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UCLA baseball and its No. 1 recruiting class to face Gonzaga to open 2024 campaign

Junior right-hander Luke Jewett pitches the ball at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Jewett moved from the bullpen to become the Friday night starting pitcher, coach John Savage revealed. (Felicia Keller/Daily Bruin senior staff)

Baseball


Gonzaga
Friday, 5 p.m.

Jackie Robinson Stadium
No TV info
Gonzaga
Saturday, 2 p.m.

Jackie Robinson Stadium
No TV info
Gonzaga
Sunday, 1 p.m.

Jackie Robinson Stadium
No TV info

By Noah Massey

Feb. 15, 2024 2:13 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 15 at 8:56 p.m.

The college baseball regular season is nothing short of grueling.

Maintaining health over a 50-plus game regular season in a three-month span is a unique challenge for every team.

Last year, injuries plagued the Bruins’ season, causing them to fall short of preseason expectations.

But in 2024, with the top-ranked recruiting class in the nation, depth may yet be on the side of No. 22 UCLA baseball as it has the chance to return to the postseason after last year’s misfortunes – starting with a season-opening series against Gonzaga at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Friday.

“You want depth. You want competitiveness within your program,” said coach John Savage. “Our program has been built off consistency and competitiveness. And you may have to wait for your time, but you’re going to get your time and you’re going to get your opportunities, and that’s what good teams are built off.”

UCLA returns a trio of juniors who earned Pac-12 preseason honors. Three Bruins were named to the All Pac-12 preseason team, including infielder Duce Gourson, right-hander Luke Jewett and shortstop Cody Schrier.

In its final season in the conference, UCLA was picked third overall in the conference by Pac-12 coaches with one first-place vote – far higher than its seventh-place finish last season.

“Bouncing back, it’s not what we’re normally used to,” Savage said. “It’s baseball, I get it, we understand it. But we do feel good about what we have and what we have going into the season.”

Jewett, who featured exclusively in the bullpen last year and posted a 5.31 earned run average with a team-high four saves, made the jump to UCLA’s weekend rotation as the Friday night starter, Savage said.

He added that Jewett will be joined by sophomore right-handers Finn McIlroy and Michael Barnett to make up the weekend rotation on Saturday and Sunday, respectively.

I’m super excited about that (becoming a starter) and being able to have the kind of game to help my team win,” Jewett said.

In the bullpen, right-handers freshman Luke Rodriguez, junior Nate Leibold, sophomore Cody Delvecchio and graduate student Rashad Ruff will feature as high-leverage options, with Ruff likely being the closer, Savage said.

Ruff, who transferred from Coppin State, saved five games in 2023 with a 3.82 earned run average and 41 strikeouts in 33 innings. He was added to the 2024 National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Stopper of the Year Preseason watch list, an award designated for the best reliever in college baseball.

Among position players, Gourson was named a preseason All-American by Perfect Game and Baseball America after being a member of the All-Pac-12 team in 2023. Last year, Gourson led the team in batting average and on-base plus slugging with a .319/.438/.515 slash line and 10 home runs on the season.

Gourson, as a junior, is one of the leaders of the Bruin infield heading into 2024.

“It’s a different role that I’ve been playing, both me and Cody being the older guys now,” Gourson said. “We’re able to take our leadership to another level and be what Karros (former infielder Kyle Karros) was to us and Daylen Reyes (senior infielder Daylen Reyes) was to us.”

Behind the leadership of players such as Gourson and Schrier, the No. 1 2023 recruiting class awaits its opportunity to prove itself.

Seven Bruins featured on Baseball America’s Top 500, with infielder Roch Cholowsky leading the pack of freshmen with the No. 42 ranking in the class after forgoing the 2023 MLB Draft in favor of coming to Westwood.

“They’re invested in their careers,” Savage said. “And they knew that when they decided to come here, they’re joining a program that’s built off high school recruiting and built off player development. The future is very, very bright.”

Going into the weekend series against the Bulldogs, the Bruins will have the chance to begin their season in the win column against a team they have not faced since twice defeating it in the 2018 NCAA Regionals.

“The big goal is to win all three. We want to start the season off strong, and we want to do the best we can at Jackie with that hometown advantage,” Jewett said.

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Noah Massey
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