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UCLA baseball cruises past Gonzaga in 2nd contest of opening series

Junior second baseman Duce Gourson swings against Gonzaga at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Saturday. Gourson connected for a two-run home run in the first inning. (Aidan Sun/Daily Bruin)

By Mika McCaffrey

Feb. 18, 2024 9:34 a.m.

Duce Gourson set the tone for the Bruins’ offense Saturday afternoon.

The junior second baseman smashed a two-run home run off the scoreboard in the first inning.

Ultimately, after scoring in each of the first four innings, No. 22 UCLA baseball (2-0) defeated Gonzaga (0-2) 10-3 at Jackie Robinson Stadium in the second contest of its opening series.

Gourson, whose first-inning two-run homer contributed to an early 2-0 lead, said the team’s preparation helped jumpstart his offensive performance.

“I think we had a really good plan for the guy that was on the mound,” Gourson said. “It was pretty straightforward what we were going to get, and I think I just did a good job of executing. I think our whole team did a really good job of executing.”

Junior shortstop Cody Schrier collected and led the team with four hits and a home run, while redshirt junior infielder/outfielder AJ Salgado also left the yard with an opposite-field home run. Freshman first baseman Mulivai Levu went 3-for-5 with three RBI, one-upping his Friday performance in which he went one for four with a home run and two RBI.

Coach John Savage said his lineup’s execution helped set the stage for a victory.

“I just thought our approach was really good early on,” Savage said. “We put up three, then we put up two and you put up zeroes, so that’s how you get up on people and stay on.”

On the mound, sophomore right-hander Finn McIlroy held Gonzaga to one run and struck out three over five innings in his first career start.

Last year, McIlroy appeared exclusively as a reliever with career-highs of 2.2 innings and three strikeouts. He broke both of his personal records Saturday.

McIlroy said his time in the Cape Cod Baseball League over the summer assisted his preparation for joining the rotation.

“It was really good for me to go out there and just improve and just get better every day,” McIlroy said.

Freshman right-hander Luke Rodriguez entered for his collegiate debut as the first out of the bullpen in the sixth inning.

The Shafter local tossed two innings and allowed one earned run against the Bulldogs.

“You saw how talented he is, I mean, some of those pitches were pretty impressive,” Savage said. “He can strike you out and that’s the one thing he has going for him is he can put you away with a lot of different options.”

While the Bruins edged the Bulldogs by one run Friday, their victory Saturday was far from close.

Savage said this could be due to the early difficulties the team might face with left-handed pitchers, as Gonzaga’s starting pitcher Payton Graham was a right-hander compared to Friday’s southpaw offering.

“Left-handers are going to be a challenge for us,” Savage said. “We have some really good left-handed hitters. You can kind of see what they can do to some right-handed pitching, but they got to be able to defend themselves against left-handed pitchers.”

With its victory today, UCLA can sweep Gonzaga in the series finale Sunday.

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