After a surprisingly tight series with Utah over the weekend, the UCLA baseball team came away with a three-game sweep and an ounce of hope in the Pac-12 title race.
In spite of the drastic ranking disparity between the No. 9 Bruins and Utah (16-26), the last-place Utes put up a hell of a fight. The visitors’ contingent in the crowd was audible, and though they all left unhappy, they should be proud of their “wildly young” team.
UCLA won the three games by a combined five runs, including two one-run victories on Saturday and Sunday. The series finale saw the score knotted through the last four innings until the Bruins eked out a 4-3 win in walk-off fashion to seal the sweep.
Redshirt freshman catcher Justin Hazard was the hero in the home half of the ninth, knocking a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to bring in the decisive run. Hazard’s only plate appearance of the afternoon prompted a bench-clearing celebration, and kept UCLA alive in the hunt for a championship.
Heading into the series with the Utes, the Bruins sat three ticks behind conference-leading Oregon State in the loss column, as well as two behind second-place Oregon. Dropping even a single game against Utah would likely have been the end for UCLA, so the sweep could not have come at a better time. It was only the third series sweep of the season for the Bruins, and only the second in conference (Wright State, Washington).
Unfortunately, the Bruins’ deficit in the standings didn’t budge, as the Beavers and Ducks both recorded conference sweeps this weekend too. And while there will be three losses to spread around when the Civil War series comes up in two weeks, UCLA is in a tough spot with nine Pac-12 games to go.
At 31-13 overall (14-7 in conference), the Bruins are virtually guaranteed a postseason berth, barring some sort of epic collapse. With that said, after four home games this week, UCLA is on the road for seven of its last eight regular-season contests. That stretch includes a midweek date at No. 4 Cal State Fullerton and a season-finale series in Palo Alto against No. 21 Stanford. If the Bruins hope to host an NCAA Regional for the fourth consecutive year, they’ll need to do some work over the next three weeks.
The Bruins are back in action tomorrow when they host Cal State Northridge for the second half of a home-and-home series. UCLA topped CSUN the first time around, notching a 5-4 win over the Matadors back in March. The conference slate continues this weekend when the Arizona Wildcats come to Westwood for a three-game set. The Bruins haven’t lost a series to Zona since the 2004-05 season, and they’ll look to keep the impressive streak alive this week.