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UCLA Opens Season In MLB Urban Invitational

Blair Dunlap and UCLA look to start off the season right in the MLB Urban Invitational (Photo Credit: <a href="http://uclabruins.com" target="new">Official Site</a>)
Blair Dunlap and UCLA look to start off the season right in the MLB Urban Invitational (Photo Credit: Official Site)

The 2010 season is ready to begin and this season my coverage will be the same as in past years. You can expect a series preview for every weekend series and game recaps after each game. The Sunday game recaps will also include a little blurb previewing that week's midweek game. You can stay up to date on everything UCLA baseball on a day-to-day basis by checking out my UCLA baseball twitter.

We've finally made it through the offseason. Summer ball? Check. Fall practice? Check. Fall scrimmages? Check. Preseason practice? Check. Five part season preview plus a couple other features? DONE. That means it is time for the 2010 college baseball season to start when UCLA will join exactly 300 other teams in their quest to be one of the eight to qualify for the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska.

That quest for the Bruins begins with the MLB Urban Invitational this weekend versus Southern, Bethune Cookman and Cal St. Northridge. UCLA played in the inaugural MLB Urban Invitational two years ago and went 3-0 on the weekend in the event that is designed to encourage kids to play baseball in inner cities. The Friday and Sunday games will be played at Jackie Robinson Stadium, but the highlight of the event is the Saturday when the games are at the MLB Urban Youth Academy and are televised live on MLB Network with a free internet steam at MLB.com.

The Bruins will send one of their two sophomore aces to the hill on Friday night (6 pm PST) in the season opener versus Southern. After shouldering the Friday night load for most of last season, Gerrit Cole will return to the role to begin the 2010 season and he will bring his mid to high 90's fastball with him. In addition to the good, ole fashioned number one, Cole is also armed with a hard, mid 80's slider and a much improved changeup that will be be very useful against lefties. Cole also averaged over 11 strikeouts per nine innings last year, something the Jaguars will surely be aware of and will only make things tougher on the 2009 SWAC Champions as they look to do better than the last time they played UCLA, which resulted in 11-2 loss in 2008.

The Jaguars' will counter Cole with Chase Richard, a redshirt senior who went 6-4 with a 4.26 ERA in 2009. Richard has plenty of experience and proved his worth last season in the Regionals when he went up against eventual national champion LSU in the opener and gave up just two earned runs in 6.2 innings. The Jaguars also pack a punch with the bats, specifically with the long ball. Gregory Whitfield hit 12 home runs in 2009, while Victor Franklin chipped in with 11 and James Armstrong has eight of his own. The heavy night air of Jackie Robinson Stadium will definitely play to the Bruins' advantage on Friday.

Saturday's game (6 pm PST) will take place at the MLB Urban Youth Academy and will be played in front of a national TV audience on MLB Network. That national TV audience will get a look at Trevor Bauer, the 2009 Collegiate Baseball Freshman Pitcher of the Year, as the righthander kicks off his sophomore season versus Bethune Cookman. Bauer was 9-3 in 2009 as both a closer and starter and compiled a 2.99 ERA. He will be opposed by Julio Morales, a junior transfer from Wabash Valley CC who will be making his first Division 1 appearance. What's most concerning for the Wildcats is a bullpen that lacks a pitcher that they've leaned heavily on in the past.

The Wildcats have been the dominant team in the MEAC for several years now and when they played UCLA in the 2008 MLB Urban Invitational, played the Bruins to a tough 2-0 game, although BCU came up short. It's unlikely that the Wildcats are blanked again this time with a powerful and multifaceted offense. C.J. Lauriello, who hit .398 last year with 12 steals and Alejandro Jimenez, who hit .331 with 21 steals, give the Wildcats some serious speed and two tough outs. In addition, BCU has Ryan Durrance, who hit 11 home runs last year to provide the pop.

The weekend will culminate back at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Sunday (2 pm PST) with Cal St. Northridge visiting and Rob Rasmussen on the hill. Rasmussen beat out several candidates for the Sunday starter job and will look to parlay an excellent summer into an excellent junior season. After getting off to a great start to the 2009 season, Rasmussen faded quickly and went from Friday starter to long reliever with a 6.45 ERA on the year. Rasmussen went 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA with 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings in the Cape Cod League over the summer though and carried that fine form into the fall to earn the Sunday job.

Cal St. Northridge will send Shawn Wilyman to the hill for his first Division 1 start after transferring from Taft College, where he was named to the Northern California All-Star team. The Matadors have not had any success since winning the Big West in 2002 and earned a #1 seed in the Regionals, but with all three weekend starters returning and a good chunk of their lineup back, they looked ready to compete for a postseason spot again. Dominic D'Anna hit .326 last year with seven home runs and Ryan Pineda got to double digits with ten homers. The biggest addition to the Matadors is Dominic Piazza, the catcher who was a JC All-American last year and was reported to have had a very good fall. Unlike previous seasons, Northridge is no pushover.

Head on out to Jackie Robinson Stadium on Friday and Sunday to support the 2010 Bruins as they kick off their season. Friday's game is at 6 pm PST and Sunday's game is at 2 pm PST, while Saturday's game at 6 pm PST is not at home, but is on MLB Network (DirecTV channel 213, Time Warner channel 267) and MLB.com. Tickets for this season are $7 for adults, $5 for children and free for Wooden Club card holders. If you can't make it out to the games, you can listen to it or follow it on GameTracker via the official site. You can also get game updates, observations, thoughts and key information during the game and every day on my UCLA baseball twitter.