With the regular season over and the goal of winning a national championship now looming, UCLA baseball is straddling the barrier between two phases of their season. The team now finds itself in a balancing act of forgetting the past while ignoring the future.
But the Bruins are focused at the task at hand: advancing past the NCAA regionals they are hosting this weekend.
“Obviously everyone’s goal is to make the College World Series, but you don’t want to look too far ahead,” said junior infielder Pat Gallagher.
“We just have to take it one day at a time, one game at a time and just go from there.”
By the nature of the tournament, the Bruins don’t have the option to look too far ahead.
UCLA will play San Diego State (31-29) today to open the regional, but won’t know its next opponent until the game ends, as the outcome determines who it plays on Saturday.
UCLA will play one or both of Cal Poly (39-17) and San Diego (35-23) the rest of the weekend.
After finishing the regular season ranked No. 10 in the nation and earning third place in a challenging Pac-12 conference, the Bruins have proven that they are capable of defeating top-tier opponents.
“This has been a really good team and I think we’re in position to make a run at this thing,” said sophomore catcher Shane Zeile.
The Bruins are looking to advance past the regionals, and they believe they have the talent to do so.
Several UCLA players earned All-Pac-12 honors on Wednesday.
Sophomore pitcher David Berg was named the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year and junior infielder Pat Valaika was chosen as Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year. Berg and Valaika, along with junior pitchers Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig, were all named to the All-Conference Team, and junior outfielder Brian Carroll and sophomore infielder Kevin Kramer earned honorable mentions.
But while UCLA (39-17, 21-9 Pac-12) has a team full of talent, it doesn’t expect anything to come easily this weekend.
“We played well enough to be one of the 16 hosts and now it’s an opportunity for us to take advantage of how well we’ve played. But we realize that it’s a new season and things come up and everybody’s good this time of year. If you’re still playing, you got a good team, so nobody’s taking anything for granted,” said coach John Savage.
The Bruins are starting fresh in the postseason and ignoring the recent past, but they don’t mind looking back a bit further, hoping that their wealth of postseason experience will come in handy.
“Many of those guys have won the Pac-12 two years ago in 2011-2012 and a lot of them have been to Omaha (for the College World Series), so … there’s plenty of experience on the field,” Savage said.
Much of that playoff experience has come at home as well, as UCLA earned a hosting role in the regional round for the fourth consecutive year.
“South Carolina and Virginia are the only two schools that have (hosted a regional for the past four years straight), so I think our guys are proud of what they’ve done and now we have an opportunity to achieve some of our goals. The regular season is now behind us, we can build off what we did and now it’s a new season,” Savage said.