Bumped. GO BRUINS. -N
This ran a bit longer than expected, but it's tough to summarize such an up and down season in few words. Look out for a regional preview likely on Wednesday, but don't forget to get your tickets to the regional ASAP. For last season's Super Regionals at Fullerton fewer than 10% of the fans were Bruins. Let's try to change that this weekend. Here is all the ticket information you need.
After 56 regular season games left them with 31 wins and a third place conference finish, the Bruins will now move on to college baseball's postseason. However, let's take a look back at what transpired this season, starting in the preseason. The Bruins entered the 2008 season with extremely high expectations as most expected them to challenge for the conference crown and national championship. In fact, Baseball America though highly enough of the Bruins to rank them #1 in their preseason poll.
The season started off ominously as their season opener was postponed due to rain. The Bruins would be forced to play a doubleheader and they won the first game of the doubleheader and lost the second before the series finale was canceled due to rain. This seemed to be a them for the Bruins all year long as they'd take a step forward, then a step back before in injury or unfortunate break would leave them questioning the baseball gods.
The Bruins rolled off five consecutive wins to move their record to 6-1, but the Bruins would be blown out in their next wo games versus Fullerton by scores of 7-1 and 13-2. The Bruins pushed their record to 11-5 when they took five of their next seven, but then got swept by Long Beach St. A loss to San Diego St. would follow and the Bruins took a four game losing streak to Tucson to open Pac 10 play. The Bruins took two of three from the Wildcats and following it up with a midweek win over San Diego St. Now 14-10,UCLA lost two of three to USC and UC Irvine beat the Bruins in midweek action. The Bruins were reeling again at 15-13, but they managed to sweep UC Riverside. The joy from their sweep would not last long though as they lost to lowly Northridge and lost a series to Stanford in Palo Alto. Now 16-16 and in seventh in the conference, the pressure was on the Bruins.
The Bruins handled the pressure well, taking a midweek game from UNLV before winning a series against Washington on the road. The Bruins won their next midweek game against LMU despite holding late leads in all three games versus Arizona St., managed to win only one. UCLA then lost a game to San Diego and were on the verge of a series win against Oregon St. when a two out, eighth inning grand slam gave the Beavers a 8-7 win and series win.
At this point, most had given up on the 25-23 Bruins as they seemed destined to watch the regionals on TV, but UCLA showed again why they were the preseason #1 team. UCLA won a midweek game at UC Irvine, then came home to sweep Washington St., moving them to fourth in the conference and 29-23 overall. Heading into the season's final week the Bruins needed to go 2-2 to solidify their spot in a regional. The week started poorly for the Bruins as they blew a late 8-6 lead to Fullerton and lost 12-9. They now went to Berkeley to play Cal with their postseason hopes on the line. The Bruins won the first two games versus the Bears and while they dropped the finale in 10 innings, they had made it into a regional.
As you can see, each time the Bruins gained momentum, they gave it back. Each time they seemed left for dead, they showed the talent that made them so highly regarded in the preseason. It was surely a perplexing season and even Coach Savage has admitted the difficulty of getting a read on this team.
A lot of the team's struggles had to do with injuries, especially to pitchers. OF/LHP Justin Uribe injured his elbow before conference play even started and was lost for the season. LHP Rob Rasmussen only pitched one inning before a line drive hit him in the foot, breaking it and forcing him to miss eight weeks. RHP Jason Novak was supposed to be the teams closer, but a shoulder injury kept him out for the season's first month. RHP Dan Klein made Novak's absence easier as the freshman filled in admirably, but once Novak came back, Klein hurt his shoulder and has yet to pitch since. LHP Gavin Brooks missed two starts when blisters developed on his throwing hard and while he did pitch the remainder of the season, is still battling blisters.
The Bruins struggled to find consistency on the mound all season. Only one starter, LHP Tim Murphy regularly gave the Bruins solid starts as he finished the year with a 3.52 ERA and 10 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. The junior's record was only 5-6, but that was a factor of an anemic offense backing Murphy up. RHP Charles Brewer became the Bruins' Saturday starter and his season mirrored the team's season. He would string together a couple good starts, then struggle in his next couple starts. He finished the year with a good 8-4 record, but 5.09 ERA. The biggest disappointment for the Bruins this year has been Brooks, who was supposed to be the team's ace. Brooks never lived up to expectations as injuries and bouts of wildness kept him from replicating the form he showed at the end of 2007.
The Bruin bullpen was battered for most of the season as a condensed schedule and series of injuries left them in tatters. LHP Brendan Lafferty was the Bruins' most reliable arm out of the 'pen, mustering an ERA of 4.0 in an amazing 66 innings of work. Once healthy, Novak provided a good righthanded arm in relief as his 3.72 ERA and heavy sinker than induced ground balls made him one of Savage's favorites. Rasmussen and LHP Matt Drummond each were important arms in long relief for the Bruins as they spared the rest of the bullpen a lot of innings. The bullpen's biggest surprise was LHP Matt Grace. The freshman was tossed into a number of high pressure situations and responded with a team best 3.38 ERA.
While Bruin pitchers had their ups and downs, at least the hitters were consistent. They were down all season long. Reigning Pac 10 Freshman of the Year OF Gabe Cohen batted a horrendous .204 and last year's cleanup hitter, DH Cody Decker batted only .220. 3B Jermaine Curtis and SS Brandon Crawford, each expected to star this year, started horribly and while they did pick it up, batted .296 each. No Bruin outfielder batted above .281 and none had 30 RBI. The only two batters who stroked the ball all season long were 2B Alden Carrithers and 1B Casey Haerther. Carrithers, a senior, batted .380 on the year and spent a good chunk of the season around .400. Carrithers' on-base percentage was a gaudy .490 and he added power to the equation too with five homers and 45 RBI. Haerther was the Bruins' power bat, moving into the cleanup spot four weeks into the season and sticking there for the rest of the year. His .326 batting average was good for second on the team and his 22 doubles, 49 RBI and 10 homers all led the Bruins. The highlight performance for any Bruin or player in the country for that matter came on March 29 when Haerther went seven for seven with four double, runs and RBI.
So 95 days after the Bruins opened their 2008 season with huge expectations, they get ready for postseason play with far lower expectations. Don't underestimate the Bruins though as they still have all the talent that made the preseason #1 team. Carrithers and Haerther have proven all year they can rake, while Crawford, Curtis, Cohen, Decker and C Ryan Babineau have all proven they can stroke the ball at other times in their career. Murphy has been as sure as any pitcher could be on the mound, while Brewer has shown flashes of brilliance and Brooks was one of the nation's best postseason pitchers only one year ago. The pieces are all their for the Bruins and if Oregon St. could win the national championship last season with a lower seed and less talent, the Bruins could certainly do it this year.