Tuesday games aren’t supposed to be this important.
But with UCLA baseball looking for a spot in a 64-team NCAA Tournament with an RPI ranking of 68, every one of the 11 games left in the Bruins’ schedule are going to count.
“Right now, everything’s (as important as) conference,” said coach John Savage. “We need to win as many games as we can.”
UCLA (23-22, 10-11 Pac-12) will finish off a stretch of five straight nonconference games with a matchup against Pepperdine (22-20, 12-9 West Coast Conference) at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Tuesday.
Savage has used a standard starting pitching approach – attempting to get five-plus innings out of his starters – for the first six Tuesday games of the season, yielding a 1-5 record.
When the Bruins played the Waves earlier this season, Savage changed up the strategy. Instead, he started freshman Jon Olsen (0-0, 9.00 ERA) for the first few innings before handing the ball to the bullpen.
UCLA has stuck with that strategy for the last three Tuesday games, going 2-1 in that span. Savage said that Tuesday’s game against Pepperdine would be another Olsen-and-staff day.
The Bruins were able to take each of those two Tuesday games thanks to one big inning. UCLA scored seven in the sixth against Pepperdine three weeks ago to win 10-6 and eight in the first to beat Long Beach State 11-10 last Tuesday.
Pepperdine players to watch out for include freshman left fielder Matthew Kanfer and junior shortstop Manny Jefferson. Kanfer leads his team with 50 hits and a .323 batting average, although only seven of those hits went for extra bases.
Jefferson has also kept his average about .300, but with a lot more power. His 11 home runs are the most of any player on the Waves. The Bruins have hit nine home runs as a team this season.
Pepperdine currently ranks 96th in RPI, 25 spots higher than their previous ranking. The jump was largely due to taking two out of three from BYU. A win against UCLA on the road could help them continue their climb because RPI calculations give extra weight to road victories.
Conversely, hosting the matchup means that the Bruins have more to lose when it comes to RPI.
“(Pepperdine) is in the same boat that we are,” Savage said. “They’re ready to go, they’re battling, so I think it’s very important that we play well this week.”