After an April that saw the UCLA Bruins baseball team (35-7, 14-4 Pac-12) solidify its top ranking while playing twelve of its seventeen games at Jackie Robinson Stadium, the Bruins will now embark on the final month of the regular season in which they will play ten of their remaining fourteen games on the road.
First up is what could be considered to be the Bruins’ most difficult challenge remaining in the regular season, a three-game set against the #16 Arizona State Sun Devils (32-10, 13-8 Pac-12) at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. Although ASU started the season off 21-0, they have been 11-10 since that time. The Sun Devils, however, have been outstanding at home, going 25-3 on the season, with two losses to Oregon State and a head-scratching midweek loss Long Beach State.
Last Time Out
On Tuesday afternoon in Malibu, the Bruins squared off against Pepperdine. Fifteen days earlier, UCLA beat the Waves, 3-2, at Jackie Robinson Stadium and UCLA was able to win the second game of the non-conference home-and-home series by the score of 8-5.
The Bruins, now winners of six straight games, jumped out to 6-0 lead through the top of the fifth inning, scoring single runs in the second and fourth innings, and two runs in each of the third and fifth innings.
Jake Pries got things started in the second with a solo home run, and Ryan Kreidler’s RBI double in the third plated another UCLA run. Kreidler would come around to score on a sacrifice fly by Jack Stronach, and the Bruins led 3-0 through three innings.
Pries would score again in the fourth inning, this time on a sacrifice fly by Garrett Mitchell. In the fifth inning, back-to-back doubles by Kreidler and Chase Strumpf scored another run, and Strumpf would eventually score on a productive out by Michael Toglia.
Leading 6-0, it seemed that UCLA was in complete control of the contest. Then came the bottom of the fifth inning.
A walk, a stolen base, a wild pitch, and a Wyatt Young double would score Pepperdine’s first run. After another Wave reached on a throwing error, UCLA reliever Jack Filby came into the game. On Filby’s first pitch, Brant Belk hit a three-run home run over the right field fence, cutting UCLA’s lead to 6-4.
Both teams would score single runs in the sixth inning, and the Bruins would plate another run in the seventh inning, resulting in the final score of 8-5.
The trio of Nate Hadley, Kyle Mora, and Holden Powell would shut down Pepperdine in the seventh, eighth, and ninth innings, with only Powell allowing a base runner with a one-out walk in the ninth. Hadley got the win, raising his record to 7-1, while Powell earned his 13th save of the season.
Arizona State Sun Devils
The Sun Devils are one of the best hitting teams in the nation, batting an impressive .318 as a team, fourth-best in the country. Five of ASU’s regular starters are hitting .338 or better, and three of the other four are hitting in the .280 to .290 range.
ASU has tons of power, crushing 69 home runs on the season, also good for fourth-best in the nation. The Sun Devils are second in the nation in slugging percentage (.532) and average 9.0 runs per game, second in the nation.
I guess that it’s a good thing that UCLA has the best ERA in the country, at 2.62. When ASU is at the plate, it truly will be a case of the unstoppable force versus the immovable object. The Pac-12 Network has taken notice, as it will be nationally televising all three games this weekend.
Arizona State’s weakness is a decent (not good, not great) pitching staff with a combined team ERA of 4.30. Friday’s starter, junior right hander Alec Marsh (8-2, 3.03 ERA), might be the best of the bunch. It certainly helps when you get the run support provided by the Arizona State offense.
The Sun Devils, currently ranked #16, but with an RPI of 43, would like nothing more than to bolster their changes of hosting a regional with a series win over UCLA. ASU will be fired up for this series.
Earlier this season, the Sun Devils faced Oregon State in Corvallis. The Beavers’ staff, second in the country in ERA to UCLA’s, held ASU to eleven runs total in the three-game series, while winning two of three games.
UCLA’s staff is comparable to Oregon State’s, but, this time around, Arizona State has the benefit of playing at home, not in enemy territory. Even in Phoenix, however, I think that UCLA has the edge in this one. Neither team will sweep and it’s a very close call, but I think that the Bruins take two of three this weekend.
This is your UCLA Bruins versus Arizona State Sun Devils baseball game one thread.