The UCLA Bruins (28-8, 14-4 Pac-12) are off to their best start in conference play since 1969 after winning their ninth-consecutive series this weekend.
But it didn’t look so great at the start.
James Kaprielian (L, 7-3), UCLA’s top starting pitcher, took the mound Thursday night against Cal’s Daulton Jeffries (W, 4-2). It turned out to be a showdown, as 17 of the 18 combined team at bats resulted in no runs.
That one half inning that did have runs? The top of the 6th for Cal.
Lucas Erceg came up with one down, and hit a home run, his ninth of the season for the Bears. A couple of hits and a dropped foul ball by the left fielder later, and Cal had the only two runs of the game. Each team registered seven hits on the night, but the Bears’ seven were a little more timely.
UCLA bounced back on Friday, evening the series with a 7-1 victory.
After not scoring at all on Thursday, the Bruins made up for it early in the second game, plating five runs in the first two innings. Cal starter Ryan Mason (L, 4-2) struggled, lasting just three innings before giving way to the bullpen. But UCLA had done all the damage it would need to do.
Grant Watson (W, 6-3) surrendered just three hits over 6 1/3 innings of work, which resulted in one earned run. In typical fashion, the Bruin bullpen went the rest of the way without allowing a hit.
The rubber game on Saturday night turned out to be the best game of the weekend.
Once again, it was the top of the sixth where Cal got all of its scoring done. This time it was only one run, but just like Thursday, it came off the bat of Erceg.
The sophomore came up with runners on the corners and one out. On a 3-1 pitch, Erceg singled through the right side, bringing home first baseman Chris Paul.
That was the last batter UCLA starter Griffin Canning would face on the night as Tucker Forbes took over on the mound. Forbes would induce a double play to end the inning without any more runs scoring.
The Bruins were unable to get anything going against the Bears’ Matt Ladrech, who threw 6 2/3 shutout innings in the series finale.
But once he came out, UCLA was able to take advantage.
Alex Schick started the eighth inning with a couple strikeouts. The Bruins were able to put together a single and a walk to get Schick out of the game, bringing in Chris Muse-Fisher. The two-out rally didn’t stop with a new pitcher, thanks to RBI singles from the heart of the order in Ty Moore and Chris Keck.
Going into the 9th with a 2-1 lead, star closer David Berg was already in the game, having pitched a scoreless eighth. Cal was able to get a couple of hits in the ninth, but Berg forced Nick Halamandaris to groundout, ending the threat and the game.
Berg (W, 4-0), who is still nine saves shy of the NCAA career record, has allowed just four earned runs in 36 2/3 innings of work this year, good for an ERA of 0.98. He’s just one of the reasons why UCLA has gone on such a hot streak, and have taken control of the Pac-12.
The Bruins get Stanford next week. The Cardinal are the worst team in the conference this season, so UCLA should be able to extend its series winning streak to ten. Cal (23-13, 10-8 Pac-12) travels to Tucson to take on Arizona next weekend, which will end up being a battle for fourth place in the Pac-12 standings.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports