Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
After posting a 2-1 victory over UC Santa Barbara in the home finale on Tuesday, the No. 8 UCLA baseball team heads to Palo Alto for the last regular season series of the season.
The Stanford Cardinal (30-21, 14-13 Pac-12) enter the meeting with the Bruins in desperation mode, looking to salvage their season and sneak into the NCAA Tournament. Stanford started the year ranked in all of the national polls, but has since slipped out due to an ugly RPI ranking that now sits at 80th in the country.
Given the fact that only 64 teams make the cut for NCAA Regionals, it’s clear the Card need to make a major splash in the final series of the season. And what better chance to do so than against a Top 10 team like UCLA?
If Stanford can find a way to sweep or at least win the series this weekend, there would still be a glimmer of hope on Monday when the NCAA field is announced on ESPNU. But another loss or two would be the final nail in the coffin for the Cardinal.
For the Bruins, the set versus Stanford is far less critical, but there’s still plenty to play for. UCLA (38-15, 20-7 Pac-12) is a lock for postseason play, and is all but assured to host a regional. How do I know that? Well, they’ve already constructed an additional grand stand at Jackie Robinson Stadium, which probably isn’t for the crowd to watch the grass grow.
Even so, the Bruins are still on the outside looking in as far as national seeds go with an RPI of 17. A series win or sweep of the Cardinal this weekend could push them into the conversation, especially if a few teams ahead of them lose. The ESPN college baseball blog doesn’t give UCLA a chance to earn a national seed, but until everything goes final we can hold out hope.
And, if that wasn’t motivation enough, the Bruins are still (technically) alive for a Pac-12 Conference title shot. No. 4 Oregon State (43-9, 22-5 Pac-12) holds the lead by two games and hosts Washington State in Corvallis this weekend. The Beavers have only lost one conference series all season, and though it’s unlikely they do so against the Cougs, anything is possible. If UCLA sweeps Stanford and Wazzu somehow sweeps OSU, the Bruins would be Pac-12 champs. But if the Beavs win even one game, they would clinch the conference crown.
First pitch at Sunken Diamond is scheduled for 7 PM PST tomorrow, followed by 7 PM and 3 PM starts on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. All three games will be televised live on the Pac-12 Networks.
Stanford’s Friday night starter, Mark Appel, is considered to be one of the top pitching prospects in the nation. The senior right-hander has been projected by some outlets as the No. 1 pick in the upcoming MLB Draft, and is a consensus Top 5 selection. If only to see Appel go to work, make sure to tune in this weekend for another exciting series of UCLA baseball.