LOS ANGELES — Kris Bryant entered the postgame press conference with tears in his eyes. San Diego’s All-American slugger of legendary tales and heroic triumphs this season had been revealed to be a mortal man.
Like all players, Bryant saw his career come to a close. And like most, it ended in tears of sadness rather than glory.
Grant Watson stymied the probable top three draft pick and his Torero teammates as UCLA defeated San Diego 6-0 in Sunday night’s Los Angeles Regional championship game to advance to the Super Regionals for the fourth time in the last seven years.
Watson did what he hadn’t since March 24 — pitched seven innings — and in doing so, finally broke free of a bad slump that saw him compile a 2-3 record and a 5.85 ERA in his previous nine starts.
And he broke out in a big way. The sophomore southpaw combined with Zack Weiss and David Berg on a one-hit shutout of one of the top West Coast offenses, sending the Toreros home and the Bruins to the Super Regionals.
UCLA scored four runs in the first inning and cruised to a 6-0 win at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
“We jumped on them, and we turned the ball over to Grant [Watson],” UCLA head coach John Savage said. “I thought Grant was outstanding. He pitched on both sides of the plate – good change, good curveball, good cutter. I thought he was in complete command of the game.”
San Diego starter Max Homick pitched 1 2/3 innings to collect the save in the Toreros’ 8-5 win over Cal Poly in the afternoon elimination game, but couldn’t sustain that success against the Bruins.
After a bunt single and a strikeout, UCLA knocked three consecutive hard singles, including a two-run stroke by Pat Valaika. Pat Gallagher, who was named Most Outstanding Player followed with a high chopper to first that brought home another run. Homick failed to cover the first base bag, giving Gallagher an infield single despite his lumber-trucking speed. A full count walk to Shane Zeile proved to be Homick’s final pitch as the sophomore lasted only one-third of an inning.
Cody Regis singled off reliever Michael Wagner to make it 4-0, but Wagner collected a strikeout and a groundout to get out of the bases loaded jam. Wagner kept UCLA at bay for the rest of the game, allowing only a pair of runs and four hits in 7 2/3 innings of relief.
But the Toreros offense couldn’t do anything against Watson, who dealt all evening. He faced only two batters over the minimum with Austin Green’s two-out double in the fourth inning being the only hit San Diego could muster all evening.
“It’s a lot easier to play when you’re up four,” Bruins shortstop Pat Valaika said. “Grant threw the ball extremely well today. I think we only faced 29 batters total. It was good tempo. It felt like we were always hitting and never on defense. It’s always a lot easier to play when it’s like that.”
For Bryant, the season came to an end much the way it started the first weekend against San Diego State…a frustrating disappointment. Against SDSU opening weekend, Bryant was 2-for-9 with three strikeouts. In the Los Angeles Regional, Bryant batted just .154 (2-for-13) and both of his hits were infield singles. He drove the ball to the warning track three or four times, but there was always a fielder there, including in the championship game against UCLA when Filia made a nice running catch before running into the right field wall.
“I didn’t have the weekend I wanted to,” Bryant said. “I didn’t really help my team as much as I wanted to, but sometimes you have to tip your hat to the pitcher and sometimes they make a good pitch. Sometimes they throw it 100 miles per hour. We’ll see what happens in my future. I’m just kind of lost for words right now.”
The even-kiel Bryant even showed some frustration in Sunday’s first game against Cal Poly after striking out with the bases loaded. He lightly slammed his bat into the bat rack after returning to the dugout and stood in the corner of the dugout away from any teammates or coaches until after San Diego’s next two batters both walked to bring home two runs.
Bryant wanted to lead his team as he had done all season, but things didn’t go his way. After the game, he spoke to the team as is the Toreros’ tradition for the outgoing players to do following the season finale.
“I just told them that it’s been a fun year and that this is the best decision in my life to come to USD. You know I shared it with some special people and made some special friendships,” Bryant said. “Just looking back on the three years that I’ve had at USD, I can’t even put into words how special it was.”
While San Diego’s season is complete, UCLA advances to face Southern California rival Cal State Fullerton, who also went 3-0 to win its regional. The Bruins bid farewell to Jackie Robinson Stadium this season as they will have to travel to Goodwin Field next weekend with a trip to Omaha on the line. Dates and times of the three-game series will be announced Monday night.
Check out the 15-shot photo gallery from Game 6 of the Los Angeles Regional: