The UCLA Bruins won the first two of the three elimination games required to emerge from the LA Regional of the College World Series. Having lost on Saturday night to Maryland, the #1 overall seeded Bruins had to fight out of the loser’s bracket and win three straight to avoid elimination.
On Sunday, the Bruins took care of business by winning the first two, setting up a winner-take-all regional finale Monday night against Maryland. The UCLA bats seemed to disappear in the loss to Maryland, but just 17 hours after the final out of that game, the Bruins blew CSU Bakersfield off the field and out of the tournament with a commanding 9-1 victory over the Roadrunners.
“It’s like club ball all over again,” junior left fielder Ty Moore said. “You do it a lot when you’re little.”
As a reward, the Bruins got to return to the locker room for orange slices and Capri Sun and a quick uniform change before heading back out to a rematch against Maryland in the nightcap. The players weren’t concerned with the added challenge, comparing it to their high school and club ball days.
With junior ace James Kaprielian having pitched Friday night, senior Grant Watson having pitched on Saturday night, and freshman Griffin Canning unavailable due to a back injury, Coach John Savage was forced to rely on the depth in his pitching staff. Junior midweek starter Cody Poteet started the afternoon game against CSUB, and the big scoring margin allowed Savage to keep his bullpen rested.
Sophomore reliever Hunter Virant, who’d started in place of Canning at the end of the Pac-12 season, took the mound Sunday night against Maryland and wowed the crowd with the movement on his slider for four innings before handing the lead over to the bullpen trio of Jake Bird, Tucker Forbes, and David Berg for the win.
David Berg celebrates the final out against Maryland Sunday night with a somersault. Photo credit: Twitter user Derek C @insomniacslounj
Hopefully the Bruin bats can stay active for Monday night’s rubber match with Maryland. The Bruins are 13-1 in weekend series this year, and that’s what this Regional battle between UCLA and Maryland has turned out to be. They’ve split the first two games of a three-game series, and Monday’s the tiebreaker.
James Kaprielian Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
Savage has to be comfortable with Monday’s matchup. The UCLA bullpen is relatively well rested, with five pitchers having combined for twelve innings of work over the past four games.
In contrast, Maryland’s bullpen has been taxed, pitching 16 total innings over three games, including five innings from junior long reliever Robert Galligan. Freshman Taylor Bloom is scheduled to pitch for the Terps, whose last appearance was a 3.1-inning start in a losing effort against Michigan in the Big Ten championship game.
If the Bruins can get Bloom out of the game early and force Maryland Coach John Szefc to call on his bullpen, the newly reacquired Bruin offense may have a field day. Of course, in a win-or-go-home situation, don’t be surprised if Szefc calls on his stud ace Mike Shawaryn to either start on short rest or come out of the bullpen.
“This is survival mode,” Savage said between the two games. “I think everybody feels that way.”
Likewise, Savage has acknowledged the “all hands on deck” nature of Monday’s contest, and has hinted at sending Kaprielian to the mound just three days after throwing 93 pitches in seven innings on Friday. Savage may, however, opt to pitch Grant Dyer, who has only pitched 1.2 innings in relief this weekend, before handing the game over to his bullpen.
The Bruins hope to win this game for the chance to face Virginia (who eliminated USC on Sunday) in a three-game Super Regional series next weekend.