California has won the last four series openers at Jackie Robinson Stadium against UCLA, and with a four-run fourth on Friday, the Bears were in a position to make it five in a row. The Bruins, though, battled back, riding a five-run sixth to a 9-5 comeback win over the Bears, giving ace Griffin Canning his first win of the season.
Cal went down in order in the first two innings against Canning, who came into the game third in the Pac-12 in strikeouts. Canning fanned three of the first six men he faced, but after a single in the top of the third, he labored in the fourth, facing nine men and throwing 40 pitches.
No. 2 man Jeffrey Mitchell led things off with a single up the middle, and came home to score on a double by first baseman Andrew Vaughn, who had hit safely in 14 straight games before taking an 0-for-4 collar in the finale against Oregon last week. Third baseman Denis Karas brought Vaughn home with a first-pitch single to right, and after a walk to Jonah Davis, erstwhile Friday-night starter Tanner Dodson -- who's been moved to the bump on Sundays -- came up with a 2-0, line-drive, RBI single to right.
Bears starter Jared Horn, though, despite allowing only two hits in the first four innings, walked five, and hit 75 pitches before being pulled after a leadoff walk in the bottom of the fifth in his first Friday-night start. Horn gave way to lefty Zayne Patino, who quickly got two outs on seven pitches, but then served up the third home run of the season for shortstop Nick Valaika, a towering shot to left which cut the lead in half.
Valaika then snared a blistering liner up the middle on a dive to rob sophomore catcher Tyrus Greene in the top of the sixth. One batter later, Bruins right fielder Michael Toglia laid out to rob freshman Max Flower of a sure double down the line, giving Canning a 1-2-3 shut-down inning.
UCLA delivered a barrage of its own in the sixth, sending nine men to the plate and battering closer Erik Martinez, who came in with a 0.93 ERA.
Freshman second baseman Chase Strumpf led things off with a first-pitch solo home run to left -- his third of the season. A walk and a hit-by-pitch later, Patino was pulled for Martinez, who promptly walked Daniel Amaral on five pitches, to face the middle of the Bruins order. Three-hitter Sean Bouchard sent a first-pitch sac fly to right to tie things up at 4-4. Cleanup hitter Kyle Cuellar, hitting .500 with two outs, golfed a slider down and in into the right field corner for a two-run double, breaking the tie and giving UCLA a 6-4 lead. A first-pitch single to shallow right by Valaika brought home another run, as the throw from Mitchell got away from Greene. Arman Sabouri came on to stop the bleeding, getting a force on a grounder to second to end the frame.
Canning exited with one out in the top of the seventh, after throwing a season-high 125 pitches and allowing a slow-roller infield single to short by freshman Cameron Eden -- the first hit he'd allowed since that four-run fourth. UCLA called on sidewinding righty Brian Gadsby, with a .375 batting average against, and an 8.44 ERA. After tying Mitchell in knots with a tailing fastball inside, Gadsby allowed a groundball single up the middle by Vaughn -- who went 2-for-5 for his seventh multi-hit game in his last 10 -- and then a fisted single up the middle by Karas, which cut the lead to 7-5.
Justin Hooper, younger brother of former Stanford tight end Austin Hooper, came on and got Davis to line out to second, ending the threat.
After a walk, a hit batter and a sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the seventh, Sabouri gave up a 1-0 fly ball single to center to Amaral, giving UCLA a 9-5 lead.
Sophomore Joey Matulovich, who's allowed just 4 earned runs in his last 23.0 innings of work, will face Moises Ceja, who's 1-1 on the season with a 1.69 ERA, on Saturday at 4:05. Ceja is allowing just a .208 batting average to opposing hitters, and has 11 strikeouts to 6 walks in 21.1 innings of work.