The UCLA baseball team went on the road last week in need of a statement stretch to reassert itself as a Pac-12 power. And though the Bruins have no win streak in hand today, they do return to L.A. with the satisfaction of that success.
UCLA (25-11) entered the week at No. 13 in the country, and put that ranking to the test against UC Irvine and Top 25-mainstay Oregon. A 3-1 performance against those formidable foes lifted the Bruins back into the Top 10 of the national polls, where they rank as high as No. 7 (Collegiate Baseball).
An extra-inning thriller against the Anteaters on Tuesday was the first of four games, complete with final-frame heroics from Brenton Allen. UCLA won by a score of 6-4 in 12 innings after the junior outfielder belted a game-tying two-run homer to keep the Bruins alive in the top of the ninth. After tacking on two to take the lead in the 12th, head coach John Savage turned to sophomore closer David Berg to guide them to safety.
As has been the case all season, Berg got the job done (this time over the course of four perfect innings), earning himself a W and the Bruins a resume-bolstering triumph. And as fate would have it, his dominance became the theme of the weekend in Eugene too.
Berg notched save Nos. 9 and 10 on the year in the first two games against the Ducks, leading UCLA to 1-0 wins on consecutive nights. On Friday, Berg relieved starter Adam Plutko (5-2) with two scoreless innings, and on Saturday subbed in for Nick Vander Tuig (6-3) with 1.1 innings of shutout support.
All together, Berg pitched 7.1 innings in relief last week, giving up two hits and no walks while recording four strikeouts. To hammer home how unhittable he was, consider this—in three separate appearances, Berg faced just one batter more than the bare minimum possible. That is complete and utter command, and its continuance is critical for UCLA’s success this season. As a token of his performance, the Pac-12 named Berg “Pitcher of the Week” for April 15-21.
After the pair of one-run wins for the visitors, Oregon salvaged its series with a 5-3 victory in the finale. A four-run fifth gave the Ducks the decisive lead, and sent starter Grant Watson (5-3) to the loss. The UCLA offense chipped in three runs on six hits, but posted goose eggs in the last four frames to seal the deal. It was a tough defeat for the Bruins, who could’ve caught up in the conference loss-column with a sweep, but it doesn’t distract from what they did do.
UCLA stepped up to the challenge last week and the nation took notice. The Bruins have a very manageable schedule the rest of the way out, and could find themselves hosting another NCAA Regional if everything falls into place. A conference championship would require the Oregon schools to slip up, but with a month left in the season, anything is possible.
Looking ahead, the Bruins gear up for another Pac-12 weekend trip by hosting the Long Beach State Dirtbags on Tuesday night. The Bruins already beat them once this year, a 3-2 decision in Long Beach in early March. Since the first meeting, LBSU has been up-and-down, streaking its way to a sub-.500 record (17-20). UCLA should send midweek starter Cody Poteet to the bump, and he’ll be looking to lock up the team’s third straight non-conference win.
After the date with the Dirtbags, the Bruins will fly back to the Pacific Northwest to take on Washington State (19-18) in a three-game set. UCLA has dominated the Cougars in recent years, winning each of the last four series dating back to 2009. But the trip to Pullman is never an easy one for Bruins of any sport, and the last series loss in baseball came at Bailey-Brayton Field, so Coach Savage should have his team dialed in.
The pitching staff will keep UCLA in games—that’s a given. If UCLA can get enough help at the plate in the coming weeks, the Bruins are capable of running roughshod over the bottom half of the Pac-12. The Bruins could power themselves past the finish line, or limp to the land of the middling. All that’s left is to take a swing.