UCLA Baseball is off to a roaring start in 2015. After taking three from a suspect Hofstra squad, the Bruins traveled to Northridge for a midweek game against a better opponent. Northridge was coming off a 4-0 start, including two victories over potential postseason contender Gonzaga.
Both teams started freshmen pitchers for the Tuesday game. For UCLA, this meant the first start of Griffin Canning's career. The only change in the lineup from the weekend regulars was the insertion of freshman Sean Bouchard at second base, in his first collegiate start.
UCLA got on the board first with a solo shot by senior Chris Keck in the top of the second. That is Keck's third homer of the 2015 season, which is already better than any Bruin last year over the 56 game schedule. In Keck's prior 93 games coming into this season, he had two homers.
The new baseball was supposed to lead to more home runs. But this is way more than new baseballs. Otherwise, Bruin opponents would be going yard also. And they aren't. This is a matter of a batter being on fire. Let's hope he can keep this up.
The Bruins made the lead 2-0 in the top of the 4th. Ty Moore doubled, went to third on a fly ball, and scored on a wild pitch.
Meanwhile, Griffin Canning ran into his first trouble in the bottom of the 4th, after mowing down the Matadors in the first three innings. He gave up an infield hit, a stolen base, and a run scoring single, but then got a pop up and a ground out to limit the damage to one run.
The Bruins scored another run in the top of the fifth. After Brett Stephens was hit by a pitch, Kevin Kramer doubled down the right field line. He was thrown out trying to stretch into a triple, but Stephens scored on the play. This made the score 3-1 Bruins going to the bottom of the 5th.
Unfortunately, Canning could not hold the lead, and was pulled before the inning ended. A walk, single and double scored another run, and left runners at 2nd and 3rd with one out. Hunter Virant got the next two batters on ground outs, but the Matadors were able to score the tying run on the first of those outs.
The score remained 3-3 until the top of the eighth. This is the Bruins inning so far in 2015. By this point in the game, teams have needed to go deep in their pen, and UCLA has pounced.
In Tuesday's game, Ty Moore started the Bruin rally with a single and was sacrificed to second. Junior Darrell Miller has been behind the plate for three of the first four games. And he unloaded his first collegiate homer to score Moore, and put the Bruins up 5-3. After Kort Peterson reached on an error, Sean Bouchard hit the first home run of his very young collegiate career to plate the 3rd and 4th runs of the inning. Bouchard's homer was the 8th by a UCLA batter this season, which matches the total for the entire 2014 season.
And lest anybody think this is simply a matter of the new baseballs, UCLA pitchers have yet to concede a home run through the first four games.
On the mound, meanwhile, after Hunter Virant had pitched two scoreless innings in relief of Canning, sophomore Grant Dyer came in for his first appearance of 2015. Dyer was the regular midweek starter last season, but Canning got the nod today. Grant made the most of his opportunity, throwing 1.2 innings of scoreless ball, and picking up the win. David Berg pitched the ninth inning for UCLA, and made short work of CSUN- single, strikeout, 6-4-3 double play.
Berg has yet to record a save in 2015, because the Bruins have been so dominant that a save situation has not arisen. But I would bet that Berg would be fine with pitching in Omaha again, regardless of personal stats.
There are numerous top 25 polls, and they tend to be all over the map. Here is where the Bruins stood before today's game, after the weekend sweep of Hofstra-
NCBWA- #7 (was 9)
D1Baseball.com- #4 (unchanged)
Collegiate Baseball- #8 (was 10)
Baseball America- #11 (unchanged).
Next up for the Bruins- the first weekend road trip of the season, and it is a doozy. Three games (hopefully) in Chapel Hill against UNC. The forecast apparently calls for nasty, cold weather. Hopefully, the Bruins can stay hot regardless of the temperature. The Tar Heels are undefeated, and are ranked anywhere from #6 (D1Baseball.com) to #19 (Collegiate Baseball).
We will have more on this series as the weekend approaches.
In the meantime, hats off and Go Bruins !!