As a member of one of the country’s strongest conferences, it’s typical for UCLA baseball’s season to come down to the wire. And this year is no different.
Right now, UCLA is tied for second in the Pac-12, two games back with three conference games to play. First-place Oregon State and second-place Oregon played one another this past weekend in a series that ended up in the Beavers’ favor, 2-1. Meanwhile, the Bruins picked up a big sweep over the USC Trojans that bumped them up to a tie with the Ducks.
The Beavers are at 22-5-0 in the conference, while the Bruins and the Ducks sit at 20-7-0. One of these three teams is going to take the conference crown, but whether that team is clad in orange, blue or green could be undecided until Sunday.
The final weekend of Pac-12 play, in which UCLA will play at Stanford,is going to be a big one for deciding the conference standings’ fate. Oregon will travel to face Utah and Oregon State will play Washington State at home.
The sheer number of storyline possibilities for the final weekend make the conference look like a “Pick Your Own Adventure” book. Having taken series from Oregon and UCLA, OSU’s chances for the title are strong but still undecided as of yet.
But before the Bruins embark on the final weekend, they have to play another team that is looking to make a postseason run – the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos.
The Gauchos (31-22) are seeking an at-large bid to the postseason, and a win over the No. 8 Bruins would be a key to snagging one.
“SB’s going to be a good team, this is a must-win for them. They need this to get an at-large bid so they’re going to come at us with everything they’ve got,” said sophomore closer David Berg.
UCSB is fourth in the Big West Conference, out of range of winning the title, but still looking to make a postseason run.
“If we play our kind of baseball, we can beat anyone who steps in the stadium,” said sophomore second baseman Kevin Kramer. “We know they’re fighting for their lives, but it comes down to us playing our kind of baseball.”
While UCLA is often a host team in the postseason, that fate is never easy to guess. The top-16 seeds in the country get to host in the first round, but there is a lot of baseball left before those seeds are chosen. Thus, today could possibly be the Bruins’ final home game of the year.
Even though their identity has always been as a strong road team, the connection they have to their home fans and home stadium is strong.
“It’s always fun to play at Jackie, it’s nice to have our family and friends with us. … I hope and I expect that we’ll have another game here this year, but if we don’t we want to make this a good one,” Berg said.
The challenge of today’s game, playing a team that’s fighting to stay alive, will prepare UCLA going into the deciding final weekend, said coach John Savage.
“SB is one of the hottest teams in the Big West and we need to be ready for everybody,” Savage said. “It’s good to have a chance at home again before Stanford, but we know SB has a lot to play for. We expect a good team to come in.”