Los Angeles, Calif. – Tyler Rahmatulla’s ninth-inning sacrifice fly broke a 4-all deadlock, as No. 14 UCLA completed a three-game sweep of Nebraska with a 5-4 victory at Jackie Robinson Stadium Saturday afternoon.
Rahmatulla’s fly ball to center plated Dean Espy with the winning run, spoiling a strong relief effort from Casey Hauptman and foiling Nebraska’s opportunity after the Huskers rallied from a three-run deficit to tie the score one inning earlier.
Hauptman (0-2) pitched far better than the fate he received, as he went 6.1 innings to single-handedly keep Nebraska in the game. The junior right-hander fanned four and kept UCLA (9-0) off the scoreboard until the Bruins plated an unearned run in the ninth to win it. It marked the Huskers' fourth last-at bat loss of the season.
“Casey was outstanding,” Nebraska Coach Mike Anderson said. “He’s earned some opportunities and I am proud of the way he pitched today.”
Espy, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored, opened the ninth with a single off of Hauptman before Steve Rodriguez’ bunt was misplayed by reliever Jordan Roualdes, putting runners on first and second with no outs. Beau Amaral moved both runners into scoring position with a sacrifice before Blair Dunlap was intentionally walked to load the bases. Mike Nesseth came in to face Rahmatulla, who lofted the first pitch he saw to center, allowing a sliding Espy to beat DJ Belfonte’s throw home for the game winner.
Dan Klein (1-0) earned the victory after blowing the save in the eighth inning, as Nebraska (3-7) scored three times against the stout UCLA bullpen, which had not allowed an earned run in its first eight contests.
Down 4-1, Nebraska loaded the bases with singles by Kale Kiser and pinch hitter Patric Tolentino before reliever Erik Goeddel hit Kyle Bubak to load the bases with no outs. After a pair of strikeouts, Boomer Collins came through with an RBI single before Adam Bailey, who went 3-for-5 with a pair of RBIs, tied the game with a two-run single off the glove of first baseman Justin Uribe.
“I’m glad we fought back, but this team doesn’t need moral victories,” Anderson said. “We’re going to be OK, but this team needs to figure out ways to win games, especially against big teams.”
The Huskers were out-hit, 11-9, but were hurt by striking out a school-record 19 times against five UCLA pitchers, including 10 from left-hander Rob Rasmussen, who was in line for the win until Nebraska’s comeback.
Nebraska got on the board first in the second, as Kiser doubled to open the frame and scored moments later as Cory Burleson’s bunt was misplayed by Rasmussen, allowing Kiser, who went 2-for-4 with a pair of runs scored, to scoot home from second.
The Huskers’ lead would be short-lived, as UCLA put up four runs in the second off of starter Tom Lemke. A two-out single by Brett Krill and a walk to Niko Gallego started the rally before Espy slammed a 0-2 pitch over the fence in left center to give the Bruins the lead. After a walk and a single, Dunlap greeted Hauptman with an RBI single to center to make it a 4-1 game.
Hauptman then took over, as the junior allowed only two Bruins to reach scoring position from the third to the eight, allowing the Huskers to stay in the game.
Nebraska was unable to put up runs in the middle innings, as UCLA only set the Huskers down in order once, but NU stranded 12 runners on base, including seven in scoring position.
“The most valuable thing about this stretch is the things we can learn and take from it,” Anderson said, as NU wrapped up a stretch of 10 games on the road, including nine matchups with teams that made the NCAAs last year or ranked opponents. “We we look up halfway through the year and didn’t learn from these three weeks then we will be in trouble.”
The Huskers will finally return home on Wednesday, when they take on Nebraska-Kearney beginning at 1:35 p.m at Hawks Field. Tickets are available by calling 800-8-BIGRED or on Huskers.com. The game will be carried on selected Husker Sports Network stations and on Huskers.com.