After coming up short in the first two games of a road trip to Tempe, the No. 7 UCLA baseball team dug deep and was able to salvage the series versus Arizona State with a win on Saturday.
The Bruins and stud sophomore Grant Watson fought off a tough first few innings to survive the Sun Devils, 12-8, in extras. The win lifted UCLA’s record to 18-6 on the season, though a no decision left Watson’s record at 5-0 this year. It was a pivotal series finale for the Bruins, who were on the verge of being swept for the first time since May 2010, when ASU took three straight at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
The day was a forgettable one for Watson, who allowed six runs on nine hits and threw a wild pitch in just 2.1 innings of work. After downing the Devils 1-2-3 in the bottom of the second, Watson got smacked around in the home half of the third, giving up four runs before eventually being pulled.
Junior right-hander Zack Weiss came on in relief, killing the rally with a clutch strikeout, though his appearance was filled with its own share of tumult. After a Weiss check-swing appeal was dismissed by the home plate umpire, UCLA head coach John Savage was nearly ejected from the game for voicing his concern. In the end, nothing came of the barking battle, but it set the tone for the rest of the day.
The top of the fourth included two called strike-3′s against the Bruins, and that only cranked up the intensity on the diamond at Packard Stadium. UCLA players didn’t hesitate displaying their displeasure, and ASU fans were quick to let them have it. It was a chippy afternoon that clearly left the Bruins rattled, though they were able to avoid unraveling completely.
The next few innings saw the lead seesaw between the teams, as UCLA and Arizona State swapped the lead from a 6-6 tie all the way up to a 10-8 Bruin advantage. Savage’s squad held that edge into the ninth inning and got ASU down to its last out. But just when it looked like UCLA was ready to take Game 3, the Sun Devils knocked a two-out, two-run home run off David Berg to knot it at 10-10 and force extra innings. The two RBIs from the four-bagger were only the third and fourth earned runs allowed by Berg this season, as the sophomore closer has been nearly perfect for the Bruins in 2013.
Fortunately for UCLA, tacking on two runs in the top of the tenth was enough to win it, as ASU ended the game with a whimper in the final frame. Despite giving up 19 hits and committing three errors, UCLA found a way to win. It was a hard-fought victory for the Bruins, who were facing their first real adversity of the young season. On the year, UCLA is now 3-1 in extra inning games, losing only the season opener to Minnesota in bonus baseball.
Looking ahead, UCLA has a brutal four-game stretch coming up with the Bruins hosting No. 5 Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday night and No. 2 Oregon State for a Pac-12 series next weekend. The Titans (24-4) have won 13 of their last 14 games, while the Beavers (22-4) have faltered somewhat after starting the season 20-1. If UCLA intends to keep pace in the conference standings, a series victory over OSU would go a long way, whereas a loss could be too much to overcome.