Wednesday, April 8

Baseball’s matchup with UC Irvine pits UCLA coach against former team

Coach John Savage will get a chance to face off against UC Irvine on Tuesday. The Bruin head coach was instrumental in the revival of the Anteaters baseball program. (Isabelle Roy/Daily Bruin senior staff)

It won’t be just another game for coach John Savage and the Bruins on Tuesday.

No. 13 UCLA baseball (22-9, 11-4 Pac-12) will take on UC Irvine (20-14) – Savage’s former team – at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Tuesday in the first of two meetings between the teams this season.

The Bruins and the Anteaters have some delicate connections. UCLA plucked its current director of athletics, Dan Guerrero, and current baseball coach from the Anteaters after they presided over a successful run with the revived baseball program.

“I have a strong feeling for UCI,” Savage said. “It was a very special place for me and my family, and (a great) opportunity to start that program.”

Back in 1992, state budget cuts forced UC Irvine to discontinue its baseball program. It was brought back a decade later in large part because of Guerrero, who also spearheaded the construction of a new multimillion dollar baseball stadium.

Guerrero left for UCLA before the end of the Anteaters’ first baseball season.

Savage earned his first head coaching job at UC Irvine in 2002, hired by Guerrero to resurrect the program after serving as an assistant at USC. Savage spent three seasons with UC Irvine, reaching the first Division I NCAA Regional in school history.

The two teams have met 31 times since Savage took over UCLA in 2005, with the Bruins winning 20 of the matchups.

However, UC Irvine has by no means suffered from the departures of Savage and Guerrero. The program has become a baseball powerhouse, particularly since the Anteaters’ athletic program as a whole is modest compared to those of schools in major conferences.

The Anteaters have reached the NCAA Tournament seven times, and the College World Series twice, since Savage left. UC Irvine joins Rice and Cal State Fullerton as the only schools not belonging to a Power Five conference that have made Omaha multiple times in this period.

UC Irvine’s current coach Mike Gillespie, former coach at USC, has steered the program to a 338-192 record since he took over in 2008.

“(Ever since) coach Gillespie has taken over the program, (it has been) really special. That’s who got me started really at USC (as assistant coach),” Savage said. “It means a lot to me that they have coach Gillespie as a coach, and their success, and going to Omaha a couple times. It’s pretty neat to see how far the program’s come.”

The Anteaters have achieved 30 or more wins in every season under Gillespie. However, they are barely on pace to do so this year. UC Irvine’s RPI rank of 85 is weak for a potential NCAA Tournament team, and it likely won’t make the tournament unless it picks up some RPI-boosting wins against teams such as UCLA.

The Bruins have the highest RPI and best record among the Anteaters’ remaining opponents.

UCLA swept Utah last weekend but were upset by Long Beach State on April 10. Redshirt sophomore Jack Ralston started against the Dirtbags, allowing three runs in fewer than two innings pitched.

“It’s important to get a win against anyone, (and) we didn’t come out and compete like we usually do against Long Beach,” said freshman right fielder Garrett Mitchell. “I believe that (this) Tuesday’s going to be a whole different story.”

Freshman right fielder Garrett Mitchell knocked in three runs for the Bruins against Utah on Sunday. He is hitting .247 this season with 21 RBI, but is still on the hunt for his first home run. (Isabelle Roy/Daily Bruin senior staff)
Freshman right fielder Garrett Mitchell knocked in three runs for the Bruins against Utah on Sunday. He is hitting .247 this season with 21 RBI, but is still on the hunt for his first home run. (Isabelle Roy/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Although Savage said Sunday he was unsure about who would start, Ralston will likely get the nod as the normal Tuesday starter Ryan Garcia hasn’t filled that role since suffering an oblique injury in March. Garcia pitched twice last weekend as a reliever.

“There have been guys who haven’t pitched much for us the past few years that are stepping up, (especially) Jack Ralston,” said junior pitcher Jon Olsen. “Our whole staff has stepped up in the wake of these injuries.”

Long Beach State will start Trenton Denholm on the mound, who has posted a 4.83 ERA in nine starts.

First pitch is set for 6 p.m. at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

“We kind of laid an egg (last) Tuesday and didn’t keep our momentum going and kind of got a little (too) comfortable,” Olsen said. “We definitely learned from that and we’re looking forward to Tuesday.”


Kearns joined the Bruin as a sophomore transfer in 2017 and contributed until 2018. He spent time on the baseball and women's volleyball beats.

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