Monday, October 23

Team looks to extend streak

As they enter the back half of their schedule, players will try to turn a losing season around

The UCLA baseball team is on the upswing, playing some of its best baseball of the season. The key for the Bruins now is maintaining this surge and refraining from falling into a funk similar to that which characterized much of the first leg of their season.

UCLA (17-19, 9-6 Pac-10) enters tonight’s midweek contest versus UC Riverside riding a four-game win streak that dates back to last Tuesday’s 7-3 road win over No. 19 San Diego State.

With the season past its halfway mark, the outcome of each game is crucial in determining the playoff future for each contending team. Particularly for the Bruins, who are currently ranked 93 in college baseball’s Ratings Percentage Index, the significance of each game increases as the season nears its end.

“Right now, it’s important to make sure that intensity stays up,” coach John Savage said. “We’re still fighting for our lives.”

The Bruins hope to maintain their trend of solid pitching and productive at-bats. Over the weekend, UCLA swept visiting Washington in its first series sweep of the season. The Bruins dominated both on the mound and at the plate throughout the three-game set.

UCLA’s pitching staff held Washington’s offense to just five runs (two earned) and 13 hits during the course of the series. The Bruins’ lineup went 33-for-99 at the plate with three home runs and eight doubles.

Taking the hill for UCLA tonight will be junior right-hander Garett Claypool. Claypool has notched a 3.00 ERA over 18 innings pitched on the season, the second best mark on the team. He has registered 23 strikeouts and issued just four walks in his nine appearances for the Bruins.

In UCLA’s first encounter with UC Riverside this season at Jackie Robinson Stadium, the Highlanders’ lineup had its way with junior left-hander Gavin Brooks, who gave up six runs (five earned) in the top of the second inning before an out was recorded. The Highlanders went on to win the contest 11-1.

But for the Bruins, the focus remains in the forward direction.

“Especially with one month left in the season, it’s really about who’s playing the best baseball now,” Savage said.

Multiple players have stepped up as of late, including veteran senior catcher Gino Aielli and second baseman Eddie Murray.

Aielli has had a stellar season for the Bruins and is batting .342, the highest on the team to date. Aielli walked on to the team at the beginning of his UCLA career after transferring from Saddleback College last season, and has found himself as one of the Bruins’ leaders.

“He’s the perfect example of a player who gets rewarded for his hard work and dedication,” Savage said of Aielli.

Murray has also had a productive season thus far, batting an average of .328, which ranks second on the team behind Aielli. He boasts the highest on-base percentage on the team (.504) and despite beginning the season in the lineup’s No. 9 slot, he has since moved into the lead-off spot.

Redshirt junior center fielder Blair Dunlap continues to perfect his plate presence.

Dunlap homered twice over the weekend, collecting seven RBI and two runs scored. He sat out the majority of his sophomore season with an injured shoulder and received a medical redshirt to compensate.

In his fourth year with the team, he has provided leadership at the plate as well as in the field.

“When he’s healthy and full speed, he’s as good a player as there is in the league,” Savage said.

With such promising talent within the Bruin program, the team hopes to continue its climb to the top and get some more wins under its belt.

“We’re past the hump and playing much better baseball.” Aielli said. “We just want to get to the postseason.”

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