The UCLA Bruin baseball team (28-6, 9-3 Pac-12) welcomes the UC Berkeley Golden Bears (19-12, 7-5 Pac-12) to Westwood for a Thursday-to-Saturday three-game series starting tonight at 7 pm PT. As is the case every year over Easter weekend, the entire series is shifted up one day to accommodate the Sunday holiday.
The Bruins are one of the hottest teams in the nation, having won seven straight games, ranked #1 by all major college baseball ranking services, and sporting the top RPI in the nation. UCLA has the second-best ERA in the nation at 2.59 and no Bruin reliever has an ERA above 3.00.
The Golden Bears are no slouches either, having won eight games in a row (albeit against far inferior competition), before dropping their last game on the road at Arizona. UC Berkeley has won its last three series, sweeping moribund Long Beach State and Washington State in Berkeley and taking two of three from the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson.
Both tonight’s and Friday’s game will be nationally televised on the Pac-12 Network and locally on Pac-12 Los Angeles.
Last Time Out
On Monday night, UCLA hosted the Pepperdine Waves in a makeup of a game that was rained out earlier this season. With only one day of rest after a grueling Saturday doubleheader, the Bruins came out a bit flat against the Waves, but were still able to secure the win, 3-2.
The Waves struck first in the top of the first. After back-to-back singles to lead off the inning, UCLA starter Jessie Bergin induced a 6-4-3 double play. The Bruins had two outs but Pepperdine had a runner on third base. The clean up hitter, Matt Kanfer, singled to center field on an 0-2 pitch, scoring the runner and putting the Waves up, 1-0.
UCLA had a single and a double in the bottom half of the frame, but with a double play sandwiched in-between, UCLA could not score.
Both teams went down in order in the second and third innings, as both starting pitchers, Bergin and Pepperdine’s Trevor Kniskern, settled into the game. In the fourth inning, both teams singled twice and had two runners on base, but both starting pitchers got out of their respective jams.
Pepperdine would score again in the fifth inning on the strength of a one out single by catcher, Joe Caparis, followed by a two-out double by shortstop Quincy McAfee. The Waves led, 2-0.
UCLA threatened in the bottom of the sixth inning but could not score. Ryan Kreidler walked and Jack Stronach had an infield single, chasing Kniskern and bringing on Pepperdine reliever Michael Mahony. UCLA then executed a double steal, putting runners on second and third with just one out. But Michael Toglia, the hero of the series against East Carolina and UCLA/Muscle Milk Student-Athlete of the Week, struck out swinging on a full count. Matt McLain also went down swinging to end the inning.
Still trailing 2-0, things changed for the Bruins in the bottom of the seventh inning. The Waves changed pitchers, bringing in Benjamin Slattery. Jarron Silva started things off by reaching on an error with one out. Noah Cardenas singled to right and Garrett Mitchell walked, loading the bases. Kreidler had a productive ground out to second, scoring Silva and moving both Cardenas and Mitchell into scoring position with two outs. Up to the plate came Chase Strumpf . . . and he delivered, singling to left and scoring both UCLA runners, giving UCLA a lead it would not relinquish, 3-2. All of UCLA’s runs were unearned.
UCLA’s set-up man, Kyle Mora, allowed a two-out double in the eighth, but the runner was gunned down at third trying to stretch a double into a triple, ending the inning. Closer Holden Powell pitched a perfect ninth inning to earn his 11th save of the year, tops in the Pac-12. Nate Hadley, who retired two batters in the top of the seventh inning, got the win for the Bruins, raising his record to 6-0 on the season.
UC Berkeley Golden Bears
The Golden Bears have been hot lately, winning eight of their last nine game and turning a pedestrian 11-11 record into a 19-12 record. With an RPI of 70, the Golden Bears will be pumped up to show their stuff and perhaps get an upset series win on the road against the Bruins, significantly bolstering their postseason chances.
When you talk about UC Berkeley baseball, you have to talk about junior first baseman, Andrew Vaughn. Even as a freshman two years ago, Vaughn was crushing it (.349, 12 HR, 50 RBI). His sophomore season was even better (.402, 23 HR, 63 RBI). This year, Vaughn is hitting .364, with 10 home runs and 32 runs batted in. He is expected to be a top five pick in the 2019 MLB Draft and could go number one. The Bruins need to be very, very careful with Vaughn. Let someone else try to beat you, but not Andrew Vaughn.
That’s easier said than done, as the Golden Bears are hitting .285 as a team and have three other everyday starters hitting over .300, Cameron Eden (.345, 6 HR, 19 RBI), Korey Lee (.328, 7 HR, 32 RBI), and Max Flower (.323, 2 HR, 17 RBI).
UC Berkeley has a pretty good pitching staff too, with a team ERA of 3.93. Jared Horn, who will start the Friday game, leads the team with a 2.01 ERA. Arman Sabouri, who will take the hill tonight, is right behind him with a 2.58 ERA, but leads the Golden Bears in strikeouts with 40.
With UC Berkeley’s very solid Thursday and Friday starters and their good hitting, UCLA cannot afford to overlook this team. UCLA will send Zach Pettway (2-2, 3.81 ERA) to the mound tonight and he has been shaky in two of his last three starts. Pettway allowed four runs in 32⁄3 innings against East Carolina last Friday and, two weeks before, gave up seven runs in seven innings against Southern Cal. Frankly, I thought there was a chance that Head Coach John Savage might switch up the rotation and start Ryan Garcia tonight, but he is sticking with Pettway.
The Bruins need to take care of business a home against a team that does not look as good as the Bruins on paper, but is dangerous, nonetheless. The way UC Berkeley has been playing, they must be brimming with confidence and the chance to get a series win over the top-ranked Bruins will give them even more motivation.
I still see UCLA winning this series, but it will not be easy and I would be very surprised if the Bruins sweep.
This is your UCLA Bruin baseball versus UC Berkeley Golden Bears game one open thread. Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.