The Bruins may not have played any ranked teams over the past few weeks, but they’re going to be up against one of the nation’s finest in Corvallis, Oregon, this weekend.
No. 18 UCLA baseball (35-17, 18-9 Pac-12) will take on No. 2 Oregon State (42-9-1, 18-8-1) on Thursday night, riding a four-game winning streak into the final series of the regular season. The Bruins will fight for a chance to host an NCAA regional – an opportunity given to the top-16 seeds – with a No. 18 ranking from D1Baseball and No. 33 RPI ranking.
The RPI rankings weigh home-road splits and strength of schedule more heavily than the national rankings. UCLA is 13-11 outside of Jackie Robinson Stadium and hasn’t played a ranked team in seven weeks.
The Bruins have the highest-ranked RPI in Southern California, with Cal State Fullerton 22 spots behind as the next best team in the region. Since the committee usually has a Southern California school host a regional, that gives the Bruins a leg up on some of the higher-ranked teams. Taking two out of three on the road against the No. 2 team in the country could put UCLA in position for a favorable draw.
Oregon State leads the Pac-12 in almost every major offensive category – batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, hits, RBIs, doubles and walks – and is No. 2 in home runs and second to last in strikeouts.
Senior right-hander Jake Bird, who leads the Pac-12 with a 1.97 ERA, will get the start for UCLA on Thursday. The Bruins hold the No. 2 spot in the conference leaderboards in ERA and No. 3 in batting average against, but the Beavers rank No. 1 in batters struck out.
UCLA relievers threw 7 1/3 innings and allowed one earned run in three games against Oregon last weekend, and coach John Savage said that his pen has done a good job of getting guys out when it has meant the most.
“They’ve embraced their roles,” Savage said. “It’s not always perfect. But at the same time, it’s been pretty good.”
Although the Bruins and Beavers haven’t met this year, UCLA does have experience against another top-ranked conference foe. UCLA met then-No. 2 Stanford in April, winning two out of three games and scoring an average of just under nine runs per game in the series.
Sophomore left-fielder Jeremy Ydens went 0-for-3 against Oregon State as a freshman last season and said that he and his team need to take their experience against Stanford to build confidence heading into this weekend.
“Winning the series against Stanford lets us know that we can play up to that level, and I feel like we’re just as talented as them,” Ydens said. “But we’ve also had some lows and haven’t played well at all against Arizona or Washington. I just think we have to be on top of things and take care of the details in practice.”
The last time the Bruins made the trip to Corvallis was in 2016 when they were swept and outscored 10-0. Sophomore right-hander Ryan Garcia, who is projected to get the start for UCLA in the regular season finale Saturday, said that he knows it will be difficult to play in a stadium that can hold 3,300-plus enemy fans.
“We expect a fight,” Garcia said. “They have a lot of high energy there – especially with their fans – and it should be fun to compete.”
Garcia leads the Pac-12 in batting average against with a .188 mark, .013 points lower than the next-closest pitcher.
First pitch Thursday night will be at 4 p.m., with Bird and Oregon State’s Luke Heimlich, who leads the conference with 13 wins, expected to take the mound.