Saturday, March 28

Baseball prepares to take on first ranked opponents of the season

Sophomore first baseman Michael Toglia has been locked in at the plate hitting .400 with four home runs through 12 games this season. He and the Bruins will face two top-15 teams this weekend followed by a meeting with USC at Dodger Stadium on Sunday. (Abraham Ramirez/Daily Bruin)

The Bruins lost top-hitting first baseman Sean Bouchard to Major League Baseball over the summer, but his replacement has been nothing short of impressive.

Sophomore Michael Toglia, who made the shift from right field to first base, is currently batting .400 while slugging .800 with 12 RBIs and four home runs.

“He’s just made big strides,” said coach John Savage. “He’s more mature, he’s stronger physically, he’s using the whole field better, he’s seeing the ball well, he’s hitting with two strikes better. Those are all characteristics when you see a player make a jump that you like to see.”

Toglia has stepped up to lead No. 11 UCLA baseball (10-2) to one of its best offensive starts since 2015, but it will be tested this weekend in the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic against No. 15 Vanderbilt (10-4), No. 8 TCU (8-3) and unranked USC (8-3).

In the 2017 season, the switch-hitter started 48 games as a freshman and was second on the team in RBIs, home runs and slugging percentage, earning him recognition on the Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American Team. Toglia replaces Bouchard, who led UCLA last season batting .306 with 43 RBIs and nine home runs.

“I think (my hitting) has carried over in the sense that I’ve seen what I can do,” Toglia said. “Now, it’s time to make it more consistent and see if I can bring it out more often.”

Toglia batted .261 with a .382 on-base percentage and led the team in strikeouts despite having 40 fewer at-bats than Bouchard, the team leader in at-bats. This season, he’s improved his on-base percentage to .525 and taken more walks than strikeouts.

“(Assistant coach Bryant Ward) has done a really good job with (Toglia) on his timing, his rhythm and his pitch selection,” Savage said. “It’s not perfect, but at the same time this is an imperfect game and he’s really made major strides on getting better.”

Toglia headlines UCLA’s strong sophomore class, which includes second baseman Chase Strumpf and shortstop Ryan Kreidler, who were some of the Bruins’ top hitters as freshmen. The three infielders, along with sophomores left fielder Jeremy Ydens and designated hitter Kyle Cuellar, have propelled UCLA to 88 runs in 12 games.

“I think we have a lot of potential (as hitters),” Ydens said. “We have a lot of work to do still, but I think a lot of guys in the middle order, especially Toglia and (Strumpf), have a lot of power and ability to drive a lot of runs in.”

UCLA hasn’t scored this many runs since it recorded 105 through the first 12 games of the 2015 season. The Bruins finished that season 45-16, with three of those losses coming against the same teams that they are slated to play this weekend.

The Bruins will face their first ranked teams of the season in Vanderbilt and TCU at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Friday and Saturday, respectively. They will then take on crosstown rival USC at Dodger Stadium for the fourth year in a row Sunday.

Both Vanderbilt and TCU feature two players each on the USA Baseball Golden Spikes watch list made up of the 55 players seen most likely to be named the best amateur baseball player in the country.

“You’re talking about three pretty hot teams,” Savage said. “It will be a great opportunity to see where we’re at going into conference.”

First pitch against Vanderbilt is set for 6 p.m. on Friday at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

Sports staff

Kearns is currently a Sports staff writer. He was previously a reporter for the women's volleyball and baseball beats.

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