The Bruins’ road to Omaha will begin against Omaha.
No. 1 seed UCLA baseball (47-8, 24-5 Pac-12) will begin the postseason against Omaha (31-22-1, 20-10-0 Summit League) on Friday in the second game of the Los Angeles Regional. Depending on how the double-elimination weekend plays out, the Bruins may face Loyola Marymount (32-23, 15-12 West Coast Conference) or Baylor (34-17, 14-8 Big-12) to find out who will move on to compete for a spot in the Super Regional next weekend.
“We just got to play every game the same,” said sophomore right-hander Holden Powell. “You can’t overlook any games or think any game is more important than any other one, so it’s really important to go out there and compete to win.”
The Bruins head into the postseason with wins in 26 of their last 28 games and will host their first regional since 2015. Their current 10-game winning streak is their longest of the season, and UCLA has not lost a home game since April 19.
“We’ve been basically playing this last half of the season with that postseason mentality,” Powell said. “We’ve been getting those close-game wins recently, and we’ll take that to the postseason and run with it.”
The Mavericks held the top seed in the Summit League Championship after finishing atop the regular season conference standings. Omaha qualified for regionals after clinching its six-team conference double-elimination tournament, winning three of four to finish the season.
Omaha’s pitching has been led by right-hander Payton Kinney, who has 16 starts, owns an 11-1 record and a Summit League-best 1.65 ERA. Kinney is 2-0 in his previous two starts, and has combined for 13 1/3 scoreless innings with 15 strikeouts in the two games.
Despite failing to win the Big 12 Championship, Baylor earned a spot in the Los Angeles Regional. The Bears led the Big 12 in batting average and least amount of strikeouts at the plate.
LMU qualified for the postseason by winning its conference tournament, but finished fourth in the West Coast Conference after regular season play. The Bruins swept the Lions this season, winning 5-0 at home in February and 9-4 on the road in March.
Last season, the Bruins were eliminated in the Minneapolis Regional and have not made it past regionals since 2013 – the year UCLA won its first and only College World Series. Since their lone national championship, the Bruins are 5-6 in regional play.
“I think that this team has responded from last year,” said coach John Savage. “We left last season behind us and we responded with a (Pac-12) championship, so now it’s a new season and we’re looking to respond some more.”
If UCLA wins Friday night, it will play the winner of the Baylor-LMU matchup Saturday. However, should the Bruins lose their first game, they will play an elimination game Saturday against the loser of that matchup.
“The older guys have mentored (the underclassmen) for this postseason atmosphere,” said freshman catcher Noah Cardenas. “It’s just all positives, and to keep being the same team that we’ve been because there’s not anything more we need to do to go where we need to go.”
The Bruins will begin regional play Friday at 7 p.m. against the Mavericks at Jackie Robinson Stadium.