The UCLA baseball team (36-12; 18-6 PAC 12) lost the battle yesterday afternoon, falling 2-1 on the road to the Arizona State Sun Devils (30-17; 14-9 PAC 12), but the Bruins won the war of the weekend, taking the series with a 9-0 victory on Friday night, and a 17 inning, 11-6 victory on Saturday night (and into Sunday morning).
Three factors likely played a part in the Bruins’ loss yesterday afternoon: (1) the fatigue from playing 17 innings the night before; (2) the Sun Devils’ desperation faced with potentially falling out of the PAC 12 Conference race; and (3) the fact that UCLA’s usual Sunday starter, Griffin Canning, was unable to play yesterday due to back spasms. Hunter Virant, in his first career start as a Bruin, got the start.
Virant didn’t pitch poorly, giving up one earned run in 4 1/3 innings, but still took the loss. The Bruins offense was tired, only generating three hits on the day, two of which were singles by Kevin Kramer. ASU plated runs in the fifth and seventh innings, and the Bruins cut the lead in half on an RBI fielder’s choice by Ty Moore in the eighth inning, but could not scratch out another run in the eighth and went down in order in the ninth to end the game. The Sun Devil’s pitcher, Brett Lilek, went the distance for ASU and was (deservedly) honored as the PAC 12 Pitcher of the Week.
UCLA’s Ty Moore was named the PAC 12 Player of the Week. Moore was 7 of 18, with a home run, six RBI, and three runs scored. On the season, Moore leads the Bruins with a .360 batting average. This is Moore’s second Player of the Week honor on the season. UCLA's Chris Keck and Daryl Miller, Jr. have also been been named PAC 12 Player of the Week this season.
Even though UCLA lost Sunday’s contest, the weekend was a success. With the series win, the Bruins have now won all of their weekend series thusfar this season, going 12-0. UCLA extended their lead in the PAC 12 conference to three games, with six to play, over the Sun Devils, UC Berkeley, and just$c*, all of whom are 14-9. The Bruins have a series against the Arizona Wildcats at home this weekend, and then travel to Eugene to face off against the Oregon Ducks over Memorial Day weekend. ASU faces Washington State at home this weekend, and then travels to Dedeaux Field to take on the Trogans over Memorial Day weekend. Cal and just$C* square off in Berkeley this weekend (likely eliminating one of the two from the conference race). The Golden Bears travel to Corvallis to face the Oregon State Beavers over Memorial Day weekend. Anything can happen, but eh schedule favors the Bruins going into the last two weeks of conference play.
UCLA still in great shape for a national seed. D1Baseball.com, the only service that publishes its rankings on Mondays (most services release their rankings on Tuesdays), has the Bruins holding steady at #2 in the nation behind LSU. UCLA's RPI is also #2 in the nation. It is reasonable to conclude that the other four services will have UCLA ranked anywhere between #2 and #4 in the nation, based UCLA's performance against ASU and on results of the other top teams last week, including Louisville, TCU, and Texas A&M.
Tomorrow, the Bruins travel to Orange County to take on the Cal State Fullerton Titans in the mid-week game. UCLA beat the Titans earlier this season on April 14th at Jackie Robinson Stadium, by a score of 7-2. CSUF just recorded a series win against UC Santa Barbara. Before the series with Cal State Fullerton, UCSB was ranked in the top 10 nationally, so the series win was huge for the Titans, who are now tied for first in the Big West Conference with UC Irvine (UCLA's non-conference, mid-week opponent next week). There are no easy games for UCLA from here on out.
Here’s to hoping that the very consistent UCLA Bruins continue their consistency throughout the last 8 games of the regular season, and into the post-season. Also, best wishes to Griffin Canning on a speedy recovery.