Everything changed with one swing of Tyler Rahmatulla’s bat.
UCLA was down to its last out, on the precipice of being eliminated from the 2010 NCAA Super Regionals by its long-time nemesis, Cal State Fullerton. It would mean a disappointing exit for a team with dreams of Omaha, a team with home-field advantage.
It would also be deja vu for a UCLA program that could never supplant Fullerton as the paragon of Southern California baseball.
But a home run by Rahmatulla helped the Bruins snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. A day later, they defeated a dazed Titan team to win the Super Regional and advance to the College World Series.
In the process, UCLA turned the tables on Fullerton and cemented the rivalry as one of the best non-conference tiffs in the country.
It’s renewal time.
The teams will meet today in Fullerton, the first of a pair of regular season showdowns that tend to carry heavy implications when it comes to postseason resumes.
“They’re looking for revenge for last year I’m sure,” junior pitcher Trevor Bauer said. “Anytime you can go up against an opponent like Fullerton and get a good game like that, it’s a good test for a team.”
No. 24 UCLA (11-8, 2-1 Pac-10) hasn’t exactly achieved the high marks it hoped for early in the season. A year after winning their first 22 games, the Bruins have struggled with inconsistency ““ particularly offensively ““ out of the gate.
UCLA did, however, take two out of three on the road against USC over the weekend to open conference play, an indicator that perhaps things are starting to turn around.
No. 12 Fullerton (16-8) meanwhile, has its fair share of ups and downs ““ mostly the former ““ while playing one of the more difficult early-season schedules in the country.
The Titans suffered through a four-game losing streak that included being swept by LSU in Baton Rouge, but responded by winning eight of their next nine, including three wins over Washington and four over Hawai’i.
“I expect a really hard-fought battle,” said Bauer, who was named the National Player of the Week after setting the UCLA career strikeout record against USC.
“I don’t think either one of us is going to roll over for the other one.”
Tuesday night games during the Pac-10 season are particularly important for teams in Southern California, where the number of successful programs is high. Matchups against the likes of Fullerton, UC Irvine and Long Beach State are crucial to much of the criteria that goes into playoff seeding ““ things like strength of schedule and quality road wins.
“They’re all big,” coach John Savage said. “Every Tuesday from here on out is big. It’s really like a mini two-game series against all those teams. We prepare for those games as much as we do for conference games.”
Still, few things are bigger than when the Bruins clash with the Titans, who have long been a barometer for success in the region.
It remains to be seen whether or not last year’s Super Regional ““ with all of its drama and late-game heroics ““ represented a changing of the guard.
“It’s always big against those guys,” Savage said. “This is two real good programs playing each other for the first time since that great weekend.”
Bauer honored again
Bauer picked up two more awards for throwing 16 scoreless innings over two games last week. He was named the Pac-10 pitcher of the week for the fifth time in his career Monday.
He also earned the Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week award from Collegiate Baseball ““the fourth time in his career that’s happened.
He allowed just three hits and an opponent’s batting average of .059 on his way to becoming UCLA’s all-time strikeout leader Saturday.