UCLA was giving up an out. All Stony Brook's Tyler Johnson had to do was throw a strike.
Cody Keefer was bunting with two on and no outs in the bottom of the first. But Johnson fell behind in the count and eventually walked the No. 3 hitter for the Bruins to load the bases.
Plate discipline by the “Moneyball guy” led to UCLA's five-run inning.
Keefer isn't the prototypical three-hole hitter, according to Bruins coach John Savage. He's an on-base-percentage guy, hence his coach's “Moneyball” reference, instead of a big-time slugger.
“He sees the ball. He doesn't chase pitches,” Savage said. “You've got to throw strikes to Cody. We've put him in that third spot, and he's been a tough out.”
Keefer watched two balls out of the strike zone in that pivotal plate appearance before attempting to bunt. He ended up walking on six pitches and RBI singles by Jeff Gelalich and Trevor Brown followed.
Had Keefer been able to sacrifice, the Seawolves may have been able to limit the damage.
Walks lead to Johnson's worst outing
Keefer wasn't the only batter Johnson fell behind in his worst outing of the year.
The Stony Brook ace threw only four first-pitch strikes to the 17 UCLA batters he faced in his season-low 2 innings of work. He walked four men, equaling his season high.
Prior to Friday, Johnson had allowed only 25 bases on balls in 15 outings. Ten of those, however, have come during Stony Brook's postseason run to the College World Series.
Picking at the corners of the plate led to the increase, Johnson said. Friday was no different.
“For most the game there, for my two or three innings, I was trying to throw the ball outside and it was just sailing on me,” he said. “They've got a good lineup, but I didn't do a very good job of throwing strikes today. It's mostly on me today.”
After getting out of the second inning with a pickoff at second base, Johnson had seemingly settled down when he fanned Pat Valaika to open the top of the third. Instead, he hit the next batter, Cody Regis, with a pitch, and then walked Kevin Kramer on four straight balls before exiting.
Johnson allowed five hits while giving up a season-high seven runs.
UCLA stymies Stony Brook offense
Stony Brook was second in the nation in batting average and first in hits this season.
However, the Seawolves showed little offensively late in their Game 1 loss.
After the double by No. 9 hitter Sal Intagliata in the top of the fifth inning, Stony Brook put only two runners on base — one on a bunt single, another on a walk — for the rest of the game.
The Seawolves didn't threaten to score after the controversial double play that followed Intagliata's double, when Kevin Courtney seemed to beat catcher Tyler Heineman's tag at the plate after a groundout.
Paul Jessen honored by NCAA in opener
Longtime College World Series supporter Paul Jessen was honored during the middle of the fifth inning during Friday's opening game between UCLA and Stony Brook.
Jessen's wife, Mary, and other family members were presented a plaque by NCAA Vice President of Baseball and Football Dennis Poppe and CWS of Omaha President Jack Diesing Jr. to commemorate Jessen's contributions to the annual championship tournament.
The Omaha attorney and business leader, who died of cancer in February at age 59, had been involved with the CWS since 1990. Jessen played a key role in crafting the agreement to build TD Ameritrade Park and the signing of the deal to keep the CWS in Omaha through 2036.
Heyer continues to be Wildcat workhorse
It shouldn't have come as a surprise that Arizona starter Kurt Heyer was still on the mound to strike out Justin Gonzalez swinging on his 128th pitch of Friday's second game.
The junior workhorse and three-time All-Pac 12 selection was the national leader in innings pitched this season and threw seven complete games while leading the Wildcats back to the CWS.
Heyer had a 3-1 lead Friday until John Holland knocked in the tying runs — both unearned — with a two-out double in the sixth inning just after the right-hander had thrown his 100th pitch of the night.
Arizona stuck with its starter for eight more batters. Heyer retired seven of them, including two on strikeouts, before leaving with two out and none on in the eighth.
He received a no-decision for his second straight outing. Last Friday, Heyer allowed a career-high 17 hits, 16 of which were singles, while pitching into the 10th inning against St. John's in a super-regional game.
Kent State takes team on a nostalgic visit
The Kent State team was among the 1,200 people who on Friday visited Rosenblatt Stadium, the home of the College World Series from 1950 to 2010.
Golden Flashes coach Scott Stricklin said his initial reaction as the team bus pulled up to the iconic stadium was similar to what it was in 2002, when he was part of the Georgia Tech staff that coached in the CWS.
“I had chills,” Stricklin said. “As you pull up, you still see the red, blue and yellow in the stands. You think the College World Series is going on there. The place always will be something special.”
Of course, Rosenblatt has changed greatly since Stricklin last visited. Most of the seats have been removed, leaving the tri-color painted sections bare. Weeds dot the once lush playing surface, which is more brown than green.
“When I first told them we were going, some of the guys weren't very excited,” Stricklin said. “But most of them grew up watching the College World Series when it was played there. I wanted them to see it, and I think they enjoyed it.
“Obviously, it was a very nostalgic visit.”
The stadium is scheduled for demolition starting in July. The Omaha Zoo Foundation, which now owns the facility, is allowing fans a chance to visit the stadium from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. through Monday. There is no charge.
Calvin Sisson, executive director of the foundation, said 1,100 people visited on Thursday.
— Tony Boone and Steven Pivovar