It didn’t clear the fence, it didn’t hit the ground and it wasn’t struck impressively in any context, but Jake Pries’ fly ball to left field was just what UCLA needed Friday at Siebert Field in Minneapolis.
After trailing throughout its NCAA regional opener against Gonzaga, UCLA used the sacrifice fly to score the winning run in a 6-5 walk-off win over the Bulldogs that sent the Bruins into a frenzy on the infield and, more importantly, into the winner’s bracket of the Minneapolis regional. They’ll face Minnesota on Saturday at 5 p.m. PDT.
“Baseball’s a funny game,” UCLA coach John Savage told reporters, “and you saw it probably at its best today.”
UCLA (37-19) emerging with a win looked doubtful through five innings as Gonzaga right-hander Daniel Bies had a one-hit shutout going.
UCLA got to him in the sixth when second baseman Chase Strumpf singled and first baseman Michael Toglia followed with a double. Both scored on groundouts. But Bies returned to form in the seventh and retired two more Bruins in the eighth before he was removed after his 135th pitch resulted in a walk. He finished with nine strikeouts, having given up two earned runs in 7 2/3 innings.
His replacement, closer Casey Legumina, finished the eighth but imploded in the ninth.
He hit UCLA’s Ryan Kreidler with a pitch to ignite UCLA’s rally. RJ Teijeiro followed with a double and, after a groundout, Kevin Kendall singled, Strumpf singled and Toglia doubled to set up the game-winning sacrifice fly.
“It didn’t look pretty for a long time,” Savage said. “We were very fortunate to win.”
Jake Bird, UCLA’s senior starting pitcher, didn’t fare as well as his Gonzaga counterpart and finished with four earned runs and six hits allowed in 7 2/3 innings.
“I don’t think I was very good tonight,” Bird said during a postgame news conference. “I’m not too happy with myself.”
But Savage was impressed that Bird battled as long as he did, and he hopes his team follows the trend as regional play continues.
“He showed a true warrior mentality,” Savage said, “without his best stuff.”
Bauer reported from Los Angeles.