UCLA baseball is a lot like an intricate puzzle – it can be tough for the pieces to come together, but when they do, they make the shape of a “W.”
For the No. 10 Bruins, winning is an careful balance of defense, offense and pitching, as opposed to just relying on one big-time aspect of their game to carry them.
No. 4 Cal State Fullerton is one of the strongest baseball programs in Southern California, and their matchups against UCLA have traditionally been some of the most exciting midweek games that the Bruins play.
The Titans, who boast a 24-4 record on the season, are 12-1 in away games, and when they come to Jackie Robinson Stadium tonight they will seek to extend that record.
The matchup against Fullerton kicks off a grinding week for the Bruins, as they face the Titans tonight, then the Oregon State Beavers this weekend.
“You’ve got (Fullerton), then Oregon State and it’s going to be a challenging week,” said coach John Savage. “You’re talking about two of the best teams in the West.”
UCLA is coming off its first series loss of the season, a 1-2 weekend at Arizona State.
The Bruins’ offense struggled on Thursday night, making small pitching and fielding hiccups into big ones as they lost, 4-1.
When their offense was on top of things on Friday and Saturday, the wins were still tough to come by due to a few lost runs, as they lost Friday, 7-4, and won in the 10th, 12-10, in the series finale.
“It was a collective effort; there was a lot of pressure for everyone, it’s been getting better the last few weeks and it’s clicking a little bit more,” said sophomore second baseman Kevin Kramer of the Bruins’ bats on Saturday.
On Saturday, UCLA’s offense showed up in the kind of effort that can push the Bruins to easy wins if their pitching stays top-notch.
They coupled solid hits with taking advantage of key walks and hit by pitches.
“I think the whole weekend we had pretty good at bats,” said junior infielder Kevin Williams.
“It just came together (on Saturday). It was pretty good we got fortunate and hit the ball hard; we stuck with our approach.”
The starting pitchers have been top-tier so far this season for UCLA, but when they have uncharacteristically struggled, as they did last weekend, relievers have been key.
Freshman reliever James Kaprielian just returned from injury, and threw two scoreless innings of relief on Friday.
He should prove to be another key part of a strong Bruin bullpen this season, which is already highlighted by the arms of juniors Ryan Deeter and Zack Weiss, and sophomore David Berg.
The three pitchers combined for seven innings of relief on Saturday and have repeatedly locked down wins for the Bruins this season.
The tough test this week will be putting together that puzzle against strong teams.
“Fullerton is the team to beat in the West and they play as well as anybody,” Savage said.
“This week is really going to be a test for us, and very challenging and a great opportunity.”