Utes Fall in Pitching Duel at No. 3 UCLA Friday Night, 1-0
LOS ANGELES – It was a pitching duel on Friday night as Utah (23-23, 5-11) held the third-ranked UCLA Bruins (38-5, 14-2) to just one run off four hits, but ultimately fell in the opening game of the series 1-0.
Sydney Sandez made her 16th start of the season and surrendered the lone run of the ball game in the second inning to pick up the loss and move to an 8-9 record. Sandez went 4.0 innings giving up four hits, one walk and striking out two before being replaced by Mariah Lopez in the fifth. Lopez held the Bruins quiet over her two innings pitched, walking one batter and striking out two to keep the Utes within a run entering the top of the seventh.
Aliya Belarde and Haley Denning picked up the only hits of the ball game as the Utes were held scoreless for just the fourth time this season. Utah left four runners on the base paths, two of those in the first inning.
This marks the seventh time Utah has loss by a single run to a ranked opponent and the third time against a team that's ranked in the top-5.
With the loss, Utah moves to 5-11 in conference play and a .500 record of 23-23 on the season.
Final: Bruins 1, Utes 0
Belarde got the night started for the Utes, slapping a shot over the third basemen's head for the single. Denning followed with her seventh sacrifice bunt of the year to push Belarde into scoring position on second and after battling with the pitcher for seven pitches, Ellessa Bonstrom drew her Pac-12 leading 29th walk to put two Utes on the base paths. However, back-to-back strikeouts would follow to end the first frame.
Sandez stepped into the circle for the Utes and started strong picking up her first strikeout of the game against the first batter and issued a line out and ground out to retire the Bruins in order.
Utah went 1-2-3 in the top of the second inning to bring Sandez back out to the mound and after securing the first out off one pitch, Sandez walked just her 12th batter of the year to put the Bruins aboard. A ground out would follow to advance the runner to second and a single to right field would plate the runner, giving UCLA the 1-0 lead. Bonstrom ended the inning as she fielded a ball off a single into right and showed off her arm gunning it to third to put out the lead runner.
Denning found her first hit of the game off a high chopper back to the pitcher, but the Utes would leave their third runner of the night stranded as a grounder to first ensued.
Sandez continued to be in command in the third as Denning flashed some leather in the field to pick up the first two outs. UCLA earned their third hit of the game off a single to third, but Sandez would collect her second strikeout of the game to end the inning.
It was a 1-2-3 fourth for Utah at the dish and UCLA got back to work in their half of the inning, doubling off the left field wall and tried their luck at a triple but was denied by Sophie Jacquez making the quick throw to third for the out. An error by Belarde followed to put the Bruins back on the base paths as a fielder's choice and grounder to third would get the Utes out of the inning.
Mariah Lopez replaced Sandez to start the bottom of the fifth and after walking the first Bruin she faced, received some help from catcher Katie Faulk throwing out her ninth runner trying to swipe second on the year. Lopez went on to pick up her first strikeout of the night to bring Utah up in the sixth.
It was a quick inning for both teams as each were sat down in order and Lopez picked up her second strikeout of the game in the process.
With one last chance in the seventh, Jimenez drew a six pitch walk to put the tying run aboard and bring the go-ahead run to the plate. However, the Utes were unable to take advantage of the opportunity with a strikeout and a pair of infield pop outs to end the game.
Utah looks to bounce back tomorrow evening for the middle game of the series against the Bruins. First pitch is slated to be thrown at 7 p.m. MT at Easton Stadium and will be aired on Pac-12 Insider.
Live stats will also be available and fans can keep up with live game action and highlights by following @Utah_Softball on Twitter.