LOS ANGELES--UCLA erased a four-run, sixth-inning deficit then got a bases-loaded walk by Cody Regis with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 6-5 victory over USC that kept the Bruins alive in their efforts to repeat at Pac-12 champions.
The Bruins (41-14, 19-10 Pac-12) are tied with Oregon (42-16, 19-10) and left Jackie Robinson Stadium Saturday afternoon a half game behind Arizona (37-16, 19-9). The Wildcats played Arizona State in a night game in Tucson.
It's a familiar position for the Bruins, who last year entered the final weekend of the regular season a game out of first, but ended up winning the ninth conference title in school history and the first outright since 1986. So even though USC (23-31, 8-21) is struggling this season, the Bruins say Saturday's victory was important.
"It put us in position to possibly win the conference," coach John Savage said. "That’s the most important thing. Winning the series is a big deal, but there is still baseball to be played in the conference and it’s still yet to be determined who is going to win this league."
In order for UCLA to claim a share of the title, Arizona would have to lose either Saturday or Sunday and UCLA must win on Sunday. If UCLA loses Sunday, the Bruins have to hope Arizona loses Saturday and Sunday and Oregon loses to Oregon State on Sunday.
Regardless, the Bruins are a lock for a NCAA tournament berth and will likely be one of the 16 hosts of the regionals when the NCAA announces them Sunday. But winning the conference is first and foremost on the minds of the Bruins, who know anything is possible after unexpectedly winning the conference last year.
"I think that's helping us," Savage said. "We’ve been there. And even though you’re focusing on your game, you’re hearing those scores and now it’s gotten interesting."
It wasn't looking good early Saturday for the Bruins. USC got single runs in the third and fourth and then got two more in the fifth to take a 4-0 lead. UCLA finally got to USC starter Andrew Triggs in the bottom of the sixth, when the Bruins scored three times. A two-run triple by Jeff Gelalich keyed the rally.
UCLA tacked on two more in the seventh to take a 5-4 lead, but USC would not go down without a fight. The Trojans put runners at first and third with one out and tied the game when Kevin Swick hit a slow bouncer to shortstop and the Bruins couldn't turn a double play.
The Bruins rallied in the bottom of the ninth, though they nearly blew a chance to win it when, after a Cody Keefer double and an intentional walk to Gelalich, Trevor Brown launched a high fly to deep left field. Instead of going half way between second and third, Keefer tagged up at second. When the ball hit the wall, Keefer could only advance to third instead of scoring the winning run.
"He should have been about two thirds of the way to third base," Savage said. "That was poor base running. Everybody thinking the game is over and he’s darn near standing on second base. We were fortunate because that was poor base running."
What turned out o be a single for Brown loaded the bases with one out. Pat Valaika appeared to get the winning run across when he leaned into a curve ball and was hit by the pitch, but the umpire ruled that he failed to make an effort to get out of the way.
Valaika ended up striking out, but Regis followed with a four-pitch walk for the game winner and emphatically flung his bat toward the UCLA dugout before trotting to first base as the UCLA dugout spilled on to the field in celebration.
"Just winning that type of game at this time of the year late in the year, were getting excited with the playoffs coming up," Regis said. "And obviously its always fun to beat USC in that type of fashion."