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Los Angeles Regional: UCLA Takes on Bakersfield

The winner will face the winner of Ole Miss vs. Maryland tomorrow

Let's hope that there are a lot of these scenes this weekend
Let's hope that there are a lot of these scenes this weekend

The Los Angeles Regional of the 2015 NCAA Baseball Tournament starts today, with two games on the docket at UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium. At 4:00 p.m. PT, the #3 seeded Maryland Terrapins (39-21; 14-10 Big Ten) will take on the #2 seeded Ole Miss Rebels (30-26; 15-14 SEC). At approximately 8:00 p.m. PT, the #1 seeded UCLA Bruins (also the top seeded team in the entire tournament) will square off with the Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners.

The regional are double elimination format, which means that the winners of today’s games will meet tomorrow, as will the losers of today’s games. The regional could continue into Monday, if there are two one loss teams still existing after Sunday’s games.

This article will preview each team in the regional, as well as today’s games.

Maryland Terrapins

The Terps left the baseball rich Atlantic Coast Conference and joined the Big 10 last summer, in time for the 2014-15 school year. As such, this is the first season in which Maryland has competed in the Big 10. From a baseball standpoint, this was a good move for the Terps, who have traditionally not been a good baseball program in the ACC. In fact, before 2014, in which Maryland made the tournament as a representative of the ACC, the Terps has not made the postseason since 1971.

In 2014, Maryland was seeded #2 in the Columbus Regional, hosted by South Carolina. The Terps went undefeated in the regional, moving on to face Virginia (the #3 seed in the entire tournament), in the best-of-three Super Regional in Charlottesville. Maryland took Game 1, 5-4, but fell to Virginia in Games 2 and 3, by scores of 7-3 and 11-2, respectively. Virginia went on to be the runner up in the College World Series.

This season, in the Big 10, Maryland finished tied for third in the conference in the regular season (tied with Michigan and Michigan State) and runner up to Michigan in the Big 10 Tournament. Maryland returned 6 of their 9 regular starters from last season, so the team has experience from their run in 2014.

At the plate Maryland hits .265 as a team, and is led by Brandon Lowe (.342, 9 HR, 52 RBI) and Kevin Martir (.330, 7 HR, 42 RBI).

On the mound, Mike Shawaryn (12-2, 1.65 ERA) is the ace of the staff and the typical Friday starter (Shawaryn was the Saturday starter last season). Although the pitching matchups have not yet been announced, it is reasonable to conclude that Shawaryn will face Ole Miss tonight (although the Terps may save him for a potential second game matchup against the Bruins). Shawaryn has struck out 124 on the season, while only issuing 23 walks.

Maryland’s typical Saturday starter (who the Bruins will likely face if both teams prevail tonight) is Brian Shaffer (5-1, 4.73 ERA). Although Shaffer doesn’t quite have the firepower of Shawaryn, and only pitched 59 innings on the season, he was responsible for snapping Illinois 27 game winning streak in his last outing, giving up 1 run in 7 innings. The Terps have a formidable closer in Kevin Mooney (3-0, 1.39 ERA), who has racked up 8 saves on the season. The Terps team ERA is a respectable 3.35.

Maryland has two common opponents with UCLA: Michigan State and Cal State Fullerton. Maryland faced the Spartans once, in the Big Ten Tournament, getting the win. UCLA swept Michigan State early in the season at Jackie Robinson Stadium. Maryland took 2 of 3 from Cal State Fullerton at Maryland, while UCLA beat the Titans in both matchups, one at home and one on the road.

It should be noted that Maryland’s Head Coach, John Szefc, has been suspended by the NCAA for the first two games of the Los Angeles Regional as a result of his ejection during the Big Ten Tournament championship game. Assistant Coach, Jim Belanger, will assume head coaching duties tonight against Ole Miss and tomorrow against whomever the Terps will face.

Ole Miss Rebels

Ole Miss finished fourth in the SEC West Division, behind LSU, Texas A&M, and Arkansas. In the SEC Tournament, Ole Miss was upset by Alabama in the single elimination round of that tournament. This will be the 13th time in the past 15 seasons that Ole Miss has made the NCAA Tournament. Last season, Ole Miss hosted a regional, which they won without suffering a loss, and advanced to the Lafayette Super Regional against Louisiana-Lafatyette. Ole Miss took 2 of 3 from the Rajun Cajuns, and advanced to the College World Series in Omaha. Ole Miss went 2-2 in the CWS, with both of their losses coming to the same Virginia Cavalier team that eliminated Maryland in the Super Regional.

Ole Miss returned only four everyday starters from their 2014 squad. One newcomer, Conner Cloyd, leads the Rebels with a .400 batting average (although he has only playing in 36 of the Rebs’ 51 games, starting 24). Ole Miss has a lot of power, led by returning starter, Sikes Orvis (.267, 16 HR, 53 RBI). J.B Woodman and Colby Bortles also each have 7 home runs. It will be interesting to see if the Rebels’ power numbers will carry over to the pitcher-friendly confines of Jackie Robinson Stadium. The Rebs hit .269 as a team.

