As the regular season nears the finish line, the Bruins continue to battle it out in the Pac-12.
“We’ve been playing for our season the last couple of weeks,” said coach John Savage. “This weekend is no different. It’s very, very important.”
With only three conference series to go, UCLA baseball (24-21, 13-8 Pac-12) is currently tied for second place in the Pac-12 with Stanford.
The Bruins will try to surpass the Cardinal this weekend when they travel to Bailey-Brayton Field and take on the Washington State Cougars (22-22, 8-13) in a three-game road matchup.
Both teams have fared well in recent weekend series. Prior to its sweep of USC last week – which included two shutouts – UCLA won a nonconference series against Cal Poly and managed a 7-1 blowout of No. 1 Oregon State late last month.
To its credit, Washington State has won its last three Pac-12 series against Oregon, Utah and then-No. 30 Washington.
“They’re a pretty hot team,” Savage said. “It’s going to be very competitive.”
For the first time in almost three months, junior Jake Bird will start on the mound for the Bruins this weekend.
The right hander missed 10 starts since injuring his shoulder against Gonzaga in late February and has slowly worked his way back as a reliever. He came on in relief and held USC scoreless for 6 1/3 innings May 5 in one of his longest outings of the season.
“We thought he would miss three or four starts, but it lingered. He wasn’t quite ready,” Savage said. “We were cautious but I think it really paid off.”
Savage said pitchers often have to spend the same amount of time that they missed with injury working to get back to where they were before it, effectively doubling the time off.
Bird will retake the Saturday spot from senior Moises Ceja, with fellow junior Griffin Canning and sophomore Jon Olsen in their usual respective Friday and Sunday roles.
At the plate, UCLA batters are finding their groove. They averaged over eight hits over their past seven games, including 17 in their 13-0 defeat of USC on Saturday. Freshman right fielder Michael Toglia had six RBIs that night, and is currently riding a seven-game hitting streak.
Junior first baseman Sean Bouchard has been successful lately as well, hitting .319 over the course of the Bruins’ last three games and recording an RBI in each of them.
“I think coming off last weekend against USC was definitely big for us in the Pac-12,” Bouchard said. “Especially with the record that we have and knowing that we want to get into a regional, every game is critical.”
UCLA has won eight straight games against Washington State dating back to 2014.
But although the Cougars are currently in ninth place in the Pac-12 and sport a conference-low RPI of 113, the Bruins take nothing for granted.
“They’re always tough,” Bouchard said. “They’ll give you a good game no matter what the record shows, no matter what the score is.”
Game one of the series begins Friday at 7 p.m. and will air on Pac-12 Networks.