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Cal completes sweep of UCLA baseball with walk-off homer by Lomavita

Freshman first baseman Mulivai Levu gets ready to hit a pitch at Jackie Robinson Stadium. (Xiang Li/Daily Bruin)

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By Kai Dizon

March 11, 2024 2:34 p.m.

Coach John Savage laid out the road map to finish games before the season even began.

Right-handers painted the path. Freshman Luke Rodriguez, junior Nate Leibold and sophomore Cody Delvecchio were to emerge from the bullpen with graduate student Rashad Ruff waiting in the wings to close out the game.

But Rodriguez and Delvecchio were unavailable after pitching on Friday and Saturday, and Leibold had just been used in the sixth against the Golden Bears.

So on Sunday, when the seventh inning came around in a four-run ball game, Savage said the plan was to hand the ball off to Ruff for the seventh, eighth and ninth.

Two outs away from the Bruins’ first win since Feb. 28, the Coppin State transfer just needed to set down Caleb Lomavita with two runners on.

However, the Golden Bears catcher and 2024 MLB Draft first-round favorite deposited a 1-2 fastball – Ruff’s 49th pitch of the day – over Stu Gordon Stadium’s left field wall for a walk-off, three-run homer to secure California (11-3, 3-0 Pac-12) a 6-5 victory and a series sweep over UCLA baseball (5-9, 0-3). The Golden Bears defeated the Bruins 11-7 and 3-1 on Friday and Saturday, respectively.

“I thought we played well other than the last couple innings,” Savage said. “Lomavita got us. That’s what big-time players do.”

The sweep, which extended its losing streak to six, is UCLA’s second at the hands of Cal in as many years.

On Friday, to start the series, everything was in favor of the Bruins with fifth-inning homers from junior second baseman Duce Gourson and freshman first baseman Mulivei Levu, helping the visitors jump out to a 7-1 lead.

In the bottom half of the inning, however, Cal responded with five hits – two of which were homers – and two walks to knock junior right-hander Luke Jewett out of the game and knot the game at seven.

In the seventh, the Golden Bears hit a single up the middle with Delvecchio on the mound and grabbed a lead they would not cede to take game one.

Despite a combined six innings of one-run ball Saturday from starter sophomore right-hander Finn McIlroy and reliever freshman right-hander Landon Stump, the Bruins once again entered the seventh tied with the Golden Bears.

And for the second time in as many days, it was up to Delvecchio to keep Cal’s score where it was.

He couldn’t.

After throwing 24 pitches on Friday, the Mission Hills, California, local was tasked to throw 30 on Saturday, allowing three Golden Bears to score in the 4-1 loss.

“I remember being in the backend of the bullpen last year,” McIlroy said. “There’s always confidence with who’s ever out there. Showing that confidence in our guys is going to be huge throughout the rest of the season.”

McIlroy, who pitched four innings with four strikeouts, said watching Jewett on Friday contributed to his success in the weekend’s second contest.

He added that the only thing that limited him from pitching deeper into the game was a recent lack of in-game action.

“With how the game (against San Diego) got rained out last week and only throwing limited pitches at TCU, there was only so much that you can do from a health standpoint,” McIlroy said.

Offensively, Levu proved to be a bright spot after going 2-for-18 in his previous six games heading into Pac-12 play.

He finished the series with three home runs after having only one all season before Friday.

“I’ve been in a slump,”Levu said. “On my off day, I went to go see my hitting coach, and I just talked about relaxing and being who I am. Obviously, this weekend, it kind of paid off.”

UCLA next plays Connecticut on Tuesday before a three-game home set against Pac-12 opponent Washington State, a portion of its upcoming eight-game homestand.

“We’re focused on the next series at home,” Levu said. “That’s all that we have our eyes set on.”

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