UCLA Baseball: Bruins Top LMU for Series Win, Look Ahead to Huge Week


UCLA 3B Kevin Kramer (7) applies the tag for the front end of a double play vs. LMU, Credit: Jeff Poirier

The No. 13 UCLA baseball team got back to its winning ways last week, posting a 3-1 record against Hawaii and Loyola Marymount after dropping five of seven previously. The trio of victories lifted the Bruins’ record to 22-10, boosting them back up the national rankings. And while it’s true that the Rainbows and Lions don’t present the most formidable competition, the Bruins have to play and beat the teams they’re supposed to. Aside from Sunday’s 4-1 series finale loss to LMU, John Savage‘s club did just that.

Things got started on Tuesday when UCLA hosted Hawaii at Jackie Robinson Stadium for a single-game showdown. The Rainbows entered the contest at 7-21, so the Bruins were expected to win handily. Freshman starter Cody Poteet had an outstanding game, allowing just two hits and zero runs through 5.0 innings to secure the win. When you see the final score (5-1), it would appear that UCLA did indeed walk over Hawaii, but that’s not quite the case.

The Bruins’ bats only mustered four hits, which isn’t an anomaly for this team. Offensive consistency has been hard to come by, and it has put a major strain on the usually solid pitching staff. Had it not been for some opportune hits with runners in scoring position, the midweek win could have been much closer.

UCLA gets a hit vs. LMU, Credit: Jeff Poirier

Nonetheless, a win’s a win. The Bruins came out on top and built a little momentum heading into the LMU series. The good times kept rolling for UCLA, as the first two games fell in their favor. Starter pitchers Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig were both spectacular against the Lions and locked up close wins (2-0, 3-1 respectively). But for the offense, it was another tough weekend. Plutko survived only four hits of support, while Vander Tuig benefited from eight scattered Bruins base knocks.

Sunday starter Grant Watson wasn’t so lucky, as he suffered a loss after the batters posted just five hits and one run in the finale. Admittedly, Watson didn’t have a great outing, but the team isn’t going to win if the offense continues to sputter. Hitting coach Rex Peters has greatly improved the Bruins offense since coming to Westwood last year, but it’s time to take the next step.

Unfortunately, UCLA doesn’t have much time to sit and reflect on the problems at the plate. The Bruins get back to the grind this week, facing a four-game slate versus ranked foes on the road. First up is a midweek trip to Irvine to face No. 21 UCI (23-9), followed by a weekend set in Eugene with No. 7 Oregon (27-8). The duel with the Ducks is the definition of crucial, as they are two games ahead of UCLA in the loss column despite having played one more conference series. If the Bruins don’t take two from UO, their dreams of a Pac-12 title will only be real while they’re sleeping.

However, in spite of the severity of the series, the Bruins better not get caught looking ahead when they take the field on Tuesday. The Anteaters are the real deal, and they won’t simply roll over when UCLA comes into their house. UCI has already gone 4-1 against the Pac-12 this season, taking 3-of-4 against Cal in Irvine and besting the USC Trojans at Dedeaux Field. The Eaters also went 7-0 versus Baylor, LMU and Hawaii, a group of squads that the Bruins went 5-2 against. If the bats are a no-show again, don’t be surprised to see UCLA fly north on a two-game losing streak.

UCLA dugout during game vs. LMU, Credit: Jeff Poirier

In case it wasn’t clear enough, this week will be a definitive one for the Bruins. A nice non-conference win and a series victory would give UCLA momentum heading into the last month of the season. A loss on Tuesday, though not devastating, would be another sign that they’re not there yet. But a midweek loss coupled with a series defeat in Eugene would mean the Bruins are in trouble, and it may be time to hit the panic button.

A berth in the postseason is still in the cards for UCLA, but a return trip to Omaha and the College World Series is what this program is all about. The Bruins are playing for championships these days, and simply making the NCAA Tournament isn’t enough anymore. Savage has instilled the expectation that UCLA should be hosting regionals and super regionals every year, but the fate of 2013 remains to be seen. Unless the offense can pick up the slack and quick, it’ll be a tough road back to the promised land this year.