,” Ruff said. “Love the team, love the coaching and to be able to contribute. It feels really good.”

Within the lineup, the freshmen who earned starting nods achieved big firsts. Infielder Roch Cholowsky notched UCLA’s first RBI base hit of the game with a third-inning single, while first baseman Mulivai Levu crushed his first career home run to provide the Bruins with a two-run, fifth-inning lead.

Cholowsky ended the game as one of two Bruins, the other being Schrier, to collect two hits at the plate.

“I think the word is maturity out of them (freshmen),” Schrier said. “Especially a guy like Roch. He came in from day one and was just extremely mature beyond his years, and same with all the rest of those guys.”

Junior Luke Jewett – who moved from the bullpen to become UCLA’s Friday night starter – matched his career-high with 5.1 innings, striking out four batters while allowing four earned runs in the process.

The 6-foot-4 right-hander’s night began with a first-pitch leadoff home run, but Jewett settled down until his removal after his only walk in the sixth.

“I liked Luke tonight,” Savage said. “First pitch of the game. I mean, come on. You get that punch in the nose, and I thought he answered it pretty well and he stayed within himself.”

Freshman right-hander Landon Stump – who took over for Jewett – couldn’t get out of a jam and allowed two earned runs, giving Gonzaga its 6-5 lead. Two innings later, an eighth-inning passed ball from Landis extended the Bulldogs’ lead to two.

Right-handers junior Nate Leibold and sophomore Cody Delvecchio bridged the gap to Ruff, not allowing an earned run in their combined 2.1 innings of work.

Savage said the ability to mix and match players through games is pivotal heading into the season-long marathon.

“It’s night and day compared to where we were last year,” Savage said.

UCLA returns Saturday for game two of the three-game set when it hosts Gonzaga at 2 p.m.

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Benjamin Royer | Assistant Sports editor
Royer is the 2023-2024 Assistant Sports editor on the baseball, gymnastics and men's water polo beats and a reporter on the football beat. He was previously a staff writer on the baseball, football and gymnastics beats. He is also a fourth-year communication student.
Royer is the 2023-2024 Assistant Sports editor on the baseball, gymnastics and men's water polo beats and a reporter on the football beat. He was previously a staff writer on the baseball, football and gymnastics beats. He is also a fourth-year communication student.
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