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Home games are far from a sure thing, as the UCLA baseball team knows far too well.
We’re not just talking about wins, either ““ Tuesday night’s scheduled matchup with Cal State Fullerton at Jackie Robinson Stadium was canceled because an electrical malfunction knocked out a number of lights down the left-field line.
Barring any outrageous postseason occurrences, this weekend will mark UCLA’s last appearance in Westwood this season. The Bruins (29-19, 14-7 Pac-10) will host California (29-16, 12-9) in the penultimate conference weekend of the year.
Aside from being the last opportunity to hear Jackie Robinson Stadium PA announcer Tom Snyder this season, or worrying about your parked car being struck by a foul ball to right field, the weekend tilt holds big postseason implications.
Still not guaranteed a spot in an NCAA regional ““ with a middle-of-the-road RPI ““ UCLA would do themselves well to hold serve at home against a solid Cal team.
“I wouldn’t call this pressure; we’re looking at this as an opportunity,” coach John Savage said. “It’s an opportunity for us to really cement ourselves heading into the postseason.”
First place in the Pac-10 is still not out of the question; the Bruins sit two games behind conference front-runner Oregon State and in a second-place tie with Arizona State. The Beavers host USC this weekend, while the Sun Devils travel north for a three-game set with Washington.
But UCLA’s focus will be in Westwood, which will play host to a Cal program that has had a tumultuous year to say the least.
Earlier this year, the Cal athletic department announced that baseball would be one of five programs cut as a budget casualty. The move led to defections from the team, one of which was freshman pitcher Eric Jaffe, who came to UCLA.
But in April, the program was reinstated after reeling in $9 million in pledges from supporters.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Cal program,” Savage said. “To undergo that kind of traumatic experience ““ I can’t imagine what it’s like to have your program cut. They’ve really bonded together and played well.”
With just seven games remaining, the time is ripe for UCLA to begin playing its best baseball of the year. UCLA is certainly getting that level of performance from at least a couple of their players: Junior Trevor Bauer and freshman Adam Plutko have been stellar in holding down the Saturday and Sunday starting pitching slots, respectively.
If UCLA gets dominance from junior starter Gerrit Cole, who is certainly capable of such and whom Savage said is in “a good place mentally,” its rotation will be one of the strongest around.
That leaves the bats.
“Consistency on offense is really something we’re trying to shore up here,” Savage said. “With not many games left, we have to continue to string together quality at-bats.”
Cal enters the series having played up-and-down baseball the last few weeks ““ the Bears are 5-7 in their last 12 games. Still, they should be in good postseason shape playing in a conference that sent eight teams to the playoffs last season.