Greetings and Happy Friday! As you are winding down your work week, the UCLA Bruin Baseball team (4-0) is gearing up to host the Baylor Bears (2-1) in a three-game series at Jackie Robinson Stadium, concluding what will be a seven game home stand. The Bruins have already won their first four games, including a dramatic 2-1 victory against Pepperdine, courtesy of a Chase Strumpf walk-off RBI double in the bottom of the ninth inning on Tuesday night.
Baylor’s game against #16 Dallas Baptist was cancelled on Tuesday night, but the Bears took two of three from Houston Baptist to start the season last weekend. UCLA and Baylor last tangled five years ago in February, 2013, when the Bruins took two out of three at Waco, Texas.
2013 was a season to remember for Bruins fans as UCLA lifted its first baseball National Championship. Let’s hope that history repeats itself this weekend (and this season)!
Like UCLA, Baylor made it to the NCAA postseason in 2017, but flamed out of its regional with two consecutive losses. A lot of that team has returned in 2018, with six position players who started last season returning for the Bears.
The returnees are led by sophomore catcher, Shea Langeliers, a preseason All American and nominee for USA Baseball’s Golden Spikes Award Watch List. Langeliers hit .313 last season with 10 home runs. Bruins fans hope that his name is not called often this weekend.
Also returning is shortstop, Richard Cunningham, who hit .306 in 2017, and has started the season nicely batting .333. Sophomores Davis Wendzel and Andy Thomas have started the season hot, with both players recording six hits in the first three games.
Sophomore left hander Cody Bradford (1-0, 0.00 ERA) will take the hill for the Baylor Bears tonight. Bradford, who started 14 games as a freshman last season, going 5-5 with a 5.52 ERA, won his first game of 2018, throwing eight scoreless innings and allowing only one hit in the Bears’ season opening victory.
Right handers Kyle Hill and Hayden Kettler, both of whom were predominantly bullpen pitchers in 2017, are expected to start against UCLA on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Hill gave up one run, two hits, and four walks in five innings in a no-decision last Saturday night and Kettler got the win on Sunday, allowing three runs (all unearned) on three hits in five innings.
UCLA has started the season well, winning all four of its games at home. The Bruins have found ways to win in different ways: taking advantage of opponent’s mistakes (last Friday); hitting the cover off the ball (last Saturday and Sunday); and prevailing in a pitcher’s duel (Tuesday night).
Leading the way at the plate are sophomores Chase Strumpf (.533, 1 HR, 11 RBI) and Michael Toglia (.438, 1 HR, 4 RBI). Freshman Garrett Mitchell also has four hits in nine at-bats. It remains to be seen if those gaudy numbers, much of which were earned against a below-average Portland Pilot team, will hold up against tougher competition like that presented by the Baylor Bears.
UCLA’s starting pitchers have started the season strong. Neither Friday starter Jake Bird nor Saturday starter Jon allowed an earned run last weekend, with Bird going six innings and Olsen going seven. Freshman Zach Pettway pitched well in his first Bruin start, going five innings and giving up only one earned run on three hits. He is slated to take the mound this Sunday.
Both baseball teams are similar: each returns a lot of young players and features sophomores carrying much of the load. The difference, I believe, is that UCLA has a bit more experience in its starting pitching and that, along with a home field advantage, should mean a series win for the Bruins. I predict that the Bruins take two out of three (one of which should be the Saturday game behind Jon Olsen) before heading to Orange County on Tuesday for a road date with Cal State Fullerton.
This is your UCLA Bruin Baseball versus Baylor Bears game one open thread.
Fire away in the comment section below!