Ole Miss maintains a team ERA of 4.44. Their typical Friday and Saturday starters are Chrtisian Trent (7-6, 3.70 ERA) and Brady Bramlett (7-3, 3.84 ERA). Wyatt Short (4-1, 1.42) leads the team with 10 saves.

Ole Miss has one common opponent with UCLA, the Vanderbilt Commadores. Ole Miss took 2 of 3 from Vandy in Nashville, while UCLA lost to Vanderbilt at Dodger Stadium in the teams’ only meeting.

CSU Bakersfield Roadrunners

The Cal State Bakersfield baseball team (36-22-1; 17-9-1 WAC) finished 3rd in the regular season in the Western Athletic Conference, behind Grand Canyon and Seattle. The Roadrunners, however, won the WAC Tournament, securing the WAC’s automatic bid. This is the first appearance for Bakersfield in the NCAA baseball postseason.

Bakersfield is hitting .283 as a team. They are led by David Metzgar, who is hitting .358, with 42 RBI and 46 runs scored. Max Carter (.320, 0 HR, 27 RBI) has also posted good numbers. The Roadrunners sport a 3.57 team ERA. The Roadrunners figure to throw their typical Friday night starter, Hayden Carter (8-3, 2.55 ERA), against the Bruins. Another option is Steven Gee (5-3, 2.66 ERA) or James Barrigan (7-4, 2.82 ERA). The Roadrunners do not appear to have a true closer, as team leaders (Max Carter and the aforementioned Steven Gee) only have 2 saves each. Three other pitchers have one save, for a team total of seven.

Bakersfield and UCLA have five common opponents: Gonzaga, Arizona State, Cal State Northridge, Cal State Fullerton, and UC Irvine. The Roadrunners split their two games against ASU, whereas UCLA went 2-1 against the Sun Devils. Bakersfield beat Gonzaga in their only matchup, while UCLA went 2-1 against the Bulldogs. Bakersfield split their two games with CSUN, while UCLA won both of their games against the Matadors. The Roadrunners split their 2 games with Fullerton, while the Bruins won both of their games against the Titans. Finally, Bakersfield was swept in a 3 game series by UC Irvine, while UCLA beat the Anteaters twice.

UCLA Bruins

UCLA won the PAC 12 Conference and was selected as the number 1 seed in the entire NCAA tournament. Head Coach, John Savage, was named PAC 12 Coach of the year and closer, Dave Berg, was named PAC 12 Pitcher of the Year. Typical Friday starter, James Kaprielian (9-4, 1.94), figures to be a high first round draft pick in this year’s MLB draft. Saturday starter, Grant Watson, is second all time in wins for UCLA, first among left handed pitchers.

UCLA hit a very respectable .286 as a team this season, and led the NCAA in team ERA, at 2.16. In addition to Berg, Grant Watson and Tucker Forbes have been very effective out of the bullpen. UCLA had 4 starters hit .300 or better, led by Ty Moore (.335 5 HR, 47 RBI). UCLA showed more pop in its bats, hitting 31 home runs as a team and stroking 124 doubled.

UCLA has some questions though. The very reliable bullpen trio of Tucker Forbes in the 7th, Grant Watson in the 8th, and Dave Berg in the 9th showed some vulnerability late in the season, especially in the Oregon series, the only weekend series that the Bruins did not win this season.

There is also great uncertainty in the typical Sunday starter spot. Cody Poteet started the season in this spot, and then the spot was filled by freshman, Griffin Canning, who pitched very well. Unfortunately, Canning has missed the last several Sunday starts due to back spasms. Hunter Virant has taken over and, although he has not pitched badly, he never got a win on Sunday and did not do the job that Canning (or even Poteet) did. Obviously, the Sunday (3rd) starter position is critical in postseason play. It will be very interested to see how Coach Savage handles the Sunday starter spot.

It will be also interesting to see if Coach Savage chooses to throw Kaprielian tonight against Bakersfield. If he does, might he be "wasting" him against competition that might not be as good as Ole Miss or Maryland. If Coach Savage throws Kap tomorrow, however, he might be available for potential duty in the event that a Monday game is necessary. I am confident that, as he has done all season, Coach Savage will handle the staff to maximize the assets as his disposal.

The Games

As of this writing, no team has announced its starters for tonight’s game. This is not unusual.

Most of the games, with the exception of Games 1 (tonight’s Maryland v. Ole Miss matchup) and 5 (Sunday’s loser’s bracket elimination game) will be televised on ESPNU. Games 1 and 5 will be available inline via ESPN 3. John Ramey and Tim Wilhelm will have the call for all of UCLA’s games via online streaming audio. You can also follow via live stats. If you can come out to Jackie Robinson Stadium to cheer on the Bruins in the postseason.

This is your Friday night open thread. Go Bruins!