Catcher Cooper Uhl, the No. 9 hitter for Loyola Marymount, is fast becoming part of the Lions’ baseball lore.
He had the game-winning two-run triple in the 10th inning of the West Coast Conference tournament that gave the Lions their first NCAA tournament berth in 19 years. And, Saturday night at UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium, he contributed what turned out to be a game-winning single in the seventh inning as the Lions stunned No. 1-ranked UCLA 3-2 to become the only unbeaten team left in the NCAA Los Angeles Regional.
Loyola Marymount (34-23) will wait to play Sunday at 6 p.m. against the winner of the elimination game between UCLA (48-9) and Baylor (35-18). The Lions will have to be beaten twice over the next two days to be denied a spot in a super regional.
It was almost a Lions takeover of the stadium, from their feisty fans making most of the noise to their coach, Jason Gill, coming through with the right calls to end UCLA’s winning streak at 11 games.
The drama and pressure didn’t affect Lions closer Nick Frasso. The 6-foot-5 right-hander faced a second-and-third situation with one out in the top of the eighth. He fired fastballs past Jack Stronach and pinch-hitter Kevin Kendall for consecutive strikeouts as Lions fans roared their approval.
Frasso was a basketball-baseball standout at Palos Verdes Peninsula High and has emerged as a reliable closer. He had the save Friday in a victory over Baylor.
“Their closer came in and made a statement. This is a blow for sure but there’s a lot of baseball left,” UCLA coach John Savage said.
Gill said Frasso is a basketball player playing baseball. He’s tried to make him a starter the last two seasons but each time he has ended up being the closer.
“He’s been phenomenal for us,” Gill said. “He seems to rise to the occasion. It’s like he doesn’t have a heartbeat. He’s kind of an adrenaline junkie. He surfs a lot. The closer role fits him.”
Starting pitchers Jack Ralston of UCLA and Josh Agnew of Loyola Marymount kept making big pitches through six innings to stay locked in a grinding 2-2 duel. Most importantly, they avoided walks. Agnew struck out six and didn’t walk anyone in 61/3 innings. CJ Fernandezees came on in the seventh and got out of a bases-loaded jam by getting Ryan Kreidler to fly out.
Ralston went 61/3 innings, striking out 10 and walking one. He suffered his first defeat of the season. Nathan Hadley replaced Ralston with a runner on second in the bottom of the seventh and on his first pitch, Uhl lined a single to right to drive in pinch-runner Ryan Ruley for a 3-2 Lions lead.
The Lions loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning on an infield single, hit batter and walk. But Ralston gave up only one run on a sacrifice fly after getting consecutive strikeouts. Then Jake Pries tied the score with a leadoff home run to left in the second.
Chase Strumpf ended up on third after a fly ball hit to right field was lost in the lights in the third inning and scored on a sacrifice fly by Michael Toglia for a 2-1 Bruins lead. Loyola Marymount tied the score on a double by Trevin Equerra. Brandon Shearer was given a hit when Ralston tripped on the cleat cleaner tool and couldn’t field a grounder.
Now the Bruins face an elimination matchup with Baylor at noon Sunday.
Baylor 24, Nebraska Omaha 6: Shea Langeliers of Baylor set an NCAA tournament record with 11 RBIs in his team’s win in an elimination game. He also hit three home runs.
“When I was a little kid, I like to think I was a pretty good hitter, but I think this game will probably be one of the most meaningful games for me as a hitter, probably for the rest of my baseball career,” he said. “Our backs were up against the wall.”
Baylor (35-18) stayed alive in the double-elimination tournament.
Josh Bissonette, an Orange Lutheran grad who had four hits on Saturday, including a home run, watched in awe of Langeliers’ performance. Langeliers is a junior catcher expected to be a first-round draft pick Monday.
“It was unreal,” Bissonette said.
Langeliers hit a two-run home run to left field in the first inning, hit a solo home run to left in the third, delivered a two-run single in the fourth, walked in the sixth, hit a three-run double in the seventh and hit a three-run home run to left in the seventh. He struck out looking in the ninth.
Despite facing the challenge of having to win three games over the next two days to make it to a super regional, Baylor coach Steve Rodriguez is focused only on finding a starting pitcher for Sunday’s noon contest.
“For me, it’s about winning the first game tomorrow,” he said.