The Bruins’ first game against the Anteaters bore little resemblance to their current form.
UCLA baseball is 13-3 for the month of April, averaging 9.4 runs per game and allowing just 4.1. The Bruins have only failed to record 10 hits in three of their 16 games this month. Prior to April, the number of games in which they produced fewer than 10 hits was more than double the number of games in which they hit 10 or more.
No. 7 UCLA (29-10) will seek redemption against unranked UC Irvine (25-17) in an away game Tuesday. The Bruins posted their lowest run total of the season and gave up eight runs in an 8-1 loss to the Anteaters on April 17 – their second-highest run total allowed all year.
“I think we’re starting to understand what it means to be a winning team and what it takes to win games,” said sophomore pitcher Ryan Garcia. “It’s building this culture that we’re carrying on … into May. We’re not looking at the past – new game, new day.”
UC Irvine was on a six-game win streak, but was swept by Cal State Fullerton over the weekend. The Anteaters are on the cusp of making the playoffs, and a second win over the Bruins would be great for their postseason resume.
UCLA, on the other hand, has swept three-straight opponents and won seven-straight games, catapulting it 14 spots in the rankings in April.
“We’ve had some big weekends – Stanford, USC. It’s a Tuesday game, but we focus on every game as if it’s a league game,” said coach John Savage. “They’re playing for their playoff lives. Everybody is right now. So we look at everybody as a challenge and as an opportunity.”
The sophomores in the middle of the Bruins’ lineup – first baseman Michael Toglia and second baseman Chase Strumpf – have propelled UCLA to the seventh-best on-base percentage in the country, each hitting over 1.000 for on-base plus slugging percentage. Strumpf leads the team with a .373 batting average and .500 on-base percentage, and has reached base in 27-straight games.
The Bruin bats earned 10 hits in the teams’ first meeting at Jackie Robinson Stadium, but its four through six hitters went a combined 0-12 with no walks.
The Anteaters’ starter Sean Sparling and bullpen pitcher Jake Lachemann combined for 6 2/3 innings in the first matchup, and allowed just one run on 10 hits with three strikeouts.
Lachemann will make the start for the Anteaters on Tuesday, but the Bruins have scored more than half their runs in the month of April against their opponents’ bullpens.
“One of our strategies is just to get that starting pitcher out of there – attack his fastball early and just get to the bullpen as quickly as we can,” Strumpf said. “The late runs add to the fact that we’re always trying to win innings – especially the later innings where the other team might score one or two in the top of the inning – and we’ll come back and respond and double their score.”
Garcia, who pitched against UC Irvine in the first matchup, made the start on Sundayagainst Cal Poly due to junior Jon Olsen’s elbow injury and further complications to sophomore Kyle Molnar’s Tommy John recovery.
Redshirt sophomore Jack Ralston will throw the first pitch for the Bruins at 6:30 p.m. at Anteater Ballpark.