The hardest part of the season may very well be in the past, but the battle-tested Bruins have no intention of taking their foot off the gas pedal.
UCLA baseball (19-18, 10-8 Pac-12) won five of its last eight games in arguably the most difficult stretch of its schedule, clinching two midweek games over the No. 11 Long Beach State Dirtbags, a series against the No. 20 Stanford Cardinal and one game versus the top-ranked Oregon State Beavers.
The Bruins increased their RPI from No. 67 last week to No. 48.
“I think it just put into perspective how good we are and what we’re capable of,” said sophomore catcher Gavin Johns.
But the Bruins still have work to do.
The squad squares off against the Cal Poly Mustangs (18-21, 8-4 Big West) in a three-game nonconference series at Jackie Robinson Stadium over the weekend.
UCLA coach John Savage said treating every game with equal importance is paramount.
“You better make it a conference series and come in ready to play or Cal Poly will beat you – and they’re a hot team,” Savage said. “It’s going to be a tough, competitive series.”
After a lackluster 8-16 start to the season, Cal Poly has rebounded to take 10 of its last 15 games, largely under the command of outfielder Alex McKenna. He leads the team in home runs, RBIs and stolen bases and touts a .368 batting average.
The Mustangs also have a solid pitcher in Spencer Howard, who has posted a 2.31 ERA on the season with a 3-1 record as a starter.
“We can’t relax,” Savage said. “There’s no relaxation on the West Coast this time of year.”
Junior pitcher Griffin Canning will start the series on the mound for the Bruins. The right hander has increased his clout as one of college baseball’s premiere pitchers this season with 12 strikeouts in three games and 88 total in his 11 starts.
Canning pitched 10 strikeouts in seven innings against the Beavers on April 21 before redshirt senior Nick Kern took over as relief.
The Bruins’ pitching staff allows an average of 7.63 hits per nine innings, placing them No. 15 in the NCAA, and holds a 3.54 ERA on the season.
Senior Moises Ceja and sophomore Jon Olsen will headline UCLA’s pitching staff Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
The Bruins’ offense has burgeoned into a display of power-hitting. The team will be looking for big performances out of junior first baseman Sean Bouchard, freshman infielder Kyle Cuellar and Johns, all of whom have notched above .300 batting averages on the season.
“We’re playing to improve our record, improve our RPI and just win ball games however we can,” said sophomore pitcher Justin Hooper. “It’s not really about season, it’s about postseason. We’re just trying to take care of business now.”