Having secured eight wins in its nine-game road swing, UCLA baseball will return to Jackie Robinson Stadium this weekend for the team’s final regular season series, which is against USC.
The final three games of the season mean much more to the No. 9 Bruins (39-14, 17-10 Pac-12) than they do to their opponents, who are dwelling at the depths of the Pac-12 standings, one spot ahead of dead last.
“We’re still in the race for the Pac-12 Championship, so we’ve got to play every game like it’s a championship game. It’ll come down to the last game and we’ve got to play our hearts out,” sophomore shortstop Pat Valaika said.
USC (23-29, 8-19) last met UCLA in March at Dodger Stadium, where freshman left-hander Grant Watson held the Trojans to just two runs. This weekend USC will have to go up against UCLA’s weekend rotation, starting with sophomore ace Adam Plutko in today’s series opener.
UCLA’s bullpen will have the advantage over USC this weekend, but coach John Savage cautioned against any premature celebration.
“USC has played a lot of teams tough, it’ll be a good opportunity for both teams to get after each other. It’s going to be another difficult weekend,” Savage said.
Valaika and junior catcher Tyler Heineman have been especially productive for the Bruins in recent weeks; the duo combined for four hits, two RBI and one run in UCLA’s Tuesday game at UC Irvine.
Both Heineman and Valaika missed last weekend’s series at Cal because of injuries and are hoping to capitalize on UCLA’s final opportunity to climb the conference leaderboard.
“Any time you get to play your rival, it’s special. I feel like it’s going to be a good crowd, and they’re a competitive team,” Heineman said.
Although the upcoming NCAA Regionals begin the first week of June, earning a share of the conference title is still the Bruins’ main goal ““ at least until after this weekend.