It's been high fives all around for UCLA this season (Photo Credit: official Site)
When the 2010 UCLA baseball season started, the postseason was an expectation. After missing a Regional in 2009, the program had to qualify for one in 2010, but anything above that seemed like wishful thinking. The pitching was there, but how can a bad offensive team that lost it's top hitters score enough to make an impact nationally? Well, it seemed improbable, but they did it and they didn't just make an impact nationally. They thrust themselves into the national spotlight and took crack after crack at the UCLA record book on the way.
By the time the season came to an end with an 11-1 win over Washington St. on Senior Day at Jackie Robinson Stadium, the Bruins had a 43-13 record, the best regular-season record in program history. Their 18 Pac-10 wins were the most by a UCLA team since 1997 and their second-place conference finish was the program's best since 2000. UCLA's 24 home wins trailed just the 1984 Bruin team and when Rob Rasmussen struck out batters number 100 and 101 on the season versus Washington St., he gave the Bruins three pitchers with 100+ strikeouts for the first time in program history.
Ever since John Savage took over as head coach of the UCLA baseball program in 2005, the Bruins' biggest issue had been getting off to a good start in non-conference play. After a disastrous 2005 season, UCLA was forced to play catch-up in conference in '06, '07, '08 and '09 after poor starts to their seasons. It usually ended up okay as the Bruins finished third in the Pac-10 in all those seasons, but it sure didn't make things easy. That changed in 2010 and boy did it change in a big way.
Game one of the 2010 season was a win. After their first series, the Bruins were still undefeated. Another perfect week and the streak was alive. It just kept going and going until UCLA had won their first 22 games on the season. After starting the season with a win on February 19, the Bruins didn't lose their first game until April 2, the same day that the nation's other undefeated team dropped their first game. It was a historic start for the program as they handily surpassed the prior school record for wins to start a season and longest win streak. Bad starts had plagued the program for years, but all of a sudden the 2010 team had bucked that trend and were no longer hoping for a Regional appearance, but were considered among the nation's elite.
In the past, UCLA had talented teams that were criticized for being "soft." When the pressure was on they faded or whenever they met trouble, they crumbled. In extending their win streak despite the national attention that came with such a long streak, the Bruins began to chip away at that "soft" label. Outlasting Oregon St. on the road in a 16 inning thriller proved the 2010 team's mettle just a bit more, but it wasn't until they got knocked down that we learned what the Bruins were truly made of.
Once UCLA's 22-game win streak came to an end, they played .500 ball for the next several weeks, but a convincing series win at Arizona and midweek win over UC Irvine set the stage for a mega-series with the eyes of the nation on it versus fellow top-five team, Arizona St. The Sun Devils came to Jackie Robinson Stadium and put on one of the better displays of baseball one could find, handily defeating the Bruins to capture the three-game sweep. For the first time all season, the Bruins were knocked down. Out of the top-ten and with questions about how tough they were running rampant, the Bruins came back firing.
Beginning after their sweep at the hands of ASU, UCLA won four straight games. They won 11 of 12 and began a 10-game Pac-10 win streak that lasted until the final weekend of the regular season. That win streak in conference play had only been matched by one other UCLA team, the 1924 edition. Their strong finished vaulted them back into the top-five of some rankings, the number six spot in the final RPI rankings and earned them a postseason reward that the program had never attained.
When the postseason field and brackets were announced on Memorial Day, the Bruins were treated to the news that they had received the number six national seed. That honor earned the Bruins the right to host a Super Regional if they advance there and ensured that they would not play another national seed until Omaha. It marked the first time in program history that the Bruins were awarded a national seed. This came the day after the NCAA awarded UCLA a Regional host, meaning the Bruins would get to play the first weekend of postseason play in the comforts of Jackie Robinson Stadium for the first time since 1986.
A season none predicted now enters the difficult part. From here on out, it's two losses and you're done. Even with such pressure, the Bruins do have the added comfort of home field and advantageous seeding. That's as a reward for the incredible 56 games they put together to this point. 43 wins, a school record. 18 conference wins, the best since 1997. 22 game winning streak to start the season, a school record. 10 straight conference wins, only matched by the 1924 team.
It's a season for the record books and the 2010 UCLA Bruins have sure made their mark on the record books. Now, it's off to the postseason, where getting it done will move UCLA from the record books and into college baseball lore.
I'd like to take this opportunity to thank those people who have made my work so much easier and enjoyable this season. First is Coach Savage, who has been unbelievably accessible and willing to help. Alex Timiraos and Marc Dellins from the Sports Information Department have been there to answer any questions all year long and all of you who have e-mailed me with questions or information have been great. The entire game staff at Jackie Robinson Stadium, from Joe to Gary to Chuck, Norm and everyone else has made it fantastic to go to the ballpark for all the games as well. One last thank you to all of the parents and family members who have been so kind and helpful all year. Now, onto the postseason!