By Cameron Stuart | Reporter
LOS ANGELES — The UCLA Bruins showcased why they are the No. 1 ranked team in college baseball by knocking Baylor out of the tournament, taking an 11-6 victory at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
The final score does not accurately represent the back-and-forth nature of the game, however. The Bruins jumped out to an early lead with a two-run homer by senior outfielder Jake Pries off Bears sophomore starter Tyler Thomas. Facing a 2-0 deficit, the Bears struck back with three runs in the second inning after back-to-back doubles led to another two-run homer, this time by Baylor senior right fielder Cole Haring.
After a sacrifice fly tied the game for UCLA, Haring answered with another majestic home run in the fourth with a ball that just stayed fair down the left field line. After that shot gave the Bears the lead, they never saw it again. Haring expressed his disappointment at not being able to catch up to the host team.
“At the end of the day, I wish I could’ve done more for the team,” Haring said. “Our ultimate goal today was to win […] and we fell short.”
UCLA quickly responded with three runs courtesy of a four hit fourth inning. Bruins right fielder Jeremy Ydens chased Thomas from the game with a two-run double that put the hosts ahead for good.
Baylor head coach Steve Rodriguez saw it as a turning point in the game, but kept the focus on his own team.
“That’s probably one of the reasons why UCLA is the number one team in the country,” Rodriguez said. “But I am really proud of the way our guys handled adversity all season.”
Not to be outdone by their fourth inning performance, UCLA added three more runs in the fifth off of two homers, one of which hit the roof of the team’s hitting facility that lies beyond the right field fence. The game fell out of reach for Baylor in the sixth inning when, after cutting the lead to two, Ryan Lekich gave up a triple to sophomore outfielder Garrett Mitchell, his second of the day, and UCLA’s fourth and final home run of the game, this one off the bat of junior infielder Ryan Kreidler.
UCLA head coach John Savage felt his team’s offense needed to win the game with their bats.
“It felt like we needed to keep putting up runs,” Savage said. “It wasn’t a safe game, Baylor is really offensive with a very experienced middle of the lineup.”
The three through five hitters in the Baylor lineup managed to go just 2-10 with a single RBI. The Bruins proved why their bullpen is one of the most potent in the nation, giving up just three runs in eight innings after starter Jesse Bergin exited with no outs in the second inning.
This marks the third year in a row the Bears have been knocked out of the NCAA tournament in the regional round. Baylor finished the season with a 35-19 overall record and a .648 winning percentage, the highest under Rodriguez who said his most important job as a coach is not only to produce great players, but great people as well.
“What’s great for me is the type of men they are,” Rodriguez said. “I know that they’re not going to do anything foolish, that they’re going to represent this University that has given them so much. On the field is one thing, that’s the easiest part of my job, but making sure these guys will be great humans, great men, great fathers and great husbands, that for me is a really big deal. Just watching how they’ve grown since I got here, that’s what makes me really proud.”