Nick Torres saw the pitch hit Kevin Williams’ bat. He saw the ball go up in the air and knew it was coming his way.
The only problem was the Cal Poly right fielder didn’t know where the ball was. He lost it in the dusk sky and poor lighting of Jackie Robinson Stadium…and the bases happened to be loaded.
Williams raced around to third base with a bases-clearing triple before Torres could locate the ball that landed just shy of the warning track.
“We were kind of concerned before that ball actually about the lighting,” Torres said. “[The ball] just got up above the lights and I had no idea where it was. Everybody else said they couldn’t see it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it happened.”
The game Cal Poly had so thoroughly dominated up until that point was tied 4-4 in the sixth inning. UCLA took the lead the next inning on a Eric Filia bases loaded infield single and tacked on an insurance run to make it 6-4. The Bruins (41-17) then rode the bullpen arms of James Kaprielian and David Berg to a win in Saturday night’s winner’s bracket matchup of the Los Angeles Regional.
“Two story lines really. They jumped on us the first three innings. They mugged us basically,” UCLA head coach John Savage said. “We had no hits, they had four runs. They did a great job against Nick [Vander Tuig], and then the game kind of turned. We had a couple of breaks. They lost a ball in sky and it became a three-run triple.”
Cal Poly (40-18) came out firing on all cylinders from the first at bat. In the first inning, Denver Chavez laced a single to centerfield and the Mustangs executed a perfect hit-and-run with Jordan Ellis to put runners on the corners for the meat of the lineup. Nick Torres delivered a sacrifice fly and Jimmy Allen doubled home a run to make it 2-0.
The Mustangs added a run in the third on a David Armendariz single and another an inning later when Torres singled home Chavez to make it 4-0.
UCLA had been held hitless the first five frames by Cal Poly southpaw Matt Imhof, but Pat Gallagher and Brenton Allen lined back-to-back opposite field hits to open the sixth inning, breaking up the no-hitter. Brian Carroll was hit by a hard-breaking slider to load the bases and Kevin Kramer hit a sacrifice fly to get the Bruins on the board.
Eric Filia reached on an infield single to reload the bases, prompting Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee to go to his closer, Reilly, even though it was only the sixth inning.
“Reilly’s–I think he had 31 appearances going into this Regional–and a majority of those–I think 21 of them were one-plus innings,” Cal Poly head coach Larry Lee said. “He’s had five innings, three innings. My idea was just to ride him out and let him finish the game and not worry about tomorrow’s game.”
Reilly struck out Pat Valaika before getting Williams to hit the lazy fly ball that Torres couldn’t find in the night sky.
“He came in and did exactly what he was supposed to do,” Lee said. “He got the strikeout with Valaika and we pounded the fastball away and got the fly ball and it just probably would have been a different ballgame. We probably get out of that inning 4-1.”
Instead, the Bruins had tied the game and the next inning they struck again to take the lead. With runners on first and second with one out, Brian Carroll laid down a nice bunt to the third base side of the mound, but pitcher Reed Reilly made a great bare-handed play on the ball and flung it sidearm to first. Inexplicably, first baseman John Schuknecht came off the bag to catch the ball rather than making an attempt to stretch for the throw.
Rather than having two outs and the inning ending when Reilly struck out Kramer, the play loaded the bases and allowed Filia to bat after the strikeout. Filia hit a short chopper to shortstop, but by the time Cal Poly’s Peter Van Gansen gloved the ball a step and a half in the grass, he had no play. Valaika followed with a bases loaded walk to push the Bruins ahead 6-4.
After allowing eight hits in four innings, UCLA starter Nick Vander Tuig bared down and retired six of the final seven batters he faced.
“ It wasn’t quite his night, but there are a lot of wins at the Major League level where those guys go five or six innings and grind it out,” Savage said. “That’s what this was tonight. Credit him for surviving those and credit our bullpen for shutting it down.”
Vander Tuig turned the ball over over to Kaprielian and Berg, who combined for six strikeouts in three innings. They did not allow a single baserunner as Cal Poly managed only one hit in the final five innings.
“Our bullpen is our strength,” Vander Tuig said. “Whenever I get the ball over to the bullpen I feel 100% confident that they’re going to get me out of the inning or put up zeroes. It’s huge. It’s been like that all year, and it was like that last year too.”
Vander Tuig collected his 11th win of the season while Berg collected his 20th save of the year.
Filia finished with two hits, a run scored and an RBI. Cody Regis and Brenton Allen both reach base twice and combined to score three runs.
Torres led the Mustangs’ offensively, reaching base twice and driving in two runs. Denver Chavez and Jordan Ellis each recorded multiple hits and combined to score three runs.
The Bruins continue in the winner’s bracket where they await the winner of Cal Poly/San Diego at 6 p.m. with an opportunity to win their way to the Super Regionals. Cal Poly must defeat San Diego in the 2 p.m. elimination game and UCLA in the nightcap to force a winner-take-all finale on Monday night.
Check out the 15-shot photo gallery from Game 4 of the Los Angeles Regional: