Thursday, September 21

Baseball approaches end of regular season

Series victory over Arizona State would greatly improve Bruins' postseason chances

Senior Dustin Quist (right) looks to extend his collegiate career with a series victory this weekend.

Senior Dustin Quist (right) looks to extend his collegiate career with a series victory this weekend. Elaine Hu

The UCLA baseball team finds itself in an unenviable position, and the Bruins know it.

They know that their entire season hinges on how they perform this weekend.

They know that to earn a regional bid, only an impressive series victory against Arizona State in Tempe will do.

But despite the Bruins’ slim chances of reaching a fourth consecutive postseason, they cling to the last bit of hope.

“We need to believe in ourselves,” coach John Savage said.

Currently sitting in third place in conference standings, the Bruins (26-27, 14-10 Pac-10) face the No. 3 Sun Devils this weekend in a three-game set at Packard Stadium.

Arizona State (42-11, 19-5) is a staggering 29-3 at home this season, while UCLA is 10-14 away from Westwood.

Aside from playing the conference leader on the road, the Bruins look to contain an Arizona State team that has outscored its opponents 41-5 in its last five contests. The Sun Devils, who have won nine-straight games and have not left the state of Arizona since early May, swept Oregon last weekend to capture at least a share of a third consecutive Pac-10 Championship.

“We knew we had a ton of work to do this week,” Savage said following the Bruins’ heartbreaking 5-4 loss at UC Irvine on Tuesday. “Nothing changes at ASU, really. We’ve still got to go out and play well.”

Yet even if the Bruins play well, it seems like only a series sweep of the Sun Devils would put them on the selection bubble.

By winning two of the three games this weekend, the Bruins would finish with a balanced 28-28 record. A series victory would also give UCLA a chance to surpass Washington State in the conference standings.

Savage has maintained that the NCAA Tournament selection committee would have a tough time ignoring the Pac-10′s second-place team. His views about the weekend were clear, although he did not state whether the Bruins need to sweep to make the postseason.

“You can’t say, “˜Hey, we’ve got to go in there and sweep,’” Savage said. “You just don’t talk to a team like that.”

Savage will send freshman pitcher Gerrit Cole to the mound to start tonight’s series opener. Cole will likely be opposed by All-America candidate Mike Leake, who touts a 13-1 record and 1.35 earned run average.

Cole suffered the loss in his last outing, which also was his first career relief appearance. He allowed an unearned run.

“He’s a team player,” Savage said. “He was willing to do it. The pitching count was going to be down.”

The right-hander threw only eight pitches in what Savage called a “regional setting.”

The Bruins will play in yet another postseason environment beginning tonight.

“We’re going to try and go out there and send them a message,” senior first baseman Cody Decker said.

UCLA was swept in its trip to Tempe in 2007. Last year, the Sun Devils took two of three from the Bruins at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

The Sun Devils have been the best team in the conference despite losing 15 players to the MLB Draft last June. But Savage believes his team is on their level.

“We can play with anybody in the country, we’ve proven that,” he said.

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