The No. 2 UCLA Bruins (2-1) baseball team took an extra day to shake the malaise of the offseason, but stormed back to win a season-opening three-game series with Minnesota (1-2). The Golden Gophers shocked the home crowd at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Friday night, taking the first game of the weekend set, 6-2, in extra innings.
But the good times wouldn’t last long for the visitors from the North Star State, as the Bruins outscored the Gophers 28-1 in the last two games of the home stand. So aside from the 10-inning pitchers’ duel in Game 1, this series was a bona fide snooze-fest.
UCLA starters Nick Vander Tuig and Grant Watson both collected wins after pitching six frames of shutout baseball in their respective games. Watson, a sophomore southpaw from Bakersfield, Calif., allowed only two hits to go with zero walks and a career-high eight strikeouts.
Freshman right-hander Cody Poteet was tagged with the loss on Friday after giving up three runs on two hits in the top of the 10th inning. Starter Adam Plutko was pulled after 6.2 innings of work, giving up two runs on seven hits with six Ks.
The Bruins only mustered six hits in Game 1, so much of the blame for the loss falls on struggles at the plate. But the wins on Saturday and Sunday can be attributed to a combination of offensive explosion and lights-out pitching.
UCLA’s batters backed up the success on the mound with a combined 33 hits and 28 runs in the two victories, showing a glimpse of why the Bruins are ranked No. 2 in the nation.
If there is one area that head coach John Savage definitely needs to focus on, it’s fielding. UCLA committed three errors against Minnesota, not to mention a critical mishap on a bunt in the top of the 10th that was officially ruled a hit. It’s entirely possible that these miscues are a result of early-season jitters (for reference: the Gophers were tagged with seven Es in the series). But nonetheless, the Bruins can’t afford to give up anymore freebies in the field.
Looking forward, UCLA was supposed to be taking a Tuesday afternoon trip to Santa Barbara, Calif. to face UCSB (2-1), but that game was postponed due to rain in the forecast. The Bruins will now face the Gauchos on Feb. 26 at 2 PM PST.
So instead of a ride up the coast, UCLA will make its way to Waco, Texas to challenge the No. 23 Baylor Bears (0-3) in a three-game series this weekend. The Bears limp into the showdown after being swept in Irvine, Calif. by the UCI Anteaters (a team that UCLA will play twice this season).
Baylor was outscored 26-7 by Irvine, which really raises question marks about the Bears’ preseason ranking. But Baylor will get one more chance at redemption before the Bruins come to town, as the Texas State Bobcats pay a visit to Waco on Tuesday night.
Whether or not the Bears have recorded a win when Friday rolls around is irrelevant. UCLA needs to come out firing on all cylinders and take the crowd at Baylor Ballpark out of the game(s) early. If the Bruins’ offense continues to be productive, the pitching staff is talented enough for UCLA to do big things in 2013.
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