One of the gems of UCLA athletics, the UCLA Bruins Baseball team, will begin their season today at home at 6 p.m. PT against the North Carolina Tar Heels. Led by one of the best in the business, Head Coach John Savage, the Bruins are in a state of flux, having lost most of their star players from 2015. UCLA, however, goes into the game ranked 14th or better in every major poll. North Carolina is looking to rebound from a season in which they did not make a Regional, missing the tournament for the first time since 2001. A series win against the Bruins would get them started on the right track in 2016.
The Bruins are coming off a 2015 year in which they had tremendous success in the regular season, but met with an unexpected and disappointing early exit in the postseason. UCLA won every series except for their last, at Oregon, and the doldrums continued against Maryland in the L.A. Regional a week later, losing both games to the Terps. After having lost several core players, UCLA will look to reload in 2016, look for increased production from its upperclassmen, and look to continue its winning ways.
For more information about the 2016 Bruins, check out our baseball preview article.
North Carolina comes into the season ranked between #16 and #21 in four of the major preseason polls. They are in a similar predicament as UCLA, relying on a number of less experienced players, including highly recruited true freshmen, to step up. A perennial powerhouse in what might be a bit of a downturn, UNC is nevertheless not without its stars.
Although the star of the 2015 team, Sky Bolt, is gone (to the Oakland A’s organization) UNC returns its second best power hitter, Tyler Ramirez (.285, 10 HR, 40 RBI), for his junior season. Returning starters Adam Pate (.304) and Brian Miller (.288) hit for average, but not power. Zac Gahagan can also be a dangerous power hitter. Keep an eye out for those guys when they come to the plate.
On the mound, Carolina has a stud Friday starter, Zac Gallen, who went 4-3 last year, allowing 32 runs in 84 innings, a 2.78 ERA. Gallen had 74 strikeouts. J.B. Bukauskas is a quality second starter. As with UCLA, there are several options at Sunday starter and midweek starter. UNC will start a sophomore on Sunday who went 0-0 last year. UNC’s bullpen, for the most part, is also one a several unknowns with this team. It will be interesting to see if UCLA can get to the bullpen; if they do, thing should go well for the Bruins in this series.
The following are the date, times, and anticipated starting pitchers for the series:
Friday, February 19, 6:00 p.m. PT:
UCLA – Grant Dyer, RHP, Jr. (4-2, 1.83 last season)
UNC- Zac Gallen, RHP, Jr. (4-3, 2.78 last season)
Saturday, February 20, 2:00 p.m. PT
UCLA - Griffin Canning, RHP, So. (7-1; 2.97 ERA Last Season)
UNC- J.B. Bukauskas, RHP, So. (5-3, 4.09 ERA last season)
Sunday, February 21, 1:00 p.m. PT
UCLA-Kyle Molnar, RHP, Fr. (No College Statistics)
UNC-Jason Morgan, RHP, So. (0-0. 3.91 ERA last season)
There is no TV for any of the games in the series. John Ramey and Tim Wilhelm will have the call for all three games, including tonight’s 6:00 p.m. PT game via streaming online audio. You can listen through BN here:
You can also follow via live statistics.
Of course, if you are in the Westwood area, come check out what figures to be a great game between two outstanding programs and to cheer on our Bruins!!
UCLA should win this series. UNC is a loooong way from home and will likely need to rely on several players throughout the course of the series who have no college experience. JWS could be a big home field advantage. UCLA took 2 of 3 against UNC last season in Orlando (snow in Chapel Hill moved the series south--lucky me!) and, although both teams lost a lot of talent since last season, both teams will also be filling a lot of holes this year. All other things equal, I think UCLA’s talent advantage wins the series. I am looking forward to seeing how the UCLA new pitching rotation performs, the return of Eric Filia to the field after missing the last two seasons, and how UCLA will fill the catcher spot, a huge question mark with the season-ending injury to Darrell Miller, Jr.
As the UCLA basketball season circles the drain, return to happiness by directing your sights to the awesome baseball program that Coach Savage has built!
This is your UCLA vs. North Carolina Season Opener, Game One open thread. Fire away with your thoughts and comments.