Jack Ralston continued the strikeout barrage Saturday.
No. 1 UCLA baseball (33-7, 13-4 Pac-12) defeated Utah (12-24, 4-14 Pac-12) 6-1, securing the team’s 10th consecutive series win to open the season. Redshirt junior right-hander Ralston got the win Saturday, pitching six innings, striking out eight Utes and improving his record to 7-0.
“Everything was working today,” Ralston said. “Fastball and changeup was mixing well and just pounding the zone, and I was trying to keep them off balance.”
Ralston’s eight strikeouts were a season-high for him, and the first five outs he recorded came by way of the K. Between Ralston and junior right-hander Ryan Garcia – who pitched a complete game shutout Friday – the Bruin starters have complied 22 strikeouts in their last 15 innings.
“(Ralston’s) mixing pitches really well right now,” said coach John Savage. “He’s done an exceptional job of giving us a chance every time he goes out there.”
Utah, however, did take early lead in the top of the first inning. First baseman Shea Kramer ripped a double over just out of junior second baseman Chase Strumpf’s reach, scoring right fielder Erick Migueles from first base. The Utes’ two hits in the first matched the their hit total from Friday night’s entire game.
After allowing a run in the first inning and a hit in the second, Ralston would complete his outing by retiring 14 straight batters.
“All of (Ralston’s) pitches move, even his fastball,” Strumpf said. “When’s he’s on, he’s getting aggressive and the first pitch it’s always a strike. So whenever pitchers are powering the zone like that, it’s always hard to hit against him, especially when all his pitches move.”
UCLA responded in the bottom half of the first to take the lead. Back-to-back doubles by junior shortstop Ryan Kreidler and Strumpf scored the first run for the Bruins. Senior designated hitter Jake Pries was hit by a pitch, leaving two runners on for junior outfielder Jack Stronach, who singled to drive in a sliding Strumpf.
“We know the game can change at any point, so I think just adding on and not being complacent always pushes us to score a few more,” Strumpf said. “I think it’s just being greedy with runs.”
The Bruins added two runs to their lead in the third when junior first baseman Michael Toglia hit his seventh homer of the season. Another home run by Pries in the fifth – followed by an eighth inning RBI single by Stronach – put the Bruins ahead by five. Five of the six runs scored by the Bruins came with two outs.
“Whenever you’re a pitcher and you get two outs, some guys get a little antsy and they make mistakes,” Savage said. “So I think we’ve taken advantage of that, and that has been a very good characteristic of this team.”
Saturday’s game also featured a spotless performance on defense by the Bruins. An over-the-shoulder catch by freshman center fielder Matt McLain in the third, a diving play by senior third baseman Jake Hirabayashi, and multiple picks by Toglia all contributed to UCLA’s error-free win. The Bruins currently have least amount of errors in the Pac-12.
“I give the team a lot of credit today,” Savage said. “(Ralston’s) a ground ball pitcher and we know that we have to play a lot of defense out there when he’s on the mound.”
UCLA will close out its series against Utah on Sunday at 1 p.m.