Leadoff walks in the 5th and 6th innings that wound up scoring to erase an early UCLA lead, and then 3 in a row in the 8th inning that produced the margin of victory, were the difference for Oregon St. Friday night in the opener of the Beavers' Pac-12 series opener against the (unsuccessfully) defending National Champion Bruins.
A fair number of the 2,813 on hand didn't seem to expect a good outcome for the defending Pac-12 Champion Beavers when the Bruins took a 2-0 lead in the 3rd inning, after Ty Moore's 2 out 2 RBI double that scored Aaron Weimer and Brett Stephens, who had both singled off Ben Wetzler, which would ultimately balloon Oregon St.'s ace's ERA from a nation leading 0.78 up to 1.06.
Especially when the Beavers couldn't answer in the bottom of the 3rd inning, after Logan Ice led off with a single, and Caleb Hamilton followed up with a walk, but small ball failed, and Oregon St. left the tieing runs in scoring position, in a game where scoring opportunities were sure to be at a premium, facing UCLA ace James Kaprielan, the conference leader in strikeouts.
But there shouldn't have been such concern with Wetzler, the toughest pitcher in the conference, on the mound.
The Pac-12 tv audience joined the game in the 4th inning, after a softball showdown between #2 UCLA and #3 Arizona St. had gone extra innings before the Bruins pulled that out with a pair of home runs, just in time to see Wetzler work out of a jam, in which UCLA had threatened to blow the game open.
A pair of infield hits had put runners on the corners with 1 out, but Wetzler got a strike out of Pat Gallagher, and then Andy Peterson saved at least 1 run with a diving stop of a grounder by Weimer, and then got up and threw Weimer out to end the inning.
The web gem only seemed to further Wetzler's already brutal resolve, and the Oregon St. ace proceeded to give Kaprielan a lesson in overpowering opponents. Wetzler went on to work 8 innings, and strike out 8 Bruins, twice what the Bruin "K" king could come up with, and without issuing any walks, which would prove to be UCLA's undoing.
As a steady cold rain that wouldn't stop the rest of the game began to fall, Gabe Clark drew a leadoff walk to start the bottom of the 5th inning, and after a pair of ground outs, scored on Trevor Morrison's RBI triple to right field.
In the 6th inning, Michael Conforto drew a 5 pitch leadoff walk, and after a ground out and a foul out, scored when Gabe Clark drove a game tieing RBI double to left field.
The 8th inning was the decisive frame, which started with Wetzler, who had already throw 111 pitches, facing UCLA's 3-4-5 hitters. Which he dispatched with 8 pitches, getting ground out, a pop up to 2nd, and his 8th strikeout of the night.
Oregon St. then sent their 2-3-4 hitters up, and Kaprielan appeared to be up to the challenge, getting Peterson to fly out to right and Conforto to strike out on 5 pitches.
But the cold and wet, temperatures dipping deep into the 40s, and the rain turning into a downpour, and the bad footing that was the mound finally got to the southern Californian. Unable to keep the ball out of the strike zone, Kaprielan gave up singles to center by Dylan Davis and right by Michael Howard.
Unable to grip the wet ball, Kaprielan then threw 7 consecutive balls way out of the zone, which walked Clark to load the bases and set up Ice with a 3-0 count, before finally getting a pitch over the plate.
But it was only 1 strike, and the next pitch was way out of the zone again, walking Ice to walk in Davis with the go ahead run.
UCLA coach John Savage had seen enough, and that ended Kaprielan's night.
But Jake Ehret couldn't cope with the conditions either, walking Hamilton on 4 pitches to score Howard and make it 4-2 Oregon St.
Despite slipping during his warmups, Max Schuh managed to get out of the inning by getting Morrison to ground out, but the game had gotten away.
Scott Schultz came in to close out the win, getting a pop up to Peterson, and then finishing with back to back strikeouts to pick up his 5th save of the season, and improve Oregon St. to 36-8 for the season, the Beavers best start ever trough 44 games.
Wetzler, Oregon St.'s all time leader in wins, improved to 9-1 for the season.
Their 9th. win in a row also improved Oregon St. to 18-4 for the season, and pulled the Beavers into a tie with Washington for the Pac-12 lead.
The Huskies are playing a non-conference series this season against Bethune-Cookman, and opened their weekend with a 4-0 win tonight.
UCLA dropped to .500 for the season, slipping (literally) to 23-23-1, and down to 10-12, in conference.
Kaprielan dropped to 6-5 for the season, despite limiting Oregon St. to just 6 hits.
The Beavers and Bruins continue their series tomorrow night at 7 PM, with Oregon St.'s Andrew Moore going up against UCLA's Grant Watson.