All eyes were on Gerrit Cole Friday night as the UCLA ace made what is perhaps his final home start before heading off to the professional circuit next season, but San Francisco's unheralded pitcher Kyle Zimmer stole the show.
Zimmer, a sophomore right-hander, blanked the Bruins with a four-hitter as the No. 4-seeded Dons upset No. 1 UCLA, 3-0, in the first-round of the NCAA regionals at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
With about a dozen scouts pointing radar guns at the hard-throwing Cole, projected to be the first pick of Monday's MLB draft, Zimmer looked more like the future major league ace as he carried a two-hitter into the ninth and finished with 11 strikeouts and no walks.
UCLA (33-23) made things interesting by loading the bases with a two-out rally in the ninth, but Zimmer caught Cody Regis -- UCLA's home run leader -- looking at a fastball on the outside corner to end the game. San Francisco (32-23) moves on to play UC Irvine on Saturday at 6 p.m. while UCLA will face Fresno State in an elimination game at 2 p.m.
"Zimmer, I thought was as good as we’ve seen all year," UCLA coach John Savage said. "I don’t know what it was, he threw three pitches for strikes and threw strikes all night."
It was the first career complete game for Zimmer (6-4), who has only been the No. 1 starter for the Dons since May 7, when Matt Lujuan suffered an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He's now 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA in the Friday night starter role.
"Nothing really changed," Zimmer said. "It's the same mound, the same game, I was just going out the night before I usually do. Just trying to go out here and keep things simple and attack like I saw Matt do so many times on Friday nights and give the team a chance to win."
Going up against Cole, however, especially in a postseason atmosphere, made things a little different.
Cole (6-8) pitched in and out of trouble for most of his 7 1/3 innings. He finished with 11 strikeouts and one walk, but also gave up 11 hits. His pitch count piled up early and he left having given single runs in the third, fifth and eighth innings.
Still, he was routinely throwing 95 and higher with his fastball and his slider and changeup were the same ones that have had scouts crowding to see him all season. He pitched well enough to win, but Zimmer pitched better.
"Coming in, we knew we were going up the best pitcher in the country and I really just came in with the mindset to keep it simple," Zimmer said. "To attack the hitter and try to start some bats and keep it close give us a chance to win."
The Bruins, who have been hampered by an inconsistent offense all season, didn't hit many balls hard and the ones they did seemed to go right at San Francisco fielders. And while much of the credit goes to Zimmer, it was an offensive performance Savage would just as soon forget.
"For eight innings we didn’t have a lot of quality at bats," Savage said. "It was pretty much a ninth inning type of rally. You like to see that fight, that no give up, that’s for sure, but if you see that earlier in the evening you might have a couple of runs on the board. When you get shut out, it's tough to win."
UCLA now faces the task of moving through the loser's bracket. The Bruins elimination game against Fresno State means that either the 2008 College World Series champion Bulldogs or the 2010 national runner-up Bruins will be out after two games this year.
The last time UCLA lost the first game of a regional was 1997, before the NCAA instituted the Super Regional format. UCLA went on to win that regional and advance to the College World Series.
"We can’t put our heads down and say poor me," Cole said. "We’re a long way from out of this, we just have to learn from tonight."
And with Collegiate Baseball national player of the year Trevor Bauer (12-2, 1.27 ERA) on the mound for the Bruins on Saturday, it's a pretty good bet the Bruins can win if they can simply score. Bauer has a current string of eight consecutive complete games and is 7-1 with a 1.12 ERA over that stretch. He also has 107 strikeouts in those 72 innings.
"I told the guys this is why they call it a tournament," Savage said. "It’s not won by one game and it’s not lost by one game. We need to come out more aggressive certainly offensively tomorrow, that’s pretty clear."