The UCLA Bruin baseball team (36-19) starts postseason play today at 11 a.m. PT against the Gonzaga Bulldogs, in Game One of the Minneapolis Regional. The Bruins are the #2 seed in the regional, while the Bulldogs, who won the West Coast Conference Tournament last weekend, thereby securing an automatic bid to the postseason, are seeded #3.
Gonzaga comes into the postseason hot, winning six of its last seven games and pounding Pepperdine, 17-2, in the WCC Tournament Championship Game last Saturday. UCLA, on the other hand, has lost two of its last nine away from Jackie Robinson Stadium.
Although the Bruins and the Zags did not play each other in 2018, the two squads, both being west coast teams, did play nine common opponents this season. UCLA went 19-6 against those nine common opponents, Cal Poly, UC Irvine, Portland, Loyola Marymount, Washington State, Oregon State, Oregon, Stanford, and Washington. Gonzaga was 10-9 against those same opponents.
The Bruins did play the Zags last season, winning two of three games at home. Two of three games were tight and Gonzaga had an early lead in the rubber match.
In the postseason last year, UCLA bowed out quickly from the Long Beach regional, going 0-2. Gonzaga did not make the postseason last year, despite going 33-20 and having an RPI in the low 40s. Many considered the Bulldogs’ exclusion from the postseason as a “snub.”
Interestingly, UCLA will face a Gonzaga team today that is built in a similar fashion to the Bruins. Like most UCLA teams coached by Head Coach John Savage, Gonzaga excels at pitching and defense. In fact, although the Bruins are #4 in the nation in fielding percentage at .982, the Bulldogs are slightly better, at .985, #2 in the nation. As it relates to pitching, the numbers are minimally in UCLA’s favor, with UCLA’s team ERA at 2.94, good for #3 in the nation, and Gonzaga at 2.96, good for #6.
Although pitching match ups have not been announced, expect to see junior right hander, Daniel Bies (7-4, 2.50), take the mound for Gonzaga. Bies is intimidating on the mound, standing 6’8”. For the Bruins, it would be shocking if someone other than senior righty, Jake Bird (7-4, 1.99 ERA), took the mound.
Bird has been an ironman for UCLA in game one starts this season, throwing at least six innings in all but one of his 15 starts. Bird has gone eight innings in three of his last four starts, although two of those starts (at Arizona and at Oregon State) were losses in which the Bruins were shut out.
The difference between the squads is at the plate, as UCLA improved its offense from last season, hitting .286 as a team and scoring 383 runs this year. Gonzaga, on the other hand, is batting .269 with only 273 runs scored. UCLA’s bats, however, can sometimes become cold for long stretches, like when the Bruins only scored five runs in a four game losing streak to Arizona and Long Beach State less than a month ago.
At the plate, the Bruins are solid up and down the order, but will primarily rely on a trio of sophomores, left fielder Jeremy Ydens (.362, 6 HR, 38 RBI), second baseman Chase Strumpf (.357, 12 HR, 52 RBI), and first baseman Michael Toglia (.330, 13 HR, 53 RBI). Toglia, a switch hitter with tremendous power from both sides of the plate, has started every game for the Bruins this season.
Gonzaga is led by a redshirt freshman and a senior at the plate. The two couldn’t be more different. Third baseman Ernie Yake (.327, 0 HR, 24 RBI), the freshman, hits near the top of the order and looks like he doesn’t even need to shave. First baseman Jake Vieth (.307, 10 HR, 35 RBI), the senior, hits in the middle of the lineup and has a thick, full beard. Both guys were instrumental in the 17-2 dismanlting of Pepperdine last weekend and will look to continue hitting well today.
The winner of today’s Bruins versus Zags game will square off tomorrow at 5 p.m. against the winner of Game Two of the regional, played later today, between #1 Minnesota and #4 Canisius. The losers of Games One and Two will play an elimination game tomorrow at 11 a.m.
This is your UCLA Bruins versus Gonzaga Bulldogs NCAA Minnesota Regional Game One open thread!