LOS ANGELES — Around Southern California, several teams are seeing their NCAA Tournament hopes dwindle, stretch runs wind down and some seasons outright ending. But not UCLA.
The Bruins keep trucking on, winning one tight game after another. They have won 11 of 13, including sweeping their last three weekend series. On Tuesday evening, the Bruins (38-15) kept things rolling, improving to 15-1 in one-run games this season with a 2-1 victory over UC Santa Barbara (31-23) at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Freshman Cody Poteet, who has been an extreme pitcher as of recent — either pitching really well or not making it through an entire inning, allowed only one hit and one run in six strong innings.
“I think he showed everybody how good he’s going to be,” UCLA head coach John Savage said. “He could have gone out there in the seventh inning. He had 72 pitches in six innings and that’s pretty pitch efficient. I was excited by what we saw from Poteet tonight.”
UC Santa Barbara’s lone run came courtesy of the first batter of the game. Joey Epperson was hit by the first pitch of the game, advanced to third on a sacrifice and a groundout and scored on a Tyler Kuresa two-out single.
The UCLA offense did just enough to overcome the first inning run and get Poteet the win even though the Bruins ran themselves out of several potential scoring chances. In the first inning alone, UCLA had a pair of runners picked off of second base on an inside move from Santa Barbara lefty Justin Jacome.
The second inning ended when the Bruins had a runner doubled off first base on a line drive to centerfield. The Bruins did even the score up in the frame when Pat Valaika tripled to right field and scored when Kevin Williams flared a single down the left field line.
Valaika drove in the game-winning run with a sacrifice fly in the sixth inning after a pair of singles and a sac bunt.
That was enough for Poteet and the UCLA bullpen. James Kaprielian, Zack Weiss and David Berg combined for three scoreless frames to end the inning. Santa Barbara was able to get a runner to second base with no outs against Berg, but the Gauchos gifted back a baserunning gaffe. After a single and moving to second on a passed ball, pinch hitter Dalton Kelly broke one of the cardinal rules of baserunning. He tried to advance to third on a routine grounder to shortstop. Valaika tossed to third to easily nab Kelly.
Berg finished off the inning for his 17th save this season. He also extended his scoreless streak to 35 2/3 innings — the longest scoreless streak in the nation this season.
Stat of the Night:
UCLA has allowed two runs or fewer in 25 games this season. That’s crazy good.
It has also been necessary with the team batting .253 on the whole. The Bruins continue to piece together enough offense to complement the pitching staff. They have now won 11 games when scoring three runs or less.
Check out the 20-shot photo gallery from Tuesday evening’s game at The Jack:
UCLA head coach John Savage knew it wasn’t a pretty game, but he was still happy with the win, particularly the performance of Cody Poteet, who he said is going to be a “very important” part of a potential postseason run:
Andrew Checketts, head coach for UC Santa Barbara, didn’t see the entirety of the game after being ejected in the eighth inning arguing one of a handful of calls that were close enough to merit a discussion. Checketts talks about the Gauchos’ at large chances and getting the guys to bounce back for the final weekend:
UCLA second baseman Kevin Williams talks about doing what it takes to win, the grind of returning from an early season injury and the team’s mindset heading toward the postseason:
UC Santa Barbara
- Greg Mahle – 2.1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, BB, 2 K
- Tyler Kuresa – 1-for-3, RBI
- Cody Poteet - 6 IP, H, ER, BB, 3 K, Win
- Kevin Williams – 2-for-2, RBI, BB
- Pat Valaika – 1-for-2, R, 3B, RBI
The Bottom Line:
UC Santa Barbara could have really, really, really used a big win at UCLA to boost its season resume. But the calls and the game didn’t go the Gauchos’ way. Instead, UCLA claims yet another one-run victory — a testament to the scrappy offensive approach and the strong pitching staff, including a remarkable bullpen.
The Gauchos will finish the season with a three-game set against UC Davis. Santa Barbara MUST sweep to have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. With a sweep, UCSB would finish 34-23 and it would be in the hands of the selection committee to determine if they have done enough. It is currently in fourth place in the Big West standings, but only one game back of Cal Poly and Cal State Northridge, a pair of teams Santa Barbara won series against.
If Cal Poly slips up and Northridge doesn’t have a miraculous sweep of Fullerton, the Gauchos could sneak their way to a second place finish.Though it won’t help tremendously, being tied for second place would look much better when the selection committee starts looking at everything.
The Bruins are also trying to position themselves. UCLA all but has a regional host spot sewed up. However, could a sweep at Stanford this weekend get it a national seed? Why is a national seed important? If the Bruins don’t get a national seed and Fullerton does (as expected), the teams are a natural fit to face off at Fullerton, if both advance to the Super Regionals. With a national seed, UCLA would gain a guaranteed home field advantage in the Super Regionals and would likely welcome a team that will have to travel a long distance.
A sweep on the road at Stanford is a tall order when having to face the potential No. 1 overall pick in Mark Appel on Friday night. And a sweep wouldn’t guarantee a national seed. Someone currently positioned to garner a national seed would have to fall early in its conference tournament.