Last season, UCLA’s spot as a national seed in the College World Series came largely because of their strength on the road.
The Bruins have the chance to start building that talent up again this weekend when they head to Texas to face the Baylor Bears.
Last weekend was an opportunity for several players who are taking on new roles this season to prove themselves. Sophomore pitcher Grant Watson, who is now the team’s Sunday starter, earned the win against Minnesota with six run-free innings.
“Last year I did get to fill in a few Sunday spots, (starting on Sundays is) new (for me) but I had some confidence,” Watson said.
UCLA’s offense was powerful last weekend, culminating in a 14-run win over Minnesota on Sunday.
“We got a lot more guys into scoring position on Saturday and Sunday … we had quality at-bats,” said junior shortstop Pat Valaika.
The first road trip of the year comes early for No. 12 UCLA, but not as early as expected. The team was slated to play at UC Santa Barbara on Tuesday, but the game was canceled because of rain in the forecast. Although coach John Savage said that midweek games are important for the team to maintain a rhythm, he also said they didn’t suffer from missing the matchup with the Gauchos.
“We like that Tuesday game, it keeps you sharp … but we’re still going to be ready to go,” Savage said.
Their reputation for strength on the road is part of what has set the Bruins apart from other teams. The ability to get good wins on the road, and not just rely on a solid home record, is huge when the end of the season comes around.
With postseason games taking place all over the country, strength away from the comfort of home is vital, and it all starts with road games early in the season.
“I think we’re just excited to see where we’re at. Last year, we were dominant on the road. … We know the importance of playing well on the road,” Valaika said. “We can’t only play well at home.”
To Savage, strong performances away from Jackie Robinson Stadium are not only a good boost to the team’s record but also a key part of the team’s identity.
“We’ve embraced playing on the road for several years, we’ve played well there and it helped us in the conference last year,” Savage said.
“Lots of teams don’t play that well on the road, but we want to create that identity as early as we can.”