Grant Watson (12), Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA Baseball: Bruins Take Rubber Match to Win Series vs. Baylor

The UCLA baseball team made its first ever trip to Waco, Texas to face Baylor this past weekend, and managed to come away with a hard-earned series victory. After taking 2-of-3 against Minnesota last week, the Bruins find themselves with a 4-2 record and are ranked No. 9 nationally by the NCBWA and No. 12 by Baseball America.

UCLA started the season ranked as high as No. 2 by some polls, but has dropped back slightly after failing to sweep either of its first two series. Following a 4-3 series opening win at Baylor, the Bruins failed to get going on Saturday, dropping the Game 2 decision to the Bears by a final score of 5-0. But on Sunday in the rubber match, UCLA used some opportune offense and solid relief pitching to beat Baylor and claim the series.

Sophomore Grant Watson got the start for the Bruins in Game 3 and was able to hold the Bears to just one run in the first six innings. However, when the left-hander took the mound in the bottom of the seventh with a 4-1 lead, things got a little out of hand.

After allowing two runners to get on base, Watson was roughed up by pinch-hitter Duncan Wendel, a sophomore infielder who smoked a two-run single to center. It was Wendel’s only at bat of the game, but the clutch hit sliced Baylor’s deficit to just one and ended Watson’s afternoon early. In all, Watson gave up three runs on seven hits in 6.2 innings of work.

David Berg, a sophomore from Covina, Calif., came on in relief of Watson, closing out the seventh inning with no more harm done. But in the next home frame, the Bears manufactured a run to tie it up heading into the top of the ninth.

Unfortunately for the Bears, UCLA wasn’t going to let this one slip away.

With the score knotted at 4-4, the Bruins opened the last inning with a walk that would end up being the game-winning run. Junior outfielder Brian Carroll took the free pass, eventually finding his way to second base on a passed ball and to third on a throwing error by Baylor catcher Jimmy Landes.

Then, with the potential winning run 90 feet away, Landes’ day would get even more frustrating. The first-year starter allowed another passed ball, but this time it led directly to the UCLA go-ahead run as Carroll raced across the plate. Thanks to Landes’ miscues, the Bruins reclaimed the edge without registering a hit in the ninth inning; that’s about as bad a sequence a catcher can have in a game.

And the bad luck would carry over to the bottom half of the inning, as Baylor was struck out in succession by UCLA closer James Kaprielian. The freshman from Tustin, Calif. only needed 15 pitches to close out the 5-4 win, fanning the three Bears he faced to earn his second save of the season.

Berg earned his first win of 2013 after 1.1 innings of relief work, and Watson flew home with a no decision. Baylor reliever Josh Michalec was tagged with the loss, but it really should be attributed to Landes…if only baseball score keeping made any sense.

Moving forward, the Bruins have little time to rest as their next game is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon at UC Santa Barbara. The game versus the Gauchos was originally supposed to be played last week following the Minnesota series, but inclement weather in the forecast forced a postponement.

UCSB (4-3) enters the matchup with UCLA after splitting a four-game set with San Francisco over the weekend. The Dons won both ends of a Saturday double-header, but couldn’t slow the Gauchos down in the first or final games of the series. Interestingly, UCSB and USF both notched 18 runs in the series, but none of the games were closely contested.

First pitch for tomorrow’s game is slated for 2 PM PST in Santa Barbara. The Bruins will host the Guachos at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Westwood for the second part of the home-and-home series in May.

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