For UCLA baseball, the season started well enough, as the defending national champions began the season ranked No. 12 and were picked to finish third in the Pac-12.
Coming off of the College World Series championship high, the Bruins fared well in their first month of play, winning seven of their first 11 games.
Then began the downfall, as their injury-ridden season proved to be one of the most challenging, especially in terms of home play.
The Bruins have been known to play a spectacular road game and have rarely been an under .500 team at home.
That changed this season.
For the first time since 2005, UCLA will end the season with a losing record at home (11-20), going .355 and earning the second-fewest home wins in a season at the Jackie Robinson Stadium.
After a month of play, the Bruins were knocked down to No. 25 and teetered between 18th, 21st and 22nd in the rankings before falling off the top 25 in early April.
Coach John Savage attributed their bad play to lack of discipline on the field.
“We just lacked discipline, I think. We’ve always been one of the best road teams in the country,” he said. “But maybe we got too comfortable. I wish I had a better answer.”
However, not all has been negative for a team trying to reestablish itself for the upcoming season.
Despite losing one of the top closers in the country, junior David Berg, to a shoulder injury over a month ago, UCLA’s bullpen served as an anchor throughout the season, according to redshirt sophomore infielder Justin Hazard. Hazard was also complimentary of the team’s starting pitching.
“Our starting pitching was really good this year,” Hazard said. “Towards the end, it kind of scuffled, but they got back on it and did a very good job.”
A bright prospect for rebuilding next year, junior catcher Shane Zeile has had a transformative career at UCLA, successfully transitioning from infielder – playing first or second base – to catcher last year, which helped accommodate the shifting roster full of injuries and mishaps this season.
Just last week, Zeile was named a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award, given to the nation’s top collegiate catcher.
Zeile leads the team and ranks seventh in the Pac-12 with a .335 batting average and 27 RBI this season.
Zeile still has a full year ahead of him and feels like he has much more to contribute to the program after the team’s down year.
“Obviously we’re disappointed that we couldn’t follow our national championship run with a successful season,” he said. “But we can definitely learn from this season. We just have to regroup and continue growing as a team through the summer.”