UCLA baseball maintains Pac-12 lead with series win at Arizona State

UCLA baseball maintains Pac-12 lead with series win at Arizona State
UCLA shortstop Kevin Kramer had multiple hits in all three games against Arizona State. (Shotgun Spratling / Los Angeles Times)

Arizona State had to have something new on Sunday, with UCLA having already won the weekend series at Phoenix Municipal Stadium, assuring that the Bruins would remain in first place in the Pac-12 baseball standings.

UCLA had done it in dominant and deflating fashion, winning the series opener, 9-0, and taking a drama-filled, 17-inning marathon that lasted deep into Saturday night.


So junior starting pitcher Brett Lilek decided to break out a new pitch -- one he hadn't used since early in his freshman season. Facing the Bruins' left-handed-heavy lineup, the southpaw began throwing a slow, looping curveball, particularly early in the count.

It worked.

Lilek allowed just three hits and one unearned run in his first career complete game. He struck out seven batters and walked just one in a 2-1 Arizona State win that helped the No. 11 Sun Devils (30-17, 15-9) salvage a weekend that had previously been all UCLA (36-12, 18-6). The Bruins' Hunter Virant pitched admirably in a spot start, giving up just one run in 4 1/3 innings after Griffin Canning had to be scratched due to back spasms, but he took the loss.

The Bruins dominated Friday night's game behind seven scoreless innings from James Kaprielian, who said after the game that he didn't have his best stuff and knew he had to rely on his defense.

Kaprielian was striking out 10.6 batters per nine innings coming into the weekend, but tallied only three against Arizona State. Instead, he worked the top half of the strike zone effectively, getting the Sun Devils to fly out 12 times. He gave up just five hits, earning his conference-best ninth win of the season.

Chris Keck led the offense with three runs and three hits, including a solo home run.

Saturday night's game took considerably more effort, lasting nearly six hours and offering plenty of theatrics. The Sun Devils initially looked to be cruising to a series-tying victory behind 6-foot-5 left-hander Ryan Kellogg, who led 4-0 and had allowed just three hits through seven innings.

However, UCLA was able to break through in the eighth inning. Sean Bouchard led off with a bloop single that snapped a streak of seven straight retired by Kellogg. After a fielder's choice, three consecutive hard-hit singles cut Arizona State's lead in half. Rather than turn the ball over to closer Ryan Burr, who started throwing in the bullpen, head coach Tracy Smith stuck with Kellogg. He struck out Luke Persico, but Keck drove a two-strike pitch over the head of the right fielder for a two-run double to tie the score.

For the next six innings, the score remained 4-4. UCLA jumped ahead when Persico scored on a wild pitch in the 15th inning, but Arizona State got the run back in the bottom half. Johnny Sewald, who reached base six times in the game, led off with a single and came around to score as Arizona State hit three ground balls that each looked like potential double-play groundouts off the bat. Instead, UCLA flubbed the first grounder and the next two batters each beat out the throw to first following the initial putout at second base.

Things got heated the next inning on a crazy double play that featured a pair of rundowns and ended with a collision at home. After Kevin Kramer dove hard into first baseman Christopher Beall, who was covering home and applied the tag, the two players had to be separated and the benches cleared. The umpires and coaches kept the teams divided, but some chirping from both coaching staffs led to more heated discussion and the ejection of a UCLA assistant coach.

An inning later, the Bruins finally struck the death knell, scoring six runs. Brett Stephens and Kramer each hit RBI singles before Trent Chatterton roped a bases-clearing double over the left fielder's head to break the game open. Chatterton finished with a career-high four RBIs.

The extra-inning win clinched the series for the Bruins, who have a three-game lead in the race for the Pac-12 title heading into the final two weeks of the regular season. UCLA also now owns the head-to-head tiebreaker with all four teams still chasing them. The Bruins need to win three of the final six conference games against Arizona and Oregon to lock up the Pac-12 championship.

But first they will travel to Big West-leading Cal State Fullerton on Tuesday for a 6 p.m. PDT matchup between the top two programs in Southern California over the last decade.