The UCLA Bruin baseball (19-18) team travels southeast into Orange County tonight to take on the Cal State Fullerton Titans (24-14) at Goodwin Field. The last time UCLA played CSUF, on March 29, 2016, the Titans came into the game with a record of 12-11 (UCLA was 12-9 before that game). CSUF pounded the Bruins, 14-7, with most of the damage coming in the Titans’ eight run 2nd inning.
Since the UCLA game, CSUF has gone 11-3. You may recall that, in my preview of the March 29 game, I opined that Cal State Fullerton was not having a Cal State Fullerton-type season. That opinion is no longer valid, as the Titans have been playing very well and look poised for postseason play.
The Bruins played Cal State Fullerton on the Tuesday after their late game collapse against the Arizona Wildcats. The loss to CSUF was UCLA’s second loss in what would become a seven-game losing streak. UCLA, however, appears to have righted the ship of late, with a four-game win streak, including an important sweep of the Oregon Ducks at Jackie Robinson Stadium this past weekend.
Today’s game is the first of a crucial five-game road trip for the Bruins. After today’s contest, UCLA travels to Salt Lake City to take on the Utah Utes, who are tied with Washington for first place in the PAC 12, with identical 9-6 records (UCLA is 9-9 in the PAC 12, tied for 5th place with U.C. Berkeley and Arizona State). UCLA then plays at Long Beach State in its midweek game next week.
The Bruins have 19 games remaining on their regular season schedule and probably need to win at least 30 games to have any chance to get into the NCAA tournament (several teams, including big name teams like Pepperdine and Mississippi State, made the field last season with only 30 regular season wins). That means that the Bruins need to go at least 11-8, which would put them at 30-26, to have any chance at the postseason. Obviously, each additional win over 11 would increase UCLA’s chances.
So, these next five games are very, very important. UCLA can get the road trip started right with a win over a big-time program like Fullerton.
Both teams are similar from the plate, with UCLA hitting .249 and CSUF hitting .253. The big difference between these two teams is pitching. The Bruins' team ERA is 4.67, while the Titans team ERA is 2.23, best in the NCAA (Division 1). The Bruins can make a statement with a win over such a celebrated pitching staff.
Head Coach John Savage will send right hander Jon Olsen (0-0, 7.00 ERA) to the mound tonight. Olsen, a freshman, started last week at Pepperdine. Although Olsen was roughed up, going 2 and 2/3 innings and surrendering 4 runs (3 earned) on seven hits, the Bruins came back to win the game. It was UCLA's second straight midweek victory after dropping the first five midweek games of the season. Hopefully, Olsen will have gotten rid of the jitters of his first start in college, and will be able to give the Bruins their first strong midweek outing from a starting pitcher this season.
Fullerton will start freshman Gavin Velasquez (1-1, 1.26 ERA). Velasquez, a right hander, got the win in relief against the Bruins on March 29th, going 1 and 1/3 innings without surrendering a run or a hit (he did hit one UCLA batter with a pitch). Although his ERA is excellent, Velasquez has only pitched 14 and 1/3 innings on the season, a very small sample size. Further, Velasquez has not pitched more than two innings in a game this season, so Head Coach Rick Vanderhook will likely take a committee approach to pitching in the game.
First pitch is tonight at 7:30 p.m. PT. The game is televised on ESPNU, which also provides a video stream. John Ramey and Tim Wilhelm will also have the call via streaming audio, and Cal State Fullerton will provide live stats.
If you are a Bruin and live in Orange County, tonight is an excellent opportunity for you to check out the team and cheer on UCLA baseball at Goodwin Field.
This is your UCLA v. Cal State Fullerton baseball open thread.