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UCLA Baseball: North Carolina Series Preview and Game 1 Opening Thread

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The Bruins travel to Florida to take on North Carolina in a three game series between two Top 20 teams.

Kevin Kramer has scored 7 runs in 4 games. Can he add to his total vs. UNC?
Kevin Kramer has scored 7 runs in 4 games. Can he add to his total vs. UNC?
Bruce Thorson-USA TODAY Sports

UCLA Baseball travels to Orlando to take on the University of North Carolina in a three game weekend series. The games were originally scheduled for Chapel Hill, but cold weather forced the relocation. The Bruins will now be playing an away series against a home team which is 600 miles from its own campus. The football team, as you may recall, played Texas on a "neutral site" which was 200 miles from Austin. Maybe somebody could load Google Maps onto Guerrero's computer, assuming he knows how to turn the computer on (a big assumption, but hope springs eternal).

The last time these two teams met was in Omaha in 2013, in a game which UCLA won 4-1 to move onto the championship round. There are several players on the 2015 squads who played in that 2013 game.

For UCLA, there is not much carryover in terms of position players. Kevin Kramer batted 2nd and played 3B. Christoph Bono was a late inning defensive replacement in LF. But on the mound, there are many familiar faces. Grant Watson, the Saturday starter this season, was the starting and winning pitcher, throwing six innings of shutout ball. James Kaprielian, the Friday starter this season, threw a scoreless 7th inning. And closer David Berg pitched the 9th inning.

For North Carolina, Landon Lassiter batted 2nd as DH, and went 3-5. Skye Bolt (the early leader for best name in college baseball) batted 6th and played RF. Chris McCue appeared in the 7th inning, and was charged with one run in 0.1 innings pitched. Trevor Kelly finished the 7th inning for UNC. And Benton Moss, the Friday starter, struck out the only batter he faced in the bottom of the 8th inning.

But enough about history. Let's talk about the present.

Both teams come in undefeated, with UCLA at 4-0 after sweeping Hofstra at home and beating CSUN in a midweek game at Northridge. North Carolina is 3-0 after sweeping Seton Hall at home last weekend. UCLA is currently ranked #11 by Baseball America, while North Carolina is ranked #17. Before the season began, Baseball America projected UCLA as the Pac-12 champions and a regional host, while North Carolina was projected as a regional 2 seed.

The Tar Heels have four players who are in the top 20 ACC draft prospects for the 2015 MLB draft. In order they are the aforementioned Skye Bolt, closer Reilly Hovis, Saturday starter Trent Thornton, and the aforementioned Landon Lassiter.

North Carolina had a better season in 2014 than UCLA did, although that is a pretty low bar. The Tar Heels made the field of 64, but lost twice to Long Beach State in the Gainesville (Florida) Regional to bring their season to a close.

North Carolina has flipped their normal Friday and Saturday starters for the UCLA series. Friday will see senior Benton Moss on the mound for North Carolina against UCLA's ace James Kaprielian. Last year, as a Saturday starter, Moss was 4-2 with a 3.62 ERA, compared to Kaprielian's mark of 7-6 with a 2.29 ERA. Moss was drafted by the Giants in the 15th round of the 2014 draft, but like David Berg opted to return for his senior season. In the Saturday starts last season, North Carolina scored an average of 5.3 runs but gave up an average of 4.3, which was their highest total for any weekend day. In last weekend's openers, Kaprielian pitched six innings allowing one earned run and picked up the win. Moss (as the Saturday starter) pitched five innings allowing two earned runs and also was the winning pitcher. Moss struck out nine in the five innings.

Saturday, UCLA's Grant Watson will face North Carolina's Trent Thornton. As the Friday starter last season, Thornton was 7-4 with a 2.73 ERA, compared to Watson's off year with a 4-9 record and a 3.80 ERA. In the Friday starts last season, North Carolina scored an average of 4.2 runs per game, and gave up an average of only 2.8 runs per game. This will be a solid test for the Bruins. Watson had an excellent outing last weekend, hopefully showing that he can return to his form as a weekend starter on the 2013 championship team. Watson pitched seven innings of one run ball, walking none and striking out five, and picked up the win. Thornton gave up only one run also, but only lasted 4.1 innings as he tightroped his way around five hits and three walks.

On Sunday, Cody Poteet will go for the Bruins against freshman J.B. Buskauskas, who has displaced returning Sunday starter Zac Gallen in the rotation. Buskauskas was drafted in the 20th round by the Diamondbacks, but opted for a college career. I am always happy to see high schoolers come to college instead of turning pro, although I may wish that he had gone elsewhere than Chapel Hill after this weekend. Buskauskas threw five innings in his college debut last Sunday, allowing only an unearned run and picking up the win. Poteet, meanwhile, was 3-5 with a 4.46 ERA as UCLA's Sunday starter in 2014. But he came out strong in his 2015 opener, pitching six innings and allowing two earned runs while picking up the win.

For much more on this weekend's series, including quotes from both coaches, Baseball America has a feature on the UCLA-North Carolina series as part of their weekend preview. The UCLA series is the second item in the linked article.

I will just highlight one quote from the recruiting coordinator and assistant coach at UNC, Scott Jackson. He is talking about Coach Savage-

"We saw Watson in Omaha, and he pitched really, really well against us as a sophomore, and so here he is as a senior," Jackson said. "And Kaprielian’s Kaprielian. Everybody knows what he brings to the table, and then they’re going to run Poteet out on Sunday, who has a four-pitch mix and command. And then here comes their bullpen.

"I mean, if there’s a better guy out there that can run a pitching staff than John Savage, I’d like to see him."

This is why I am enthusiastic about UCLA Baseball. We have a coach who is admired on the national stage by his compatriots for his expertise and his squad management. It is safe to say that the same does not hold true for our men's basketball program.

Game times for the three games are as follows-

Friday-  2 pm Eastern, 11 am Pacific

Saturday- 1 pm Eastern, 10 am Pacific

Sunday- 11 am Eastern, 8 am Pacific (groan)

You can listen to live audio of all three games, with Tim Wilhelm at the mike. Here is the link for the audio feed.

This is your open thread for game one of this big series.

Go Bruins !!