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UCLA Baseball 2015: The Return of the Offense

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UCLA scores runs in the opening series against Hofstra early and often. Combine that with solid pitching, and the result is an opening series sweep.

Luke Persico, off to a scorching start in 2015
Luke Persico, off to a scorching start in 2015
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We learned a lot about Colonial Athletic Association baseball this weekend. The conference is likely to send two teams at most to the Field of 64. And one of those teams will not (repeat, will not) be Hofstra.

UCLA completed a three game sweep of the Pride by the combined score of 43-10. Last year, the Bruins scored in double digits one time in 56 games. This year, the Bruins hit double digits in the 7th inning of game 1, the 7th inning of game 2, and the 6th inning of game 3. Clearly, the offense is much improved, as Kevin Kramer's return brings another big time bat, which improves all the hitters around him in the lineup. And the other batters who stepped up have an extra year of experience under their belts.

But again, this is the Colonial Athletic Association. The Bruins travel to North Carolina this weekend. That will be a truer test of where we stand on the national stage. I don't imagine that anybody ran into the dugout after the final out yesterday, and scrawled "Mission Complete" on the whiteboard. This is a team that is built to go far, and clearly is playing like they intend to go far.

Despite the competition (or lack thereof), it was certainly refreshing after last year to see the Bruins pounce early and often against the hapless Hofstra staff, particularly the pen.

Here is how the Bruin starting lineup fared this weekend-

Brett Stephens-  7 for 13, 9 runs scored

Kevin Kramer-  3 for 10, 7 runs scored, 5 rbi's, grand slam

Luke Persico-  5 for 12, 7 runs scored, 6 rbi's, solo homer, 3 run homer

Ty Moore-  6 for 12, 7 runs scored, 5 rbi's

Chris Keck-  2 for 8, 6 runs scored, 4 rbi's, two 2 run homers

Darrell Miller-  2 for 7, 6 rbi's

Justin Hazard-  1 for 5, 1 rbi

Kort Peterson-  4 for 10, 2 rbi's

Christoph Bono-  5 for 14, 3 runs scored, 4 rbi's

Trent Chatterton-  2 for 12, 2 runs scored, 1 rbi

Last year, the Bruins hit eight home runs total. Shane Zeile, Ty Moore, and Kevin Williams tied for the team lead with two each. Chris Keck already has two home runs in his first eight AB's, Luke Persico already has two home runs in his first 12 AB's, and the team already has more than half of last year's total through 24 innings.

The pitching was almost as impressive, other than a mini-meltdown in the later innings yesterday. James Kaprielian showed why he is the top conference prospect in the 2015 draft with a solid six inning outing on Friday night, giving up one earned run on four hits with five K's. Grant Watson had a super outing on Saturday, going seven innings, also giving up one earned run on four hits with five K's, and with no walks.  James Kaprielian will give the Bruins a solid chance in the first game of every weekend series this year. If Watson can return to his 2013 form and give us the same solid chance in the second game of every weekend series, we will be in great shape. And his 2015 debut was fantastic.

On Sunday, Cody Poteet pitched six plus innings, leaving with a 10-0 lead, allowing four hits and striking out five. This was a very good outing for the Sunday pitcher, and bodes well for the future. Hunter Virant came in and allowed both of his inherited runners to score, giving up two run scoring hits in three batters faced. Scott Burke took over, and recorded two outs in two batters faced, one on a fielder's choice. Tucker Forbes was the fourth pitcher in the seventh inning, and had mixed results. He walked in a run and allowed a two run single, but then got an inning ending strikeout with runners on the corners. Forbes started the eighth inning and gave up a single and a double. That was enough to decide that we needed a rally-killer right now. And who better than David Berg? Three batters, three swinging K's later, and that was that for Hofstra in the eighth despite having two runners in scoring position with no outs and a serious threat to climb right back into the game. Berg ran into some difficulty in the ninth, allowing two runs on four hits, but he struck out two in the inning to preserve the win for the Bruins.

Timely hitting and solid starting pitching is a great foundation for the season. Hopefully, the seventh inning drama was an isolated occurrence.

Barring injuries, Coach Savage has used the same rotation and batting order whenever possible. I believe the adage is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it". I think that was Dan Guerrero, in response to a question as to whether we should be looking for a new basketball coach, and noting how much longer Pauley would last now with reduced foot traffic.

In any event, the Bruins faced a mediocre opponent, but dispatched them with relative ease. Next up is a rare midweek matinee game tomorrow at Cal State Northridge (more on that tomorrow) and then a big weekend series at North Carolina.

Go Bruins !!