UCLA baseball retires late, upsets Oregon State in pitcher duel

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For the second time this season, the Bruins knocked out a top-two team.

UCLA baseball No. 23 (34-19, 18-10 Pac-12) won its series opener against No. 2 Oregon State (40-12, 19-9) Thursday night to crawl to a 4-1 win in Corvallis. The win that keeps the Bruins in contention for the regular-season Pac-12 title comes over two months after they beat then-No. 1 Texas 5-1 in Houston.

In that competition it was redshirt sophomore Kelly Austin who caught the critical quality start, but on Thursday it was second right-hander Max Rajcic who opened the final series of the regular season with another jewel.

The closer turned ace went 6.0 innings deep with eight strikeouts, allowing for just two hits and a earned run.

Rajcic got through the first two innings without ever letting the ball leave the infield. A leadoff single in the third derailed the second team’s early run, but the Beavers didn’t get another hit until the sixth inning.

Ending long bats with strikeouts and groundouts helped Rajcic weave through Oregon State’s lineup, even if it wasn’t his most efficient work.

Rajcic became Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week for his last start Friday against Washington State when he threw 8.0 goalless 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.

One of the reasons Rajcic was less methodical was Oregon State’s ability to draw walks. Rajcic walked five batters that night, but the first four all came for full counts. In his previous seven starts, Rajcic had only run with two men overall.

The walks came back to bite Rajcic a bit in the sixth when he boarded two men with free passes and allowed a run to score in an outfield choice.

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Rajcic played back-to-back with Beavers starter Cooper Hjerpe, who also only allowed one earned run in 6.0 innings while hitting 10, but the Bruins starter worked from the front from the start.

Freshman shortstop Cody Schrier hit a gapper down right center that he pulled out for a leadoff triple in the top of the first. Graduated first baseman Jake Palmer brought Schrier over with a sac fly, and UCLA had taken the lead by just two batters.

However, Hjerpe eliminated 10 of the next 11 Bruins, and they didn’t get another hit until 2 fell out in the fourth. Sophomore third baseman Kyle Karros and sophomore designated hitter Daylen Reyes grabbed back-to-back singles but were ultimately stranded as the lead stayed at one.

After another 1-2-3 frame in the fifth, junior right fielder Michael Curialle was hit by a pitch, stealing both second and third places. Freshman second baseman Ethan Gorson gave the Bruins their second RBI sac fly of the night, bringing Curialle home, a deep fly ball down the middle.

Junior catcher Darius Perry recorded a two-out in the ninth RBI single long after Hjerpe’s outing was long over, then graduated left fielder Kenny Oyama did the same to add even more safety and make it 4-1.

UCLA’s bullpen didn’t even need those extra runs to end the win, as junior right-hander Charles Harrison and freshman right-hander Alonzo Tredwell only allowed a baserunner in their scoreless seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

The second game of the series is scheduled for Friday at 6:00 p.m., while the regular season finale is scheduled for Saturday at 12:00 p.m. If UCLA can sweep Oregon State, the Bruins will leap over the Beavers at the top of the Pac-12 standings and could grab the top seed in the conference tournament if Stanford loses one of its two games to USC.

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