LOS ANGELES—UCLA has picked a good time to play its best baseball of the year.
A day after Adam Plutko delivered perhaps the best outing of his career (a two-hit shutout against Creighton), fellow sophomore righthander Nick Vander Tuig turned in what was unquestionably the best start of his career. Facing one of the nation's most explosive offenses in the winners' bracket of the Los Angeles Regional, Vander Tuig carried a no-hitter into the eighth inning and finished with a career-high 11 strikeouts, leading UCLA to a convincing 7-1 win.
Eleven different Bruins recorded hits, as they out-hit the Lobos 17-2. The UCLA offense has looked great through two postseason games, sticking to a disciplined middle-to-away approach. Its defense has looked very strong as well. But Vander Tuig was the story Saturday.
"It was Nick's night," Bruins coach John Savage said. "He really came out and was very aggressive with all his pitches, established his fastball again like we did last night (with Plutko). You've just got to give him a lot of credit. He's one of the hardest working guys in our program, and he came out and set the tone this evening."
Vander Tuig set the tone by retiring the first 12 hitters he faced, including five straight via strikeouts in the third and fourth. The Lobos got their first baserunner on an error when Cody Keefer lost a pop-up in the twilight sky in the fifth, but they didn't record their first hit until Trey Porras jumped on Vander Tuig's first pitch of the eighth inning, slapping it down the left-field line for a double.
Vander Tuig stranded Porras on second, getting a pop-up and a pair of strikeouts to end the inning, and end his outing. His final line: 8 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 11 K.
Vander Tuig, who spent last season as the closer in his first season back from high school Tommy John surgery, has pitched consistently into the sixth inning as a starter this spring. But he had given up 109 hits in 89 innings heading into the postseason, so his nearly unhittable performance Saturday seemingly came out of nowhere.
"There's little things I've been working on mentally, physically throughout year," Vander Tuig said. "I think maybe it's starting to carry it over a little more. I just felt like I had really good angle to my pitches, I attacked in and out, and I think that really opened it up for the hitters to be more aggressive."
Vander Tuig said he wanted to use the aggressiveness of the New Mexico hitters against them. Just as Plutko did Friday, Vander Tuig had plenty of success elevating his 87-90 mph fastball in the zone, but he also had a very good 79-81 mph slider working.
"When a lot of guys in college baseball go up, they go up above your cap, and he went up above your hands," Lobos coach Ray Birmingham said. "That's one of his locations. And he did a good job of having late movement. Command is everything, and he commanded to both sides of the plate and had command of all three pitches . . .
"That guy tonight didn't make a mistake, he didn't give you a cookie anytime during the at-bat. That's what big leaguers do, and he pitched like a big leaguer tonight."
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