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Pepperdine washes out UCLA baseball as debuting pitchers navigate choppy waters

Freshman left-hander Will Goldberg pitches against Pepperdine on Tuesday at Jackie Robinson Stadium. (Jessica Allen/Daily Bruin)

Baseball


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By Kai Dizon

April 10, 2024 11:32 a.m.

Jackie Robinson Stadium’s outfield wall is littered with coach John Savage’s accomplishments.

The scoreboard’s right side lists his Pac-12 titles – 2011, 2012, 2015 and 2019 – and the left lists his College World Series appearances – 2010, 2012 and 2013.

Toward the left-field corner is a print honoring the coach’s 2013 CWS victory – the only in program history. In left-center are prints of Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, former Bruins recruited under Savage who both won the Cy Young Award in MLB.

But that was then. This is now.

On Tuesday night, senior right-hander Caedon Kottinger yelled into his glove as he walked off the mound – but it hardly muffled the sound. Everyone in the ballpark heard the expletive the senior let loose after allowing three runs in the top of the sixth.

A half inning later, graduate student transfer catcher Quintt Landis sent a fly ball into deep left field.

A child yelled, “No, don’t catch it,” but Pepperdine left fielder Nick Upstill still did. In front of 291 fans, UCLA baseball (12-18, 5-10 Pac-12) fell to Pepperdine (12-21, 6-3 WCC) by a score of 10-2.

“I don’t think we can play any worse,” Savage said.

Over a decade after Cole – whom Savage poached from the New York Yankees – and Bauer – whom Savage recruited away from his senior year of high school – graced Steele Field’s pitcher’s mound, left-handers Will Goldberg and Kaena Kiakona made their NCAA debuts under wildly different circumstances.

A year ago, the freshmen duo was playing for UCLA’s club baseball team.

Tuesday night, the two faced Division I hitters.

In his one inning of work, Goldberg struck out the side and allowed just one run while walking a batter.

“I felt pretty good,” Goldberg said. “I got hurt at the beginning of the year, so this was the first time I’ve been able to compete again.”

Kiakona, who once committed to Rice University out of high school, struggled, allowing two of the three batters he faced to reach, but did record an out.

“I was just really happy to be out there,” Kiakona said.

Outfielder JonJon Vaughns was the Bruins’ most effective reliever. After only pitching a single inning coming into this season, the senior has been asked for seven so far in 2024 – including two against the Waves.

Vaughns sat down his first six Pepperdine batters in order – the longest streak of any Bruin pitcher that night – and struck out three.

UCLA’s bullpen combined for nine runs, nine walks and two hit batters.

By the top of the eighth, many of the Bruins’ best hitters – including junior second baseman Duce Gourson and freshman infielder Mulivai Levu – had been subbed out.

When it all was said and done, the scoreboard could only display UCLA’s final line: two runs, five hits and three errors.

“We got to play better,” Savage said. “Play like that, and you get beat by a lot of clubs.”

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