UCLA baseball coach John Savage said his team’s destiny is in its own hands.
The Bruins, ranked 56th in RPI, enter their final weekend of the year on the bubble for the NCAA Tournament. But it’s not the only factor determining whether they make the field of 64 in June.
“There’s a lot more than the RPI,” Savage said. “At the end of the day, we played a bunch of top-25 teams, RPI-wise, and top-50 teams, and we’ve played well. I think there’s a strong case.”
UCLA (28-24, 17-10 Pac-12) has one more chance to strengthen its tournament resume this weekend on the road against Oregon (29-23, 11-16). The Bruins are 11-10 against the Ducks since 2010.
On paper, Oregon and UCLA boast similar pitching staffs. The Bruins rank third in the Pac-12 in team ERA while the Ducks rank fifth.
Each squad’s rotation is headed by a MLB draft prospect. Duck southpaw David Peterson, who leads the conference in strikeouts at 131 and owns a 2.31 ERA, will start Thursday. The Bruins will counter with junior ace Griffin Canning who possesses a 2.55 ERA and 124 whiffs this year.
Both of UCLA’s other weekend starters, junior Jake Bird and sophomore Jon Olsen, have ERAs south of 3.15, but their Oregon counterparts, Cole Stringer and Matt Mercer, both sit under 3.50 in ERA.
The Ducks also have one of the conference’s best closers in Kenyon Yovan. He’s accumulated 14 saves and has garnered a 2.08 ERA thus far. Since being named closer, senior Scott Burke has been just as effective, allowing just two runs in eight innings.
With the tournament selection show slated for Monday, the NCAA baseball committee will make its decisions over the course of the weekend.
Winning games early in the series could push teams into receiving one of 33 at-large bids available, as most series will start one day earlier across the country. But Savage said his team is not following that philosophy this weekend.
“It’s not so much about winning early in the series,” Savage said. “I think it’s more about (winning) the series. If we can do that, that would be big for us.”
UCLA gained some ground in RPI last weekend after sweeping Utah, but Tuesday’s loss against UC Irvine thwarted the team’s momentum.
Savage said winning the weekend series would get the team back on track before potentially heading into the postseason.
“We’re on track,” Savage said. “It’s just a matter of learning from (Tuesday) night and realizing we can’t play like that in May and June and expect to reap the benefits. So we need to answer back.”
Sophomore pitcher Justin Hooper has sat out the past two weeks because of a concussion, Savage said. But the left-hander will be available out of the bullpen for this weekend’s series.
Hooper missed his latest start Tuesday because of the injury. He owns a 3.74 ERA through 45 2/3 innings with 51 strikeouts compared to 25 walks.