The #3 UCLA baseball team starts its journey to (hopefully) a berth in the College World Series tonight at Jackie Robinson Stadium against the St. John’s Red Storm. In a bit of a surprise, sophomore Zach Pettway has been tabbed to be the Friday starter tonight.
Of course, all of this is subject to mother nature, as it is forecast to rain tonight and tomorrow. If the Bruins can somehow squeeze in a game between tonight and tomorrow, perhaps the remainder of the series can be completed via doubleheader on Sunday or by playing a game on Monday since it’s a holiday. In fact, tonight’s game time was pushed back to 6:15 pm PT shortly before 5 pm this afternoon.
I am not going to get into UCLA too much in this preview. Rather, you can check out my comprehensive season preview to get an idea of what’s going with the team, but with the following notable exception: I totally screwed up the starting rotation.
I predicted the following:
Friday: Ryan Garcia
Saturday: Zach Pettway
Sunday: Justin Hooper
Head Coach John Savage, zigged when I thought he would zag, instead trotting out the following rotation:
Friday: Zach Pettway
Saturday: Jack Ralston
Sunday: Jessie Bergen (a freshman, who I thought had a shot at being the midweek starter)
The biggest surprise here is Ralston starting in Saturday night. I think that even Jack would tell you that he had a poor season last year as midweek starter. He also got shelled in the pivotal, winner-take-all game of the Minneapolis Regional). Ralston was 1-4 with a 6.44 ERA last season. He only struck out 18 and walked 14, over 361⁄3 innings. I didn’t even mention his name in yesterday’s season preview.
Hopefully, he has made improvement this year. Coach Savage seems to think so.
And what’s going in with Ryan Garcia, who was 8-1 with an outstanding ERA last year. Not even in the mix. Maybe the midweek starter? Also, is Justin Hooper not recovered from Tommy John surgery? Or does Coach Savage have other plans for these guys?
The rotation chosen by Coach Savage was a big surprise to me. But he sees these guys every day and who am I to second guess? At least at this point . . .
St. John’s is one of the most successful teams from the Big East Conference. Last season, the Johnnies lost in the Clemson Regional of the NCAA Tournament, falling to Vandy and then host Clemson, in the double elimination format. It was a tough way to end what was otherwise an outstanding season. St. John’s went 40-17 overall, 15-3 in the Big East, and won not only the Big East regular season crown but also the Big East Tournament title.
Tonight’s starter, Sean Mooney, was instrumental in St. John’s’ success last year. Mooney went 11-3 with a 2.56 ERA, striking more that 100 batters. Tomorrow night’s starter, left hander Jeff Belge, went 6-4 with a 2.84 ERA. Belge had consecutive nine strikeout performances in big games against Seton Hall in the Big East Tourney and against Clemson in the Clemson Regional. The latter was a road performance in his last game that should give Belge confidence on the road tomorrow in Westwood. Those guys will be challenge for UCLA’s hitting attack.
On the other side of things, St. John’s replaces almost all of its field players from a year ago. It is almost like they are the opposite of the Bruins, whose lineup looks pretty much the same, but whose starting pitching rotation was...uh...unexpected.
I think that the teams only get in two games this weekend because of the weather and I expect UCLA to take them both. It’s tough to say which starting pitchers will actually pitch or not because it’s tough to tell when or if a game will get started (today, tomorrow, Sunday?). So, I’m not going to predict which UCLA pitchers get those two predicted wins this weekend.
This is your UCLA baseball versus St. John’s game one thread. Sound off in the comment section below. Have a great weekend and stay dry!