UCLA Baseball: Bruins Open Season vs. Minnesota Tonight


Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Well, Bruins fans…it turns out there’s more to life than basketball after all.

If you’re looking for a way to rid your mind of the pain from last night’s embarrassing showing on the hardwood, then come on down to Jackie Robinson Stadium to cheer on the UCLA baseball team. The Bruins open the 2013 campaign this weekend in a three-game set versus the Minnesota Golden Gophers. First pitch for the series opener is slated for tonight at 6 PM PST.

The Bruins are coming off another impressive season in 2012, one in which UCLA claimed a share of the Pac-12 title and made it to Omaha for the College World Series. Overall, the Bruins finished the year with a 48-16 record, and are looking to build towards another run at the national title.

The pollsters have taken notice of UCLA’s consistency under ninth-year head coach John Savage, picking the Bruins near the top of every national ranking. In the USA Today Coaches’ Poll, UCLA comes in at No. 2 in the country, including four votes for the top spot. In the NCBWA and Baseball America rankings, the Bruins come in at No. 5 and No. 12, respectively.

But as we’ve learned so many times before, preseason rankings mean diddly-squat.

If UCLA wants to climb back to the pinnacle of college baseball, the Bruins will need to live up to their lofty billing on the field, and it all starts tonight when Minnesota comes to town.

The Gophers are coming off a rather pedestrian season in which they finished with a 29-27 record, leaving them tied for sixth in the Big Ten Conference. In the all-time series, Minnesota and UCLA have faced off four times on the dirty diamond, and the Bruins were victorious in three of those outings.

In order for UCLA to make it 4-of-5, Friday’s starting pitcher and preseason All-American Adam Plutko will have to be dialed in and ready to go. The 6’3″, 192-pound right hander is poised for a breakout junior year after posting a 12-3 record with a 2.48 ERA in 2012. Plutko will be the rock of the Bruins’ stacked starting rotation, which also features the likes of Nick Vander Tuig, Grant Watson and Zack Weiss.

For Minnesota, junior LHP Tom Windle will take the mound on Friday after finishing with a 3-5 record and 3.27 ERA last season. Windle leads a Gophers’ team that welcomes back 22 letter winners from 2012, including redshirt junior infielder Dan Olinger.

Olinger swung the big bat for Minnesota last year, leading the team in a myriad of hitting categories, including batting average (.318), RBIs (34), and doubles (13). If the Gophers are going to come into Los Angeles and steal one away from the Bruins, Olinger will have to step up big-time at the plate.

But if I were a betting man, I’d put my money on a UCLA sweep this weekend, which would set the Bruins up nicely for a four-game road swing next week. After a Tuesday night game at UC Santa Barbara, UCLA will head to Waco, Texas to battle the No. 23 Baylor Bears in a three-game weekend set. For the Gophers, they’ll head back to Minneapolis for a 16-game home stand at the Metrodome.