UCLA Bruins baseball team (43-15) battles Cal State Bakersfield (37-23) tonight at 4:00 p.m. PT, in an elimination game. The winner will face Maryland immediately after, and the loser is done for the season. If Maryland loses the nightcap, the same two teams will play tomorrow for the right to move on to the Super Regional.
So the Bruins need to win three straight.
It all starts with Bakersfield. UCLA beat them on Friday night, 7-2, largely based upon the services of its ace, James Kaprielian. UCLA will not have Kap at its disposal today, but instead faces uncertainly at pitcher. UCLA’s third (Sunday) starter has been a bit of an adventure all season. Cody Poteet started the year as UCLA’s third starter, and was relatively successful in the role. Midseason, however, Head Coach, John Savage, made Poteet the midweek starter to make way for Griffin Canning, a freshman, to start on Sundays. Canning pitched very well, until about a month ago against Arizona State, when he missed a start due to back spasms. Canning hasn’t pitched since. Instead, left-hander Hunter Virant has gotten the call on Sundays and, although he has not pitched poorly, he has not met the level of success previously established by Canning or even Poteet on Sundays.
So the question is: who gets the start against Bakersfield? Reason stands that it will either be Poteet or Virant. My gut tells me that Poteet will get the call as the more experienced pitcher and, if UCLA prevails, Virant would go against Maryland. Of course, in the event that UCLA wins both games today, who would start tomorrow? UCLA is blessed with a very deep pitching staff and if any team is equipped to get through this gauntlet, it is the UCLA Bruins. Guys like Grant Dyer and David Berg can pitch four or five innings in a pinch, if needed.
It is all going to be a moot point if UCLA cannot awaken its bats, which went ice cold last night against Maryland’s pitching staff. The Bruins only managed five hits, and no UCLA batter reached base after the fifth inning.
Nick Rogowski (4-5, 4.45 ERA) figures to get the start for the Roadrunners. In his last start, Rogowski went 2 and 2/3 innings, conceding six runs (2 earned) on five hits against Chicago State. Another potential option for Bakersfield is Steven Gee (5-3, 2.66 ERA).
The Bakersfield game is on ESPN3, John Ramey and Tim Wilhelm will have the call via online audio stream, and live statistics are also available at the NCAA website. The late game will be televised on ESPNU.
It is put up or shut up time for UCLA. The Bruins have much more talent than the Roadrunners, but so did Ole Miss, and Bakersfield took them down yesterday, 2-1. All the pressure is on the Bruins as the number one seed in the entire tournament. It seemed that, when they went down yesterday, the Bruins let that pressure get to them and it took them out of their usual hitting approach at the plate. UCLA cannot get taken out of its game today. Bakersfield will be very loose and has nothing to lose in its first ever postseason appearance. Hopefully the Bruins can take care of business against Bakersfield and then see what happens against the Maryland Terrapins tonight.
This is your UCLA Bruins vs. Bakersfield (and beyond?) open thread.