UCLA baseball prepares for midweek matchup against Long Beach State
Freshman right-hander Thatcher Hurd throws a pitch in a game against Cal State Northridge on Feb. 20. Hurd is set to take the mound for UCLA baseball Tuesday for his second start of the season. (Joseph Jimenez/Daily Bruin)
Long Beach State
Tuesday, 7 p.m.
Jackie Robinson Stadium
March 1, 2022 5:16 p.m.
The Bruins will take on their first ranked opponent in their third midweek game of the year.
But coach John Savage said it doesn’t matter when, or who, his team is playing.
“I treat every game the same,” Savage said. “I don’t care if we’re playing the No. 1 team in the country.”
UCLA baseball (5-3) is set to match up against No. 25 Long Beach State (2-4) at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Tuesday night, marking the final contest of a nine-game homestand for the Bruins. The two teams last faced each other in 2019, when the blue and gold swept the season series with a pair of wins.
After going undefeated in midweek games in 2021, UCLA dropped its first two midweeks of the season when it lost to Pepperdine and Omaha on back-to-back days one week ago.
Savage said the team’s play during the losses was frustrating.
“How we played on Tuesday and Wednesday, it was inexcusable in a lot of ways,” Savage said. “But we did bounce back.”
Following the pair of losses, the blue and gold swept its three-game weekend set against UC Riverside. Redshirt sophomore right-hander Kelly Austin said the sweep gave the team a momentum boost but did not change its perspective.
“We have a lot of trust in our team already,” Austin said. “It gives us some confidence that we’re playing well, but at the same time, it doesn’t change our approach. … Now, we’re focused on Long Beach State.”
Freshman right-hander Thatcher Hurd will be taking the mound for the Bruins on Tuesday. Hurd made his first start of his career in Wednesday’s loss against Omaha, recording 11 strikeouts in five innings of one-run ball.
Hurd’s 11-strikeout performance brought his season total to 13, good for second on the team behind sophomore right-hander Jake Brooks’ 17 punchouts. The freshman’s total came in seven innings pitched, five less than Brooks.
The pitching staff as a whole currently tops the Pac-12 leaderboard in strikeouts with 94, as well as carrying the second-best team ERA in the conference.
“The pitching staff has been great,” Austin said. “Guys have bought into our approach and how we do things.”
Savage said the team’s pitching has effectively filled in holes caused by injuries to players like freshman left-hander Gage Jump and junior right-hander Jared Karros.
“Guys have stepped up,” Savage said. “Brooks has stepped up, (sophomore right-hander Max) Rajcic has stepped up, Hurd has stepped up and Kelly Austin clearly has stepped up. We can win with anybody we have on the roster.”
Along with pitching, Savage added that getting on base has been a strength for his team through the first eight games of the season. The Bruins’ 50 walks and .412 on-base percentage are good for first and third in the Pac-12, respectively.
Freshman outfielder Malakhi Knight said the team has grown in its approach at the plate, but there is still room to improve.
“The past few games, we’ve had a lot better approach,” Knight said. “Our discipline could be better sometimes with chasing pitches, but I think that’s been better the last two games. We can always get better at that.”
The Dirtbags have posted a .320 on-base percentage through their first six games of the season, good for eighth in the Big West. Long Beach State also holds the fourth-best team ERA in the conference and has yet to allow an unearned run.
The matchup against the Bruins will be the Dirtbags’ first midweek game of the season, with the visiting team entering the one-game showdown on a four-game losing streak after being swept at home by Sacramento State.
Hurd will take the mound for the Bruins at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.