The time has finally arrived.
Are you ready for some BASEBALL!?!
The 2018 UCLA Bruin baseball season as finally upon us, and the young Bruins are poised to take the field tonight against the University of Portland Pilots. First pitch is at 6 p.m. PT at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
The Bruins are coming off a year that had them working hard to make the postseason all the way down to the final regular season weekend, when they took two of three games in Eugene against the Ducks to get to the 30 win plateau. Unfortunately, the Bruins lost both of their games in the Long Beach Regional, to Texas by the score of 3-2 and to the Dirtbags by an identical 3-2 score, the latter in an excruciating 13 innings. UCLA finished the season at 30-27, going 19-11 in the PAC 12, good enough for third in the conference.
The Pilots are looking to rebuild after a dreadful season in 2017. Portland was a dismal 10-41 on the year, finishing dead last in the West Coast Conference and going 5-22 In conference play. The Pilots only won three (!) times away from home in 2017, beating Cal State Northridge, the University of San Francisco, and Pacific one time each on the road.
Much of that team is back. Whether that is good news or bad news for Portland has yet to be decided, although it is reasonable to conclude that last year’s young team will benefit from another year of experience in the program.
The Pilots return seven position players, led by shortstop Matt Kelly and center fielder, Beau Brundage, who hit .292 and 283 respectively last season. Ryan Hoogerwerf, Portland’s home run leader in 2017 with seven dingers, also returns. The Pilots’ RBI leader, Cody Hawken, who cashed in 27 runners last season, is also back in a Portland uniform.
Two seniors are expected to start games on the mound for Portland this weekend, Jordan Horak and Corbin Powers. Both players had forgettable years in 2017, with Horak going 2-7 with a 5.92 ERA, and Powers doing even worse, at 1-6 with a 6.21 ERA
Interestingly, Portland’s best pitcher last season, junior Kevin Baker 3-6, 3.03 ERA), is not expected to start this weekend in Westwood. Baker was recently voted to the All West Coast Conference Preseason Team. There do not appear to be any published reports indicating why Baker was not listed as a projected starter this weekend by third year skipper, Geoff Loomis.
The Bruins return a lot of young talent from last season’s squad. Aside from junior center fielder Daniel Amaral and junior catcher Daniel Rosica, UCLA figures to start sophomores and freshman at all of the other field positions. Many of these young players will need to make immediate impacts for the Bruins.
UCLA gets some experience back with its starting pitching, as senior Jake Bird and junior Jon Olsen will take the hill for UCLA on Friday and Saturday, respectively. The Sunday starter is a bit of a surprise, however, with Head Coach John Savage calling on freshman, Zach Pettway.
For more information and analysis regarding UCLA’s squad going into the first series of UCLA baseball this season, check out Bruins Nation’s 2018 Season Preview.
Comparing Coach Savage’s rotation with my projected starters, I was off between who would start on Friday and Saturday, and failed to see that the freshman, Pettway, would earn a start over Kyle Molnar, who missed all of 2017 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Maybe Molnar starts in next week’s Tuesday game against Pepperdine. Or maybe Coach Savage has other plans for him. In any event, it should be fun to see how this group does in their new roles.
Neither tonight’s game nor the series will be televised. In fact, UCLA doesn’t make in onto the Pac-12 Networks until Saturday, March 10th versus TCU.
Unfortunately, UCLA is still behind the times and, unlike many other programs, does not offer streaming video of home games at the beautiful JRS. And this at one of the top film and television schools in the world. Sigh, maybe next year . . .
Fans can follow the game via live statistics or listen to Tim Wilhelm call the game via streaming audio / internet radio. Tim Wilhelm is great but, unfortunately, UCLA baseball fans will no longer be able to enjoy Wilhelm’s partnership with John Ramey, the latter of whom moved on last summer to become the “voice of the University of Nevada,” calling both football and baseball games for the Wolfpack. Ramey and Wilhelm made for a great pair and I, for one, will miss their on-air banter.
It’s a new season and optimism abounds. Maybe I am thinking too well of the Bruins and not enough of Portland, but UCLA should take care of business this weekend. I predict a series sweep by the Bruins and anything worse than a series win would be an outright disappointment. No pressure, UCLA, but the difference in baseball quality between the two schools is massive.
This is your UCLA Bruins Baseball vs. Portland Pilots, Game One open thread.
Sound off in the comment section below!