UCLA has been living a season on the brink almost from opening day. The Bruins’ record sat at five games below .500 in the middle of March, necessitating a sustained push for the next 2 1/2 months just to make the postseason.
They were back in a familiar spot Friday, needing to stretch wins together to keep playing, after a mistake-filled showing in their NCAA baseball tournament regional opener.
A three-error inning, a two-out walk and a pitchout gone awry offset a strong outing from starting pitcher Griffin Canning, resulting in third-seeded UCLA’s 3-2 loss to second-seeded Texas at Blair Field in Long Beach.
“We didn’t play a totally clean game,” Bruins coach John Savage said, “and that really got us at the end.”
UCLA made things dramatic in the ninth inning, putting two runners on base with one out on Michael Toglia’s double to right-center field and Chase Strumpf’s walk. Jack Stronach ripped a run-scoring single to center field to pull the Bruins to within 3-2 and put the potential tying run on second base and the go-ahead run at first.
But Texas closer Beau Ridgeway retired the next two batters to complete a four-out save.
UCLA (30-26) stumbled into an elimination game at 1 p.m. Saturday against San Diego State, a 6-0 loser to Long Beach State.
Texas (38-22) will play the Dirtbags in a winner’s bracket game at 7 p.m. after improving to 4-0 this season against the Bruins, largely as the result of scoring all three of its runs Friday with two out.
Canning (7-4) probably deserved a better fate in his first career postseason start after giving up six hits and three runs — two earned — in 7 2/3 innings. He had two walks and six strikeouts, giving him 301 strikeouts for his career. His only mistake might have been a 2-and-0 changeup that he hung to Kacy Clemens with two out in the fourth inning.
Clemens belted the pitch over the right-field fence and into the Jered Weaver Bullpen for a solo home run that gave Texas a 1-0 lead, triggering roars from a Longhorns cheering section that included his father, seven-time Cy Young Award winner Roger Clemens.
“It ultimately came down to what I can do for my team,” Canning said, “and it wasn’t good enough today.”
The Bruins committed three errors in the seventh inning, the first two mistakes contributing to an insurance run for Texas. Shortstop Ryan Kreidler dropped a line drive off the bat of Texas leadoff hitter Travis Jones, but Canning retired the next two batters and UCLA called for a pitchout as Jones tried to steal second base. That’s when Bruins catcher Daniel Rosica’s throw bounced off Jones and into center field, allowing Jones to take third base. He came home on Bret Boswell’s single to left-center field.
“I was just trying to pick up Griffin,” Kreidler said. “He pitched his butt off, he was working so hard all game and he did his job.”
Texas extended its advantage to 3-1 in the bottom of the eighth when Patrick Mathis drew a two-out walk, advanced to second base on Zane Gurwitz’s single past a diving second baseman Strumpf and scored on Jones’ double to right field.
UCLA has not come back to win a regional after dropping its opening game since 1997, when it lost to Harvard before winning five in a row. The Bruins will need a similar reversal of fortune to extend their season beyond this weekend.
“That’s kind of been the story of our season,” Kreidler said. “We’re here, so we’re just going to keep playing how we’re playing. Take tomorrow for what it is and just play our butts off and see what happens.”