Coming off an emphatic sweep of UC Riverside, in which the Bruins outscored the Highlanders 21-3, the UCLA baseball team (3-0) will now host their neighbors down the 405, the Loyola Marymount Lions (2-1), at Jackie Robinson Stadium tonight. This will be the fourth game of UCLA’s season opening home stand; the first pitch of tonight’s game will be at 6 pm PT.
LMU comes into the game having taken two out of three games at home from the Washington Huskies, who are predicted to finish sixth in the Pac-12 Conference. That is no small feat for the Lions, who have a new head coach in Nathan Choate. Choate takes over after Jason Gill bolted across town to take over a once-proud Southern Cal program, which has only gone to the postseason once in the last 14 years. Before this season, Choate had never been a head coach, but was promoted internally after Gill’s departure.
Last Time Out
On Sunday afternoon, the Bruins completed the sweep of UC Riverside (0-3), with an 8-0 win in which UCLA was never threatened. The Bruins scored seven of their eight runs in the first three innings, initially fueled by back-to-back home runs by UCLA freshman Michael Curialle and sophomore Matt McLain in the bottom of the first inning.
After scoring a single run in classic UCLA “smallball” fashion in the second inning (HPB, stolen base, wild pitch, balk), the Bruins scored four runs on five hits in the bottom of the third. This time, the rally was fueled by McLain and first baseman JT Schwartz, who led off with back-to-back doubles.
The Bruins scored their last run of the day on a McLain sacrifice fly. McLain started his sophomore campaign with a bang: the former first round draft pick of the Arizona Diamondbacks who chose to come to UCLA instead had seven hits (including two home runs) in twelve at-bats in the series, also scoring four runs and knocking in six RBI. McLain has returned to his natural shortstop position after playing center field last year.
UCLA starter Jessie Bergin earned the win by throwing five scoreless innings and allowing only two hits. The 8-0 cushion permitted UCLA head coach John Savage to throw five relievers over the last four innings, including the first work in a UCLA uniform for a couple of freshmen, left-hander Jake Saum and right-hander Charles Harrison, who combined for a scoreless sixth inning. No Bruin reliever allowed a hit.
Baseball is pitching, hitting, and defense, and UCLA also excelled in the latter category in the Riverside series. The Bruins played error-free baseball.
Tonight, UCLA will start freshman Jarod Karros (the son UCLA legend Eric Karros) on the mound. The 6’6” right-hander is from Mira Costa High School in Manhattan Beach.
Loyola Marymount Lions
LMU is predicted to finish third in the West Conference Conference in 2020 and returns two stars from last season, left fielder Trevin Esquerra and pitcher Nich Frasso (who will not face the Bruins after pitching on Saturday). But the Lions also have a lot of holes to fill, including the departures of shortstop Nick Sogard (who hit .310 from the lead off spot last season) and third baseman Brandon Shearer (who hit 3.04 out of the three hole), among other losses.
Bruin fans will remember the three games between these teams from the 2019 Los Angeles Regional. Last June, the Lions shocked the Bruins 3-2 in the Saturday game, forcing UCLA to play—and win—two games on Sunday. The Bruins obliged, beating Baylor, 11-6, and then returning the favor to LMU in the second game of the day, winning 6-1.
That forced a winner take all Monday game with a Super Regional berth on the line. The Bruins prevailed over the Lions, 6-3, and went on to face Michigan in the Super Regionals.
Esquerra, who has been voted WCC Preseason Player of the Year for 2020, will lead Loyola Marymount’s offense at the plate. In 2019, Esquerra hit .332 with 16 home runs, 20 doubles, and 60 RBI. Esquerra, who already has three hits and three RBI in 2020, will be looking to get some payback from UCLA tonight after he went 0-8 in the two LMU loses to the Bruins last postseason.
Coach Choate is expected to start junior right-hander Josh Robins tonight. Robins has appeared in 41 games in his two-year college career, but tonight’s game will be his first start.
Tonight’s game should be a good one between two starting pitchers who are making their first career starts. Both teams made the postseason last year and both are replacing lost talent, hoping that their depth will fill in nicely behind their stars, leading to another postseason berth for each. With so much uncertainty, I give UCLA the slight edge because they are playing at home and because of the respective experience of the head coaches.