For the second time this season, the Bruins have shut down a top-two team.
No. 23 UCLA baseball (34-19, 18-10 Pac-12) won its series opener against No. 2 Oregon State (40-12, 19-9) on Thursday night, crawling its way to a 4-1 victory up in Corvallis. The win, which keeps the Bruins in the race for the regular season Pac-12 title, comes over two months after they took down then-No. 1 Texas 5-1 in Houston.
In that contest, it was redshirt sophomore right-hander Kelly Austin who picked up the critical quality start, but on Thursday, it was sophomore right-hander Max Rajcic who opened the final series of the regular season with yet another gem.
The closer-turned-ace went 6.0 innings deep with eight strikeouts, allowing just two hits and one earned run.
Rajcic got through the first two innings without the ball ever leaving the infield. A leadoff single in the third disrupted the sophomore’s early run, but the Beavers did not get another hit until the sixth inning.
Finishing long at-bats with strikeouts and groundouts helped Rajcic grind his way through Oregon State’s lineup, even if it wasn’t his most efficient work.
Rajcic won Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week for his most recent Friday start against Washington State, when he tossed 8.0 scoreless frames with 14 strikeouts on 115 pitches. In Thursday’s series opener, Rajcic narrowly broke that freshly-set career high in pitches by hurling 116 in two fewer innings.
Part of the reason Rajcic was less methodical was Oregon State’s ability to draw walks. Rajcic walked five batters on the night, but the first four all came on full counts. Across his previous seven starts, Rajcic had only walked two men total.
The walks came back to bite Rajcic a bit in the sixth, when he put two men aboard with free passes and allowed one run to score on a fielders choice.
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Rajcic was going blow-for-blow with Beavers starter Cooper Hjerpe, who also only allowed one earned run in 6.0 innings while striking out 10, but the Bruins’ starter was working from ahead from the get-go.
Freshman shortstop Cody Schrier knocked a gapper to right-center that he legged out for a triple leadoff in the top of the first. Graduate first baseman Jake Palmer brought Schrier across on a sac fly, and UCLA had snatched the lead just two batters in.
Hjerpe retired 10 of the next 11 Bruins, though, and they didn’t get another hit until there were two down in the fourth. Sophomore third baseman Kyle Karros and sophomore designated hitter Daylen Reyes picked up back-to-back singles, but were ultimately stranded as the lead stayed put at one.
After another 1-2-3 frame in the fifth, junior right fielder Michael Curialle was hit by a pitch and stole both second and third. Freshman second baseman Ethan Gorson gave the Bruins their second RBI sac fly of the night, getting Curialle home one a deep fly ball to center.
Junior catcher Darius Perry recorded a two-out RBI single in the ninth once Hjerpe’s outing was long over, then graduate left fielder Kenny Oyama did the same to add even more insurance and make it 4-1.
UCLA’s bullpen did not even need those extra runs in order to close out the win, as junior right-hander Charles Harrison and freshman right-hander Alonzo Tredwell only allowed one baserunner across their scoreless seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
Game two of the series is set for Friday at 6 pm, while the regular season finale is on the slate for 12 pm Saturday. If UCLA can sweep Oregon State, the Bruins will jump over the Beavers at the top of the Pac-12 standings and could snag the top seed in the conference tournament if Stanford loses one of its two games to USC.
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