Cal State Fullerton may not be in the same conference as UCLA, but that does not mean the two schools are not familiar with each other.
“It’s always a good test,” said junior center fielder Daniel Amaral. “It’s always a fun game when you play a team that close to you. I’m sure everyone on our team knows someone on the other side.”
No. 11 UCLA baseball (6-1) will travel to Fullerton (1-6) for the first road game of the year Tuesday.
Coach John Savage and the Bruins have played the Titans at least twice in every season since he took over as manager in 2004. Since Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook took over in 2012, the Titans have gone 235-127 with two World Series appearances, and have split their 14 meetings with UCLA.
“I know their coaching staff really well,” Savage said. “I know their program. They’re really good. This will be a good first road test.”
Fullerton was ranked 17th in the preseason polls but has dropped out of the rankings after losing six of seven games to start the season. After reaching the College World Series last year for the 18th time in the school’s history after a 39-24 regular season, the Titans have started the season batting just .214 while only driving in 20 runs.
“Fullerton has been really good in the past few years,” said Amaral. “They were a good team last year. It’s not just another game, but it is. We’ve got to attack them the same way as every single other game.”
Fullerton lost six position players from a year ago, as well as starting pitchers Connor Seabold and John Gavin, to the MLB draft.
Nearly half of Fullerton’s team this season are newcomers, including pitcher Andrew Quezada, who earned preseason honors, and pitcher Tanner Bibee, who will likely start against the Bruins on Tuesday.
Savage laughed at the thought of Fullerton’s record meaning anything of importance. Of the Titan’s six losses, five have come from the hands of No. 8 Stanford and No. 24 Houston. Fullerton has also held its opponents to under 7 runs in five of its seven games.
“Fullerton’s Fullerton, man,” Savage said. “Regardless if they’re scuffling, and boy, they’re off to a rough start. It doesn’t mean much.”
UCLA has started the season getting on base consistently, ranking in the top 15 in the country in walks, hits by pitch and on-base percentage.
“Lately our coaches have been talking to us about trying to draw walks,” said sophomore first baseman Michael Toglia. “They know that sometimes we’re gonna struggle swinging it, so if we get on base other ways, we can have a chance to produce runs.”
The Bruins are batting .293 and have scored 51 runs to start the season behind Toglia, who is hitting .524 with seven RBIs and 8 runs scored, and sophomore second baseman Chase Strumpf, who has a .391 batting average, 13 RBI’s and five doubles.
Their pitching has also allowed few men on base, as it ranks 4th in the country in walks allowed per nine innings and 16th in strikeout-to-walk ratio.
Sophomore Ryan Garcia is set to take the mound for UCLA. The right-hander pitched five and 2/3 innings of shutout ball with seven strikeouts in his first start on Feb. 20 against Pepperdine.