MINNEAPOLIS – The bottom of the ninth inning set up perfectly for Gonzaga: a three-run lead on nationally ranked UCLA, closer Casey Legumina on the mound and the bottom of the batting order due up for the Bruins.
If Legumina secured the last three outs, as he had so often this season, the third-seeded Zags would beat a No. 2 seed for the third consecutive time since 2009 in NCAA Regional play.
Legumina came up one short.
The Bruins rallied for four runs and a 6-5 victory at the double-elimination Minneapolis Regional, celebrating with a dogpile near second base as Legumina and the rest of the Bulldogs walked slowly, heads down, to the third-base dugout.
Gonzaga will face Canisius at 11 a.m. today in a loser-out game.
The Bruins rallied not long after junior right-hander Daniel Bies left to a standing ovation from about three dozen Zags fans at Siebert Field, limiting UCLA to two runs in 7 2/3 innings in perhaps his last start with the Bulldogs.
“It’s a heartbreaking loss,” Bulldogs coach Mark Machtolf said. “Our team played hard. I thought Daniel pitched his rear end off. Only thing to do is go home, regroup and bounce back. That’s baseball.”
Legumina relieved Bies for the final out in the eighth but found instant trouble in the ninth. He hit Ryan Kreidler with his first pitch, then gave up a double to left-handed pinch-hitter RJ Teijeiro, a freshman with 29 at-bats all season.
That bought up the top of the order with runners in scoring position, exactly what the Zags hoped to avoid.
One out later, Kevin Kendall beat out an infield hit to bring in one run. Chase Strumpf singled on a 1-2 fastball to right-center for another, his third hit of the day. Legumina fell behind cleanup hitter Michael Toglia 2-0 before allowing a ground-rule double to right, tying the score and sending Strumpf, the potential winning run, to third. A sacrifice fly to left by designated hitter Jake Pries set off the celebration.
“I think Strumpf’s at-bat was the key at-bat,” UCLA coach Jack Savage said. “He had a big day. He kind of put on a clinic with two strikes. That’s how you hit, and we didn’t hit like that for the majority of the game. Bies had a lot of do with that.”
Until the ninth, everything seemed to go the Zags’ way on a sunny, windy afternoon. They cobbled together five runs (four earned) in 7 2/3 innings off UCLA starter Jake Bird, three coming on sacrifice flies.
Bird, whose 1.99 ERA led the Pac-12 Conference, struggled with his command and his poise. He hit Branson Trube and walked Austin Pinorini to open the second inning and both scored. A four-pitch walk to Ernie Yake in the third contributed to another run. His throwing error on a pick-off attempt in the sixth helped Gonzaga score again.
“We didn’t pitch great,” Savage said. “(Bird) did compete and got into the eighth inning. They really battled against him, foul ball after foul ball. Got to give a lot of credit to them.”
Bies stuck out nine, mixing a curveball and slider with a good fastball while throwing 137 pitches. He struggled in the sixth, when Strumpf singled and Toglia doubled on two-strike pitches with none out. UCLA brought both home on ground balls.
But Bies regrouped to strike out the side in the seventh, then retired the first two batters in the eighth, leaving after a full-count walk to Daniel Amaral.
“I was trying to start the game off steady,” said the 6-foot-8 Bies, eligible for Major League Baseball’s First-Year Player Draft. “When I get to the sixth or seventh inning, I try to empty the tank, hopefully be my own closer. I was trying to do that today.”
“I felt we got outplayed for 8 1/2 innings,” Savage said. “We did string a lot of good at-bats together in the ninth. You’ve got to tip your hat to the guys at the end, because it didn’t look pretty for a long time.”
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