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Baseball overcomes Baylor in series victory

By Lee Witbeck

Feb. 27, 2012 2:11 a.m.

As the UCLA baseball team filed back into the clubhouse on Sunday afternoon, there was barely a face without a smile, no hand without a high five.

The Bruins had just won over visiting Baylor, the final score 8-6 and the finish dramatic. The win Sunday secured the series victory for UCLA, their first this season and an important one.

The Friday game was a 15-3 pounding by the Bears (6-2), a game from which the Bruins (4-3) rebounded on Saturday to win 9-3.

“Baylor’s a very, very good team, we know that,” said coach John Savage on Sunday. “They came out and thumped us on Friday, handed it to us. As good a beating as you’re gonna see on Friday night. The last two days, if you really watched it, we played the way we were expecting to play.”

8-6 and 9-3 wins? That, following Tuesday’s 19-7 victory over Cal State Northridge? It’s quite a departure for the Bruins, who have relied almost entirely on pitching the past few years for their wins. Is this the sort of baseball to expect from UCLA this season?

According to Savage, absolutely.

“I think this year, probably yes,” Savage said. “There’s gonna be a lot more guys used, more guys that we’ve used in a long time on the mound. … I think there’s a formula there. We’re gonna find a way. It’s gonna be a different way, that’s for sure.”

Too often last year, the Bruins left runs on the board with wins there for the taking.

On Sunday, down 6-4 in the eighth inning, the Bruins got exactly the hits they needed, putting up four runs to go up 8-6.

To the players and coaches alike, that sounds about right.

“That’s what everyone was saying after the game,” said sophomore shortstop Pat Valaika. “That felt like how we should be playing. All the pieces were working, we’re getting on base, not striking out, being tough outs, that’s what we’re striving for.”

It wasn’t just good hitting, but timely hitting, as well. “We had six two-out runs, and that’s the difference in the game,” Savage said. “When we don’t get so antsy and out of character, we can hit. … We got after it at 9 o’clock Monday morning, and kind of redid our offensive mindset.”

As expected, without former Bruins Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, UCLA’s pitching has not been as dominant. The bullpen is full of young arms, as is the rotation.

This weekend, however, was clear indication that despite less certainty on the mound, the men behind the pitchers are reliable and even spectacular at times.

“Everyone knows our outfield already, three incredible outfielders,” said junior third basemen Cody Regis. “I think our infield’s the same way. I think, defensively, we could be, should be ““ will be one of the best teams in the country.”

It’s not the formulaic, repetitive result seen in years prior, and it may mean a few more losses. But Savage and the team aren’t rattled.

“Our mission statement is “˜find a way,'” Savage said. “It probably can say, “˜another way.’ … It’s gonna be a different approach.”

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Lee Witbeck
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