The No. 8 UCLA baseball team will resume its Pac-12 schedule tonight when defending national champion Arizona comes to Jackie Robinson Stadium for a three-game series.
After taking home the 2012 College World Series title, the Wildcats were ranked in the preseason and expected to contend again. And though the Cats have slipped out of the polls and back in the PAC, they possess the tools to win tough games.
At 29-17 overall, Arizona is still on the cusp of the national rankings (No. 27 in the NCBWA poll), and has plenty left to play for. A postseason berth seems likely for the Cats, but NCAA Regional seeding is still to be determined. This series is an opportunity for Arizona to grind out some resume-bolstering (and potentially season-saving) wins. So don’t expect 12th-year head coach and two-time CWS champ Andy Lopez to let that slip away.
For the Bruins, this weekend is all about keeping pace—that’s what it’s been and that’s what it’ll be from here on out. UCLA (31-14, 14-7 Pac-12) is still stuck three games behind unflappable Oregon State in the loss column, and the season’s end is drawing near.
But there is good news. The Beavers are on the road to face No. 21 Stanford in Palo Alto this weekend, which could mean a loss or two for OSU. They only have four conference losses this season, and three of them have come away from Corvallis. And if it’s not the Cardinal that can get it done, Oregon will get a crack at the Beavs in the Civil War the following week. The Ducks are second in the standings—two games ahead of the Bruins—so the outcome of those series will decide who claims the conference crown.
UCLA just needs to focus on its own game. Pitch-for-pitch, swing-by-swing: play up to the lofty potential that has been exhibited at times this season. Dropping decisions to “should-beat” teams, like Tuesday’s 4-1 loss to Cal State Northridge, isn’t where the Bruins want to be. But three wins this weekend would put them right there.
If the Bruins can bring their bats vs. the Cats, the pitching staff will carry the torch to the finish. Weekend starters Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig are looking to continue their dominance of the first two days, while Sunday southpaw Grant Watson is searching for some consistency. As we get into the stretch run of the season, the starting rotation will need to tighten up. Given their persistent struggles at the plate, the Bruins can’t afford to dig themselves an early hole.
In three short days, the race for the 2013 Pac-12 baseball title will be a whole lot clearer. UCLA is right there, but will have to be near-perfect the rest of the way to stay in the conversation. And while the Bruins should stay focused on Arizona, you can bet they’ll be watching the scores from Stanford too.