During their ascent to the top of the Pac-12 Conference standings and national polls, the Arizona Wildcats have shown infrequent, but equally frustrating, signs of slippage.
Saturday night was, frankly, sobering.
UCLA scored five times in the first inning and took advantage of five Arizona errors to cruise to a 15-3 win at Hi Corbett Field. The loss dropped Arizona (24-10 overall, 10-4 Pac-12) into a tie with Oregon for first place in the conference. UCLA, which trails both teams by one game, will play today with a chance to pull even.
UA coach Andy Lopez said his team "obviously played very bad baseball." Consider:
• The UA gave up more runs Saturday (15) than it allowed in last month's three-game sweep of Stanford (11) and as many as it allowed all last weekend at Utah. Oregon State scored 16 runs over three games when the teams played earlier this season in Corvallis.
• The 17th-ranked Bruins stranded 10 runners, meaning the loss - as bad as it was - probably could have been worse.
• UCLA rapped 20 hits and scored runs in five of the nine innings. Beau Amaral and Tyler Heineman each had four hits, and Cody Keefer had three.
All three UCLA standouts figured in a flukey first inning.
UA starter Konner Wade (4-1) surrendered a leadoff hit to Amaral, then walked Heineman. Keefer attempted to bunt the runners over, but Arizona third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean threw low and wide of first base, and the ball skittered into the outfield. Two runs scored, giving the Bruins a quick lead. Wade struck out the next batter, then hit Trevor Brown with a pitch. With two outs, Pat Valaika ripped an RBI single, and Cody Regis knocked in two runs.
Like that, UCLA was ahead 5-0.
"Wade had a rough inning, but the defense didn't help him at all," UA shortstop Alex Mejia said. "It was almost like he was the lone guy out there. He put pressure on himself, which he shouldn't have done. He should have faith in us, but we didn't prove ourselves to be a good defense behind him."
Wade was chased in the top of the fourth inning after surrendering 10 hits and six runs, five of them earned. He walked one, struck out one and hit one batter. Vincent Littleman surrendered the final nine runs, and Augey Bill - who hadn't pitched since the 2010 NCAA regional - worked the final 1 1/3 innings. The left-hander's work saves the rest of the Wildcats' beleaguered bullpen to work in today's deciding game.
Maybe that's the only bright spot. Arizona will be at full-strength today for one of their most important games of the season.
They can't afford to slip again.
"We need to get the series win," Mejia said. "No matter how we do it, no matter how it looks, get it done."
• Who: UCLA at Arizona
• Where: Hi Corbett Field
• When: Noon
• Radio: 1290-AM