June 2, 2012

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Vander Tuig Vexes Lobos

By Abbey Mastracco


photos by Scott Wu, UCLA Athletics


LOS ANGELES – On a night when the Los Angeles Kings needed more overtime magic to get a win in the Stanley Cup, their neighbors in Westwood needed no extra time — only the arm of Nick Vander Tuig (right).


In front of a crowd of 1,601 at Jackie Robinson Stadium, the Bruins advanced to their eighth straight Regional Final Saturday night as the sophomore righty pitched seven innings of no-hit ball and top-seeded UCLA (44-14, 2-0 Regional play) finally found its offensive stride in a 7-1 win over third-seeded New Mexico (37-23, 1-1 Regional play).


“It was Nick’s night,” UCLA Head coach John Savage said. “He really came out and was aggressive with all of his pitches. You’ve just got to give him a lot of credit. He’s one of the hardest working guys in our program.”


“You’ve really got to tip your hat to the kid,” New Mexico head coach Ray Birmingham said. “That guy didn’t make a mistake, he didn’t give you a cookie. That’s what big leaguers do, that guy pitched like a big leaguer.”


Vander Tuig (9-3) entered the top of the eighth with just an unearned run to his credit and no hits. But Trey Porras ripped the first pitch he saw, a fastball up and in, down the left-field line for an opposite-field double. The crowd jumped to their feet, some in disbelief, as Porras slid in safely to second. Vander Tuig then received a standing ovation and promptly retired the side in order.


“Going into the eighth, I was really just trying to slow the game down and make sure it didn’t speed up on me,” Vander Tuig said. “Probably around the sixth or seventh inning, I looked up at the scoreboard and didn’t have a hit. But I just tried to go pitch-by-pitch, not rush myself, and stay within myself.”


Unlike the standout pitching performance by Adam Plutko in Friday night’s game, Vander Tuig didn’t rely primarily on a hard fastball. Clocked around the high 80s and low 90s, Vander Tuig used a changeup to get the bats swinging and commanded both sides of the plate with a slider and curveball. He changed speeds and located when he needed, ending the night with a career-high 11 strikeouts.


“He did a good job of mixing it up,” Porras said. “He stayed on the corners, changed speeds, changed locations, that’s going to make it hard for anybody to hit well.”


The Bruins helped out Vander Tuig by jumping on Gera Sanchez (8-3) early to go up 1-0 in the first. But after the one run, UCLA went quietly. A pitchers’ duel looked to be emerging after Sanchez struck out three of four batters faced in the third and fourth innings, and Vander Tuig blanked five in a row. But the Bruins abruptly ended the duel with two big innings.


“He’s a tough guy to figure out,” Savage said of Sanchez. “We didn’t hammer him.”


UCLA put up three runs in the fifth, and it could have been more had Pat Valaika not been thrown out trying to stretch an RBI single into a double. After a two-base error resulted in a run being scored by New Mexico in the bottom of the inning, the Bruins picked up right where they left off in the sixth.


With one out in the sixth, Beau Amaral went the other way on single down the left-field line to score Shane Zeile. With two outs, Amaral stole second and was driven in easily when Cody Keefer pulled a double to right. Jeff Gelalich then singled up the middle, and UCLA went up 7-1.


Keefer had a big night, going 3 for 3 with an RBI and two runs. Trevor Brown went 2 for 5, drove in two and scored once.


UCLA, a national No. 2 seed, is playing up to the hype and to the rankings, having allowed just one run in the past two games. But Savage is warning against getting too comfortable with just two postseason games under the Bruins’ belts.


“We’re in good position but at the end of the day that doesn’t matter,” Savage said. “This tournament is long from over.”