ORLANDO, Fla. – Juniors Kevin Kramer (SS) and Ty Moore (DH/LF) paced the No. 7 UCLA Bruins offensive onslaught against the No. 12 North Carolina Tar Heels in capturing one of college baseball’s premiere series this weekend as the duo combined for 16 hits and 11 runs scored to spark UCLA’s 2-1 series win.
In a series that was expected to be dominated by pitching, most fans were surprised to see only one quality start and one save in the three-game set that saw 44 runs scored on 73 hits as the cold air crept its’ way south, interrupting the usual Florida sunshine.
Kramer hit .533 (8-for-15) in the series with a .588 OBA due to being hit by a pitch twice in game one. The shortstop stole one base on three attempts as he tried to make things happen on the base paths to add to the six runs that he scored in the series.
Moore proved a solid compliment to the table-setting prowess exhibited by Kramer hitting .571 (8-for-14) on the weekend. With a .625 OBA Moore added a pair of doubles and steals to the mix with five runs scored and three driven in while holding down the middle of the Bruins’ lineup.
Not to be lost in the discussion was the series had by sophomore first baseman Luke Persico who added a little pop with a pair of doubles, but his propensity to get clutch hits was shown in his five RBI. Persico hit .471 in the series and also scored four runs as the UCLA squad imposed its’ offensive will on the Tar Heels pitching staff.
North Carolina’s offense seemed to have an identity crisis, or at least some confusion during the series as the 1-2 spots hit for power and the 3-5 spots got on base. What this led to was numerous missed opportunities as it left men on base for the bottom of the lineup to pick up which led to 12 stranded runners by the 6-9 hitters in the lineup.
Junior outfielder Skye Bolt hit lead-off in game one to the tune of a 2-for-5 day with a double and a solo homer. So the logical move to the three spot netted a combined 2-for-9 with a runs scored and two runs driven in for games two and three.
The 1-2 spots had a .483 SLG compared to a .354 OBA while the 3-5 spots had a .452 OBA with a .394 SLG. Sophomore right fielder hit a solo homer early in game one as the clean-up hitter Tyler Ramirez to contribute the 3-5 spots’ only extra-base hit of the series.
One of the major storylines coming into the weekend was the great starting pitching that was expected to break loose in this series. From the start, the match-ups didn’t live up to expectations. Game one saw the series’ first, and only, quality start provided by UCLA’s junior James Kaprielian. The right hander allowed three earned runs over six innings as he fanned seven Tar Heels as he improved to 2-0 on the season.
The Bruins’ other starters each lasted five innings, beginning with game two starter Grant Watson. The senior southpaw allowed two earned runs in a no decision as the Bruins lost the game. In game three Cody Poteet (Jr., RHP) also improved to 2-0 while working around five walks and four hits without allowing an earned run as UCLA clinched the series.
Freshman fireballer JB Bukauskas ran into the merciless reality of pitching to top college hitters as the Tar Heel lasted 4.2 innings in his second collegiate start. Bukauskas surrendered six runs, five earned on eight hits and a walk as he struck out five Bruins in the series clincher on Sunday.
Such struggling starts are the norm for freshman starters, especially on weekend starts. JB has the stuff to make this outing a hiccup on his path to being a top notch college arm but now we get to witness the mental toughness it will take to rebound.
Pitching It Around
One surprising statistic from this weekend battle between two teams with Omaha talent was the number of errors committed by the squads. Game one was just sloppy! How else does one describe a game in which Top 10 teams (at the time) combined for 11 errors?
The Heels and Bruins combined for six more on Saturday before cleaning things up on Sunday with only, yes only, three errors. Each unit committed 10 errors in the series with the leader in the clubhouse being Myers with five for North Carolina.
- North Carolina sophomore shortstop Wood Myers hit .500 (7-for-14) with a double but scored only twice and drove in no runs.
- UCLA senior closer David Berg (RHP) recorded no saves but threw three innings and allowed an unearned run on three hits with three strikeouts.
- North Carolina closers Reilly Hovis (Jr., RHP) and Chris McCue (RJr., RHP) combined to allow three earned runs on six hits and two walks over 3.1 innings of work while striking out four Bruins.
- UCLA senior third baseman Chris Kech hit .286 (4-for-14) for the series scoring three runs and driving in five runs while drawing a pair of walks for a .375 OBA.
The Bruins walk out of the series with the No. 12 RPI in the nation, boosted by the No. 25 strength of schedule while sitting at 6-1 and having proven that, at least for this weekend, the powerhouse that won the title two years ago and went to back-to-back College World Series’ is poised to make another run.
North Carolina leaves this match-up with a pitching staff that needs a rebound, but showing the ability to play up to the standards that a run to Omaha would require. With an RPI at 107 the Tar Heels need just a little improvement to get to that level.