Well over halfway through its season, UCLA baseball’s record has always hovered around .500.
A pendulum swing between a similar number of wins and losses for the Bruins has placed them at dead-even overall, even after taking the series against Stanford over the weekend.
The Bruins (16-16, 9-6 Pac-12) will have a chance to push past their .500 winning percentage when they face the No. 17 Long Beach State Dirtbags (22-12, 7-2 Big West) at home Tuesday.
“Whenever you play our schedule midweek, you’re going to have your hands full,” said coach John Savage. “We expect Long Beach to be very good.”
In last year’s matchup, the teams split two games. The first game resulted in a 10-1 loss, but the Bruins scored a season-high eight runs in the first inning of the second matchup to win 11-10 in May.
This season, the Bruins and the Dirtbags have posted very similar numbers – UCLA’s team batting average falls at .262, with Long Beach State averaging .265.
“They’re winning a lot of series and playing extremely well,” Savage said.
The Bruins have improved their offense as of late. In late March, UCLA was only hitting .209 and averaged .135 with runners in scoring position.
“They kind of remind me of our team in that they are very scrappy,” said sophomore pitcher Jon Olsen. “They find a way to win innings and win ballgames, so it’s definitely going to be a hard-fought battle on Tuesday.”
In the Bruins’ last three-game series, they collected 27 hits, 15 of those hits being from the freshmen class.
Savage has found offensive success in freshmen right fielder Michael Toglia, designated hitter Kyle Cuellar, second baseman Chase Strumpf, third baseman Ryan Kriedler and shortstop Jack Stronach.
After redshirt sophomore shortstop Nick Valaika broke his hand, Stronach has stepped into an offensive and defensive role, hitting five doubles in 35 at-bats with a .314 average.
As for Long Beach State, the Dirtbags have found success in their veteran team presence.
Their experienced roster, along with their lone freshman position player, recorded an eight-game winning streak until it was recently snapped Saturday.
On the mound, UCLA pitching is posting a 3.91 earned run average and Long Beach State is giving up a slightly lower ERA of 3.02.
The Bruins will look to sophomore left hander Justin Hooper to take the mound at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Hooper is posting a 4.97 ERA – in his most recent outing, Hooper only tossed 3 2/3 innings, giving up three runs on five hits.
Although Tuesday seems to be a well-matched game for the Bruins, the good news is they have kept themselves in a good position to still potentially win their conference.
The series against Stanford pushed UCLA to third in the Pac-12 standings just in time to push pause before facing Big West Long Beach.