Bumped from the diaries. GO BRUINS. -N
As I began writing this season's Bruin baseball preview, I found myself more excited than I've been since I began following Bruin baseball in 1999. This led me to writing a far longer than expected preview that I'm going to split into 5 parts and post over the next two weeks leading to the season opener on Friday the 22nd. Part 1 is a look back at last season and a peak into this season. Part 2 will look into the pitchers. Part 3 will feature the Bruins' position players and Part 4 will be a look at the Pac 10. Part 5 will complete the preview as we take a look around the nation and where the Bruins stand in the national sense.
Last season the Bruins made it to the Fullerton Super Regional, the farthest the program had advanced in the postseason since their run to the College World Series in 1997. This season, the Bruins are ranked #1 in the nation by Baseball America as the program's renaissance under head coach John Savage continues. Returning three of their four starting pitchers, all the key relievers and all their position players, the Bruins are primed for not only a run to Omaha, but also a chance to win a national title.
The Bruins got off to a rough start before the season even began last season when Jermaine Curtis was declared ineligible and forced to miss the first 24 games of the season. In those first 24 games the Bruins went 10-14 which was far below expectations, but once Curtis returned at the beginning of Pac 10 play the Bruins got hot, winning going 12-2 in their next 14 games. The Bruins finished the season 3rd in the conference and earned a #2 seed in the Long Beach regional where they beat Pepperdine, Illinois-Chicago and Long Beach St. in succession to win the regional and advance to the Super Regionals. Despite being a #3 seed, Cal State Fullerton was named host for the Super Regional versus the Bruins because UCLA's Jackie Robinson Stadium was not capable of hosting a Super Regional. The Bruins were swept in two games in the Super Regional, but the young team gained invaluable experience that will surely serve them well this season.
The Bruins enter this season ranked #1 (Baseball America) and #3 (Rivals.com) by what I consider the two best polls and are the favorite in some people's mind to win the toughest conference in the nation this season. Three different Pac 10 teams (UCLA, Arizona St., Arizona) received a #1 ranking depending on the poll you use and the two time defending national champions Oregon St. are also considered one of the nation's better teams. The team that wins the Pac 10 this season will certainly receive a national seed and some expect two Pac 10 teams to get national seeds while a third will likely host a regional.
When asked in a chat about ranking the Bruins #1, Aaron Fitt of Baseball America had this to say.[UCLA] was just a young team last year, and they overcame all sorts of adversity to reach a super-regional. That's exactly what you hope to see from a young team, and now they're a very experienced, supremely talented team. There's no reason to think they'll be inconsistent again. We realize UCLA is a bit of a bold choice, given their record a year ago and given the more popular choices out there for No. 1, but we think UCLA will be the nation's best team, and we ranked the Bruins accordingly.
The Bruins open the season versus Oklahoma on February 22 at Jackie Robinson Stadium where they will play a three game weekend series. The rest of the schedule features 23 games against teams which competed in the 2007 NCAA Tournament and 11 games against four of the eight teams which advanced to the 2007 College World Series (Arizona State, Cal State Fullerton, defending national champion Oregon State and UC Irvine). This difficult schedule continues a trend under Coach Savage after last season's schedule was ranked 3rd toughest in the nation and 2006's was ranked the toughest. The Bruins will play 24 road games this season and 32 at home, including three games versus USC and a key conference series versus Arizona St. in the friendly confines of Jackie Robinson Stadium. The schedule will be far more condensed than usual this season as a new NCAA rule has established a mandatory start date for the season that has pushed the opening of the season from the first weekend of February to the third weekend. This was done to benefit the cold-weather schools that don't have the chance to play and practice earlier in the season when the weather forces them inside. For the first time in decades, UCLA will play five games some weeks, however this could work to their advantage, as they are deeper on the mound than most teams.
Renovations to Jackie Robinson Stadium were completed last week and the team was able to practice on the brand new field for the first time yesterday. The brand new playing surface will allow the Bruins to practice the day after heavy rain and will also provide the team with one of the finer playing surfaces in the nation. Renovations also included the installation of Field Turf in the bullpens, new fencing and padding and the repainting of the stadium. You can see the progress of the renovations in the photo galleries on the official site and the finished product in this gallery.