Grant Watson (12) delivers a pitch vs. Loyola Marymount at Jackie Robinson Stadium, Credit: Jeff Poirier
It was around the fifth inning of UCLA’s win over Cal Poly on Saturday when the Bruins looked dead in the water at their own NCAA Regional. The Mustangs jumped out to an early 4-0 lead by stringing together hit after hit, while the UCLA offense was being no-hit by CP starter Matt Imhof.
But fast forward 24 hours, and the shoe was squarely on the other foot. Not only did the Bruins come back to shock Imhof and the Stangs, they also dismantled San Diego in the Regional final to clinch their spot in the Supers.
It was a four-run sixth inning that revived UCLA’s titles hopes versus Cal Poly, and it was a four-run first inning that put the Bruins on cruise control against USD. The Toreros earned their shot at the host team by knocking off CP in an elimination game, an 8-5 victory that concluded roughly an hour before first pitch with UCLA.
Blame it on the short turnaround, or the fact that San Diego’s center fielder had to pitch this weekend, but the Toreros simply didn’t stand a chance.
UCLA starter Grant Watson shut USD down from the get-go, holding a no hitter through three innings while the Bruins built their lead. By the time he was taken out, Watson had thrown 7.0 innings of shutout baseball, giving up just one hit and one walk with five strikeouts.
It was the very same dominance that Imhof had flashed for Cal Poly, expect that it didn’t culminate with a game-changing collapse. The UCLA bullpen, headlined by All-Conference closer David Berg, did what it always does and slammed the door on USD.
The win improved the Bruins’ overall record to 42-17, but more importantly secured their sweep of the Los Angeles Regional. Now, UCLA will have five days to prepare for a Super Regional meeting with Cal State Fullerton, which also swept its Regional this weekend.
The Titans took down the Bruins twice this season, once in Westwood and once in Fullerton. Both Tuesday night losses were three-run decisions, but they didn’t feel very close throughout. UCLA will have to find a way to win two this weekend if another College World Series appearance is in the cards. CSF has one of the strongest pitching rotations in the nation, so the Bruins will have to establish their offense as soon as possible.
It will be a challenge no doubt, but that’s how it should be when you get down to the wire like this. With a trip to Omaha on the line, UCLA and Fullerton will each bring the best, hoping this isn’t the last series of their respective seasons. Unfortunately, it will be for someone. And we can only hope that next Monday we’ll be remembering the Titans, while the Bruins pack their bags.