Sunday, June 16

UCLA Baseball team gets No. 6 seed, will host NCAA Los Angeles Regional starting Friday


The UCLA baseball team was glad to be awake while most students slept in Monday morning.

The Bruins, who in February dreamt of becoming a national seed in this weekend’s NCAA Tournament, were wide-eyed, fixed on the television screens inside the clubhouse at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

Suddenly and almost without warning, the school’s four letters appeared. Immediately and as expected, the No. 6 seed Bruins erupted, releasing a season’s worth of excitement when ESPN’s Selection Monday special cut to highlights of their impressive 43-13 campaign.

“Earning a national seed is a big accomplishment,” sixth-year coach John Savage said. “Certainly, playing on the West coast and playing in the Pac-10, to get out of it the way we did shows a lot about the character of our team.”

UCLA, the host and No. 1 seed of the Los Angeles Regional, will have to bring its best beginning Friday when the team plays Mid-American Conference Tournament champion and No. 4 seed Kent State.

Defending national champion Louisiana State, which also won the Southeastern Conference Tournament over the weekend, earned the regional’s No. 2 seed. UC Irvine, which finished the season as the Big West Conference’s second-place team, got the No. 3 seed.

There might not be a more difficult regional in the entire 64-team field.

“It is the best regional, and it’s definitely the toughest,” junior left-handed pitcher Rob Rasmussen said. “But we wouldn’t have it any other way. The opportunity to take down the defending national champs is something that we’re all excited about.”

“We knew it was going to be a very difficult regional ““ that’s what the postseason is,” Savage said. “There’s no surprises. Kent State is going to be very good, Irvine and LSU are going to be very good. But we’re going to approach it the way we have all year and go about our business this week in practice.”

UCLA coaches and players insist that they won’t overlook Kent State (39-23), but a potential second-game matchup against LSU ““ a perennial national power ““ and UC Irvine ““ a local rival ““ is intriguing. Savage said he does not know what his rotation will look like yet.

There’s a quartet to choose from.

Sophomore right-handers Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer each finished the season with nine wins and a Pac-10-best 124 strikeouts. Rasmussen also won nine games, while senior right-hander Garett Claypool posted a team-best 2.05 earned-run average.

“We’ll hash it out and see what we’re going to do,” Savage added.

The LSU Tigers are expected to bring a large contingent of purple-and-yellow-clad fans. The same can be said for the nearby UCI Anteaters. UCLA understands that it will have to protect its ground.

“We practice here, we take care of this field,” Rasmussen said as players began streaming onto the field for Monday’s two-hour practice. “We know everything about this field. We don’t have to worry about figuring out the dimensions, how the mound is or how the ball rolls on the infield. We can just go out and play.”

Hence the importance of being pegged as a regional host.

“We’ve put ourselves in a good position to go far,” sophomore infielder Tyler Rahmatulla said. “It doesn’t matter who we play. We’re just going to play the same way we’ve been playing all year.”

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