Kevin Williams (5), Credit: Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports
The No. 7 UCLA baseball team squeaked out a 12-10 win over Arizona State on Saturday, staving off a series sweep with an extra-inning effort. By salvaging the set versus the Sun Devils, the Bruins (18-6, 6-3) kept themselves within striking distance of first-place Oregon (22-6, 8-1) in the Pac-12 standings.
The victory in the finale was vindicating for the Bruins after they suffered decisive losses in the first two games in Tempe. But the fact that they were even on the ropes is troubling, especially considering ASU’s struggles to date this season. And to make matters worse, things are only going to get harder for the Bruins as the calendar approaches April. Unless UCLA can a find winning formula on the road, the latter half of the month will be very unforgiving.
The Bruins will play 17 games in the 30 days of April, seven on the road and 10 at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Nine of the games are Pac-12 matchups, while five are midweek non-conference pairings versus smaller West Coast programs. There is also a three-game home series with Loyola Marymount, a sub-.500 squad that should provide a solid weekend of winning for UCLA.
Unfortunately, the games against the Lions are about the only gimmes on the schedule, as the rest of the month’s slate is a murderer’s row of college baseball teams. Based on the current national rankings, the Bruins will face a ranked opponent in nine of their 17 games, easily making the next few weeks the toughest stretch of the season.
Following a home game on Tuesday versus No. 5 Cal State Fullerton, UCLA will play host to No. 2 Oregon State for a conference series next weekend. Then, after an easy week that includes games against LMU (13-14) and Hawaii (6-17), the Bruins have to batten down the hatches as they hit the road for a grueling four-game trip.
UCI Baseball, Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports
A quick visit to the OC to face the No. 23 UC-Irvine Anteaters gets things started for UCLA, but a three-game series with the conference-leading Ducks in Eugene, Ore. is the main course.
No. 10 Oregon, which only took 2-of-3 versus USC in its Pac-12 opener, has since rattled off seven straight wins to claim the top spot in the standings. The mini-streak includes two conference sweeps, including one over defending national champion Arizona.
When the Bruins come to town the weekend of April 20, it’ll essentially be a homecoming for the Ducks after an eight-game road swing that starts this week. Needless to say, UO will have all the motivation in the world to upend UCLA and improve upon its 15-3 record at PK Park this year.
After the series in Eugene, UCLA has a short turnaround before welcoming perennially-pesky LBSU to JRS for the second game of the season set. The Bruins played the Dirtbags in Long Beach at the beginning of March, winning by a slim margin of 3-2, and they’ll hope to do the same this time around.
UCLA then rounds out its April schedule with the most dreaded road trip in the Pac-12, as the Bruins will head to Pullman to line-up with the Washington State Cougars. And though the Cougs aren’t the class of the conference, it’s never easy to play on the Palouse, as evidenced by WSU’s .750 winning percentage at home. If the Bruins manage to make it home from Washington with their title hopes alive, it would have to be considered a major success.
But what would be their reward? Well, another difficult Tuesday test against Irvine seems a fitting final game for a hellish month.
Suffice it to say, the schedule is stacked against UCLA in April, and how the Bruins come out of it will be very telling. If head coach John Savage can conjure up at least 12 wins out of the 17 games, UCLA figures to be in prime postseason position by the end of the penultimate month.