Joseph’s Diagnosis: UCLA baseball’s final win couldn’t overcome season shortcomings
Sophomore right-hander Alonzo Tredwell (left) delivers a pitch while sophomore shortstop Cody Schrier (right) follows through on a swing. Tredwell and Schrier both played in their final games in the span of one week in April after suffering injuries. (Jordan Guzman/Daily Bruin)
By Joseph Crosby
May 25, 2023 10:16 p.m.
The Bruins scored 17 runs in their final game – their second most of the season.
An ironic outburst for the team that scored the fewest runs in the conference during the regular season.
UCLA could have ended Wednesday’s contest with a program-record 29 runs. In fact, it could have scored zero runs or a 1,000 runs. But how the Bruins played Wednesday didn’t matter.
After a season of persistent decline and underperformance, UCLA baseball had been all but eliminated from national championship contention long before stepping foot in Arizona for the Pac-12 tournament.
Heading into the third conference series of the season against Washington in late March, UCLA had just skyrocketed into the No. 7 spot in the national rankings behind a 12-0 home record and 15-3 overall start to the season.
But a month and a half later, the Bruins were under .500 in Pac-12 play and had just been swept at home by a conference opponent – last-place California, no less – for the first time since 2014.
With a peak so high, how did they tumble so quickly?
UCLA took game one of its March series against Washington before losing the next two, initiating its first five-game losing streak of the season.
It broke that losing streak and then took a home series from Utah with two wins and a tie. At that point, UCLA was teetering on the edge of the top 25, and an up-and-down set against nonconference opponents barely kept the team ranked.
If the first five-game losing streak was the beginning of the end, then it was a 6-3 home loss to UC Davis on April 16 that signaled the full collapse.
Sophomore shortstop Cody Schrier played in his last game of the year that day before undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery. Six days later, sophomore right-hander Alonzo Tredwell made his last start amid what would become the first of five straight series losses.
Both players were preseason All-Americans. Schrier was a rock-solid defensive shortstop with a strong bat that fit well in the leadoff spot. Tredwell was the closer-turned-starter whose 3.57 ERA is still fifth in the conference.
And among the injuries to arguably the team’s two best players, a Stopper of the Year candidate in sophomore right-hander Luke Jewett made his final appearance of the year April 7. The closer’s 5.31 ERA is eye-popping, but nine of 14 appearances on the year were scoreless, including 5.1 shutout frames in a 13-inning marathon against Long Beach State on April 4.
In the span of just 15 days in April, three of UCLA’s top players went down with injuries.
Clearly, the talent and ability to win was there – it had been through late March. But as the injuries piled on, the remaining members of the team weren’t enough to fill the void. The Bruins were spiraling out of the national spotlight as their NCAA regional hopes dwindled.
UCLA dropped out of the top 25 after a series loss to USC before starting its second five-game losing streak that extended into its Cal series.
Coach John Savage said the team needed to bounce back after the fifth straight loss.
“We got to respond this week,” Savage said May 7. “Obviously, we’re behind the eight ball. We’re behind a lot of teams. We know that.”
The makings of a response came when UCLA defeated Cal State Fullerton and Oregon State by eight and seven runs, respectively. With just a handful of games left in the season to make a push in the RPI and cling to the hope of an NCAA regional berth, there was one recipe for success.
The Bruins needed to play perfect baseball.
Instead, they lost four of their final five regular season games, lowlighted by a 16-run defeat that marked their worst loss in 16 years.
UCLA finished Pac-12 play 12-16-1, its first finish below .500 since 2016. It led 4-1 before losing 6-4 and failing to score in the final five innings of Tuesday’s Pac-12 tournament opener against USC.
It didn’t matter that UCLA scored 17 runs Wednesday. It didn’t even really matter that the Bruins still could have advanced to the Pac-12 tournament semifinals after Tuesday’s loss.
The technical end to UCLA’s season came 45 minutes before it even took the field Wednesday.
But the writing was on the wall long before then.