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Dodgertown Classic Presents Bruins' First Major Test of the Season

Dean Espy had teamed with Cody Regis to provide outstanding offensive production from third base (Photo Credit: Official Site)
Dean Espy had teamed with Cody Regis to provide outstanding offensive production from third base (Photo Credit: Official Site)

The Bruins have come out of the gates on fire, but as is always the case, you're only as good as your competition. UCLA pounded on weak opponents last weekend and in midweek action, defeated a Long Beach St. team that was expected to be strong, but has not shown such quality in the early going. Nonetheless, UCLA played excellent ball, racking up a .980 fielding percentage and reaching double-digit runs in all four games. Steve Rodriguez's four home runs, a year after hitting just two, are tops in the power department and Brett Krill's .636 batting average is tops among those with multiple at-bats. The platooning pair of third basemen cannot be overlooked either as Cody Regis and Dean Espy have each hit .500 with a combined nine RBI.

This week, the Bruins will take part in the first Dodgertown Classic, providing them their first real test against some high quality competition, plus an exciting event that will take the team to Dodger Stadium, where they will play USC. Tickets for Sunday's game are still available for $5 at the UCLA CTO or for $10 at the stadium on the day of the game.

Before they can get to Dodger Stadium, though, UCLA opens the weekend with a Friday night game (6 pm PST) against Vanderbilt in what will be one of the better pitching match-ups on the young season. For the Bruins, it will be Gerrit Cole (1-0, 3.00 ERA) taking to the hill with his electric stuff, but he will be opposed by Vandy's Sonny Gray, a diminutive right-hander who was a high school All-American, drafted by the Cubs out of high school and invited to the USA National Team trials. Gray primarily worked out of the bullpen as a freshman last year, but was heavily used and as the Commodores new Friday night starter last week, Gray proved his worth. The sophomore opened the season with eight three-hit, scoreless innings in which he struck out eight innings to pick up the win. With he and Cole facing off, those in the stands will get a look at two of the best sophomore pitchers in the country.

Just because both Cole and Gray will be tough to hit doesn't mean they can't be hit and Vanderbilt brings a couple bats worth mentioning to Los Angeles. Aaron Westlake hit .377 with 10 home runs and 57 RBI as a freshman in 2009 and hit .375 in the opening weekend of the season to show that he's not interesting in much of a fall of. Riley Reynolds provides the spark in the Vanderbilt lineup, having hit .332 and stole 12 bags in 2009, but he had a rough opening weekend, hitting just .200. The name to keep an eye on in the Vandy lineup is Jason Esposito, who hit .289 as a freshman, but swiped 20 bags and then backed that up a .529 average in the opening weekend with seven RBI.

After the Bruins are done with the Commodores on Friday, they will prepare for Oklahoma St. to visit Jackie Robinson Stadium on Saturday (2 pm PST). The Cowboys had their opening weekend rained out so their trip to Los Angeles will mark their first games of the season, although it appears as if Okie St. is bringing their weather with them with rain in Saturday's forecast. Thomas Keeling will be handed the ball for the Cowboys on Saturday in what will be the first start of a season in which he is a regular starter for the first time. After few appearances as a freshman, Keeling went 5-1 with a 4.41 ERA in 16 appearance as a sophomore, six of them starts. Keeling was a tough hit all year, holding opponents to a .225 batting average and striking out an amazing 12.8 batters per nine innings. On the other side, it will be Trevor Bauer getting the nod for the Bruins. After a sterling freshman season, Bauer was able to shake off two home runs in his first start of 2010. Bethune Cookman tagged him twice for home runs, accounting for all three of the runs Bauer gave up, but Bauer went eight innings and struck out a career-high 13 in the contest.

The Cowboys' 2009 lineup ranked in the Big 12's top three in batting average in addition to most power categories, but a big chunk of that is no longer on campus. Tom Belza leads the way after hitting .346 in 2009 and driving in 52 runs, while striking out just 34 times in 228 at-bats. the Cowboys' top four home run hitters from 2009 are all gone though, bringing up the question, who will hit the long ball? It is a question Oklahoma St. will look to answer, but with solid pitching and a program that always churns out reliable defenders, they will force you to beat them because they won't beat themselves often.

The marquee game of the weekend has nothing to do with the players, but the schools and the venue. The highlight of the Dodgertown Classic will come on Sunday at 2 pm PST when UCLA squares off against USC at Dodger Stadium in a game that will also be televised live by FS Prime Ticket. Rob Rasmussen will look to bounce back from a rough start to the season and replicate the form he showed in the summer. On Sunday, Rasmussen gave up four runs in 3.2 innings of work and while he did strike out seven, he lacked the command of his fastball to be as effective of needed. If Rasmussen commands his fastball, he's able to get to his slider and especially, his curveball, which are borderline unhittable. USC will counter with senior experience in Kevin Couture, who gave up three runs in seven innings last weekend at Cal Poly. Couture, who entered the season with a 5.00 career ERA, had no success in his sole start against the Bruins in 2009, giving up six runs (four earned) in just 2.1 innings of what turned out to be a 17-2 romping by UCLA.

The USC offense was expected to be the weak spot of the Trojans 2010 team, but they managed some runs versus Cal Poly. On Friday night, the Trojans capitalized on errors and wild pitching to put a nine spot on the board, then scored six in their Saturday loss before scoring nine more in their series clinching win. Matthew Foat led the way for the Trojans in that series, hitting .438 with five RBI and Matt Hart matched that .438 batting average. The big bat in the USC lineup is Ricky Oropesa, who was one of the top hitters as a freshman in 2009, including some big hits against UCLA. Oropesa hit .313 in the opening weekend, but his 10 total bases were tops for the team and he also stole three bases in four attempts.

This Dodgertown Classic marks the first big weekend for the 4-0 Bruins in 2010 and the finale versus USC at Dodger Stadium is the highlight. Tickets for that Sunday game can still be bought at the UCLA Central Ticket Office for $5 and will be available for $10 at the stadium on game day. A ticket will allow you to see UCLA and USC at 2 pm PST, but also Vanderbilt play Oklahoma St. at 10 am PST and parking for the day is FREE. That means three people in your party can attend the game (or two games) for the cost of parking to a Dodger game. Head on out to the stadium on Sunday in blue and sit behind the third base dugout on help cheer on the Bruins to their 10th win in their last 14 games against USC.

If you can't make it out to the game, it will be broadcast live on FS Prime Ticket. Friday's 6 pm PST game and Saturday's 2 pm PST game will both be at Jackie Robinson Stadium and tickets are $7 for adults, $5 for youth 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 stay up to date on all things UCLA baseball from game updates to news to analysis to the latest on the Bruins' regional chances on my UCLA baseball twitter.