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Freshmen make early impression for UCLA baseball, ‘know what they need to do’

Freshman infielder Cameron Kim stands at second base after tying the game on Friday night. (Michael Gallagher/Daily Bruin)

By Kai Dizon

Feb. 21, 2024 11:53 a.m.

This post was updated Feb. 21 at 9:37 p.m.

Coach John Savage called on freshman infielder Cameron Kim to pinch hit in a one-run game Friday with the tying run on second and two outs.

Three pitches later, in his first career collegiate at-bat, Kim delivered a game-tying single, notching the game at seven in an eventual Bruin win.

“I don’t know what I would’ve done in that position as a freshman,” junior shortstop Cody Schrier said. “They handle it so well, and they’re just extremely mature.”

While Kim’s hit may have been the biggest of the weekend from the Bruin freshmen, it was far from their only. No. 20 UCLA baseball’s freshmen slashed a combined .359/.510/.462 across 50 plate appearances during its opening weekend sweep of Gonzaga.

“They’re incredible,” said junior second baseman Duce Gourson. “Their class just wants to get better, and they know what they need to do. When the opportunity is presented to them, they’re taking full advantage.”

Freshman first baseman Mulivai Levu celebrates his two-run home run in the fifth inning of Friday night's contest against Gonzaga at Jackie Robinson Stadium. (Michael Gallagher/Daily Bruin)
Freshman first baseman Mulivai Levu celebrates his two-run home run in the fifth inning of Friday night’s contest against Gonzaga at Jackie Robinson Stadium. (Michael Gallagher/Daily Bruin)

Freshman Mulivai Levu started at first base in all three games and recorded seven total bases, putting him behind only Gourson and Schrier – who have both made All-Pac-12 teams – for the team lead.

An opposite-field, two-run homer highlighted Levu’s weekend and broke a fifth-inning tie Friday.

“Wow, that was impressive,” Savage said. “You don’t see that often. He’s going to be a really good, young hitter in our program.”

Behind the dish, catcher Cashel Duggar has reached base in all eight of his first-career plate appearances with three hits, four walks and a hit by pitch. Savage said one would be remiss to think the freshman lacks baseball experience.

“This is a guy who grew up around a major league clubhouse,” Savage said. “His dad is the head trainer for the Rockies. You can tell he’s been around the game a lot. I mean, gosh, he was impressive this week.”

Keith Dugger, Cashel’s father, has been head athletic trainer of MLB’s Colorado Rockies as long as Savage has coached at UCLA, with 2024 marking both of their 20th seasons.

“I always looked up to Nolan Arenado and Todd Helton when I was younger,” Cashel Duggar said. “I worked a lot with Rockies catcher Austin Wynns a lot last summer, just teaching me everything.”

Coincidentally, the Rockies currently roster three former Bruins: first baseman Michael Toglia, reliever Jake Bird and outfielder Sean Bouchard. UCLA undergraduate assistant coach and former Bruin infielder Pat Valaika also played for the Rockies from 2016 to 2019.

Following the postponement of Tuesday’s game against Loyola Marymount, the Bruins will head to the Lone Star State to take on No. 5 TCU, a series set to test the new crop of Bruin freshmen.

“There’s a lot of factors into winning,” Savage said. “But we learned a lot about our guys this weekend, and we know we got to get a lot better.”

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