The #9 Bruins went to Houston looking to prove they were indeed a top 10 team ready to step onto the national stage, but instead they proved to themseles and everyone in attendance that they still have a ways to go. While they played some of the best teams in the nation, the #5, #6 and #10 ranked teams respectively, you could could see the difference in a well oiled machine and a work in progress. The UCLA oppoents registered as the machines, while the Bruins are still trying to put things together. In their three games this weekend the Bruins scored a total of nine runs despite plenty of opportunities. Not only did the Bruins fail to move runners over and plate them despite their opportunities, but they gave away runs at a prodigous rate. UCLA gave up 17 runs this weekend, nine of which were unearned and a couple more would have been unearned had a different scorekeeper been at the book. The amazing thing about the weekend is that the Bruins had their chances depite all their miscues. They got fantastic pitching all weekend long and showed their ability to put runners on base. Despite three losses this weekend, the Bruins can take some positives away. They can pitch with their best of them and have plenty of talent with the bats. They just need to tighten up on the little things to make that jump from good to elite and the talent is certainly there for that jump.
UCLA opened up their weekend at Minute Maid Park versus #10 Rice, a College World Series participant the past three years. Led by the legendary Wayne Graham, Rice is a college baseball powerhouse that not only wins with outstanding players, but with fundamentally sound players that do not make mistakes and put runners across the plate with situational hitting. The Bruins scored a run in the first inning, but the Owls struck back with three runs in the bottom half of the inning. Rob Rasmussen, clearly overhyped to be playing in a major league park in front of a large crowd, struggled with his control in the first inning and fell behind in counts. When that happened, Rice hitters capitalized and UCLA was behind 3-1 early. Following that first inning though, Rasmussen settled down and looked fantastic. The southpaw allowed only two hits and didn't surrender a run for the remainder of his outing and exited the game after six innings. When Rasmussen exited, the Bruins were deadlocked in a 3-3 tie thanks to an Eddie Murray who had a RBI single in the second and scored on a wild pitch in the fourth. The Bruins broke that deadlock in the eight inning when Murray came through with yet another RBI single, but the lead would not last long as Trevor Bauer blew his second save of the year when he gave up a RBI double in the bottom of the eigth. The 4-4 score remained until the bottom of the 10th inning when Murray made an error with two outs that allowed the winning run to score from second. Rice came away with a 5-4 victory in a fasntastic, well played game, until the Bruins were victimized by their inability to catch the ball.
Saturday's game between UCLA and #6 Baylor was all the scouts at Minute Maid Park could talk about all week leading up to the game. Two highly touted pitchers took to the hill and neither disappointed. What did disappoint was the UCLA defense. Toeing the rubber for Baylor was their ace, who they held back to face the Bruins, Kendall Volz. A junior with a devastating array of breaking pitches was sensational in seven innings of work, allowing no runs and only four hits. That's not to say the Bruins didn't have their chances. They had runners on first and second with only one out in the fourth and again in the fifth. They also wasted a leadoff double in the seventh, but Volz was too good and got strikeouts at key times. For UCLA, Gerrit Cole was not nearly as efficient as Volz, but just as effective. Cole threw 33 pitches in the first inning, struck out the side and touched 99 mph multiple times, but a batter who reached on a walk scored an unearned run following an error by Blair Dunlap in centerfield. After that run in the first, Cole did not allow another run to score and he left the game down 1-0 after the six inning having allowed one unearned run and only two hits with eight strikeouts. Once Cole exited the game, the UCLA defense got worse. In 1.1 innings, Matt Grace allowed two runs, only one earned. Jason Novak gave up one earned eun in an inning of work and Mitchell Beacom allowed one run, unearned. The Bruins did have a chance to get back in the game in the eighth inning though. After tallying a run on a Casey Haerther RBI single to make the score 3-1, the Bruins had runners at first and second with no out, but Cody Decker hit into a triple play thanks to some overagressive base running and an umpire who was less than clear about his call. Baylor added two runs in the ninth inning and beat the Bruins 5-1.
The Bruins looked to rebound and leave Houston with at least one win on Sunday when they took on #5 UC Irvine, but the defense was at an all-time low and UCLA dropped the contest 7-4. The Bruins made a mind boggling five errors versus the Anteaters, which led to five unearned runs. Charles Brewer got the start for the Bruins and exited the game in the fifth without getting an out in the inning. The junior allowed five hits and four runs in his 4+ innings of work, but only two of those runs were earned. Down 4-0, the Bruins showed some fight, picking up two runs in the top half of the sixth when Decker singled home a pair. With the lead cut to 4-2, the UCLA defense failed them again in the bottom of the sixth when three unearned runs crossed the plate, giving Irvine a 7-2. Lead. Justin Uribe hit a two run homer in the ninth and Bauer threw 2.1 innings of one hit, scoreless ball, but the Bruins still dropped the game 7-4. The major bright spot for the Bruins on Sunday and all weekend long was the always reliable Haerther who went 4-5 and extended his hit streak to 19 games dating back to last year.
The Bruins have now lost six in a row to drop their record to 2-6 and they have a challenging set of games still on the docket. A Tuesday game versus a top 20 team in Pepperdine is followed by a trip to Norman, Oklahoma for a three game series versus nationally ranked Oklahoma. The road for UCLA isn't going to get any easier and if they want to take that step up to the nation's elite they're going to have to start executing on the most basic levels, whether it's fielding the routine ground, getting the sacrifice bunt down or putting the ball in play with a runner on third and less than two out. The pitching proved their worth versus some heady competition and now it's time for the rest of the club to step it up. The good news for the Bruins is that it is still early in the year and they're not far off. Reaching their goals of a Pac 10 title, hosting a Regional or Super Regional and making the College World Series is still within reach, so long as they start executing.