Pat Valaika (10), Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
The No. 7/12 UCLA baseball (8-2) team is set to face Long Beach State (6-6) in the first part of a home-and-home series on Tuesday night from Blair Field. The Bruins are currently riding a five-game winning streak that included a weekend sweep of Wright State at Jackie Robinson Stadium, while the 49ers (also known as the Dirtbags) have lost three of their last four.
By taking care of business versus the WSU Raiders, UCLA secured its first series sweep of the season after taking just 2-of-3 against Minnesota and Baylor. The Bruins were sparked by stellar play from their starting rotation and consistent production at the plate.
Saturday starter Nick Vander Tuig earned his second W of the season, allowing just two runs on six hits in 7.1 innings of work, while Sunday starter Grant Watson gave up one run (unearned) on three hits in 7.0 innings to improve to 2-0 on the year. Offensively, UCLA was led by shortstop Pat Valaika, a junior who notched eight RBIs against Wright State, including a three-run homer in the series opener on Friday.
In all, the Bruins outscored the Raiders 20-7 over the weekend, thanks mostly to a 10-2 drubbing in Watson’s start in the finale. UCLA has gotten solid support from its bullpen, especially closer David Berg who recorded two saves after holding WSU hitless over 2.1 innings of relief. Berg bordered on dominant in both appearances, tallying five strikeouts despite facing only seven batters in the series.
The successful home stand lifted the Bruins back into the top 10 of the NCBWA and USA Today Coaches polls, though they are still stuck at No. 12 in the Baseball America rankings. At this point, UCLA is the second highest-ranked team from the insanely deep Pac-12, trailing only No. 4 Oregon State (12-0). With only five games left until the conference slate begins, the Bruins have a chance to cement themselves among the nation’s elite before diving head first into the gauntlet.
For Long Beach State, the 2013 season has been far less kind.
The 49ers are coming off a tough series loss to Seattle University that would have been a home sweep had it not been for a comeback, walk-off win in Game 2. Prior to the series, the Redhawks had won only one game and were in the midst of a six-game losing streak. So, suffice it to say, the Dirtbags are in dire need of a win. Unfortunately for the Beach, a brutal four-game stretch is on the horizon. After hosting UCLA tonight, the 49ers head to Tempe, Ariz. for a weekend series against No. 23 Arizona State.
Last season, the Bruins swept the Dirtbags in their two-game set, winning handily in Westwood and squeaking out a 2-1 decision in Long Beach. UCLA is looking to maintain its momentum heading into this weekend’s Dodgertown Classic, which features Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Southern Cal. The annual event is normally held at Dodger Stadium, but offseason renovations to the Major League park forced the event to move to JRS this year.
Freshman right-hander Cody Poteet (1-1) is scheduled to start for the Bruins, while junior David Hill (0-1) will take the mound for Long Beach State. First pitch is slated for 6 PM PST and the game can be heard via live broadcast on UCLABruins.com.