Having played in two of the last three postseasons, UCLA and Cal St. Fullerton are very much familiar with playing each other as part of the road to Omaha and the College World Series. The path that each of these two teams took to this weekend's Super Regionals are very strange though. UCLA, who has made a habit of slow starts and needing a great conference record to get their postseason chance, started 22-0 this year and cruised to the number six national seed. Fullerton, who usually is dominant from day one and wraps up a national seed early, got off to a poor start and needed a great conference record to get their chance at a Regional. While UCLA dominated the Regional that they hosted, Fullerton lost their first game and then had to run off four straight to qualify for the Super Regionals.
However the two teams got to this point, each has a fresh start this weekend. The only known advantage is the home field that UCLA will have. As a result of earning the number six national seed, UCLA was guaranteed to host the Super Regionals no matter who they played and when Fullerton won their Regional on Monday night, they booked their trip to Jackie Robinson Stadium. With the exception of home field, each team will start this weekend without a win, knowing that two wins in the next three games would send them to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska. It would be UCLA's first College World Series appearance since 1997, while Fullerton is looking to avenge and embarrassing 0-2 performance in Omaha just last season.
When you compare the two teams, the numbers show a pretty even match-up. On the mound, UCLA holds a 2.94 team ERA, the second best that the nation has to offer. With a 3.70 ERA, 13th in the country, Fullerton is no pushover with the arms either and they showed some of their pitching depth when they had to play five games in last week's Regionals. At the plate, the Titans have the edge with a .343 batting average versus .309 for the Bruins. Defensively, the teams are nearly even, something that seems to be the case all around.
When the Super Regional gets underway on Friday (7:30 pm PDT), two super sophomore will take to the Jackie Robinson Stadium mound. For UCLA, it will be Gerrit Cole, who threw five scoreless innings in the Regional opener versus Kent St. last week. For the season, the right-hander is 10-2 with a 3.11 ERA, while opponent's hit just .194 against him. For Fullerton, Noe Ramirez will be on the hill with his 11-1 record and 2.63 ERA. In the Regionals, Ramirez made one start and picked up the win, allowing five runs (four earned) in eight innings versus Stanford. He also made a relief appearance, holding Minnesota scoreless on two hits in 1.1 innings. Ramirez made a relief appearance versus UCLA in the regular season, tossing 2.2 shutout innings.
On Saturday (4 pm PDT), UCLA will hand Trevor Bauer the ball in what they hope will be a chance to clinch their College World Series berth. Bauer earned Los Angeles Regional MVP honors a week ago for his eight innings of three run (one earned) ball with 11 strike outs and just two walks versus defending national champion LSU. Bauer enters the weekend with a 10-3 record on the season with a 2.72 ERA. With 135 strike outs and just 35 walks, Bauer does force opponent's to beat him.
Sunday's game (7 pm PDT) will only be played if the two teams split the first two games of the Super Regionals. If the game is necessary, Rob Rasmussen will toe the rubber for the Bruins. Rasmussen got the win in UCLA's Regional clinching game versus UC Irvine, allowing two runs and striking out seven without walking any in six innings. That start was good enough to improve his record to 10-2 on the season, while he also enters with a 2.90 ERA and 108 strike outs versus just 27 walks to go along with a .220 batting average against.
While Fullerton head coach Dave Serrano has announced that Ramirez will start for the Titans on Friday, his pitchers for Saturday and Sunday, if necessary, are still unknown. The likely pitcher on Saturday would appear to be Daniel Renken, who entered the season as Fullerton's ace. Renken allowed just three runs in seven strong innings versus a hot-hitting New Mexico team last week and holds a 12-2 record and 3.95 ERA on the year. Another option is the freshman Dylan Floro, who started two games for the Titans a week ago. On Friday, Floro surrendered three runs (two earned) in a Titans' loss, then on short rest Monday, Florod didn't fare as well in allowing four runs in 3.2 innings.
The names to watch at the plate for the Titans is currently incomplete as we await the status of Gary Brown. The sensational outfielder hit .438 with 31 stolen bases to pace the CSUF offense, but he missed the tail end of the regular season and Regionals with a broken middle finger. His status for the weekend has yet to be determined. Whether he can play for not, UCLA will have to keep an eye on Nick Ramirez and Christian Colon. Ramirez hit .360 with 16 home runs, while Colon, who was drafted fourth overall on Monday, hit 16 home runs as well with a .358 batting average. Corey Jones and his .378 batting average with nine home runs is also a threat.
The enter weekend will be televised live on ESPN2 and single-game tickets are still available for the three-game set at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Only twice in their history has UCLA move onto the College World Series and never have they won a game in Omaha so this year's team will once again be aiming for school history when they take on their nemesis, Cal St. Fullerton.