WESTWOOD, Calif. — The NCAA defending champion Bruins can’t seem to catch a break. Losers of nine of its past 15 games and a sixth-place standing in the Pac-12 Conference have people wondering not if UCLA will defend its national championship, but if it will even get the chance to defend it.
At 23-19-1 and 10-9 in conference, the Bruins need to close the season strong with 13 games remaining. On the heels of being swept by cross-town rival USC, the Bruins traveled to nearby Santa Barbara to take on another suddenly-struggling team in the Gauchos. First pitch was at 3 p.m. PT and the game was called after 12 innings due to darkness, four and a half hours later. The Bruins used eight pitchers and the Gauchos used four, but neither team could break through after UCSB tied it up in the fifth inning.
Back in the confines of Jackie Robinson Stadium to host the Stanford Cardinal, the Bruins jumped on Stanford starting pitcher Cal Quantrill with six runs in the first inning. Freshman second baseman Luke Persico ripped a two-RBI triple followed by a double by sophomore shortstop Trent Chatterton to score Persico.
Then the bats went cold—or did they they just get lazy?
The Bruins would only manage three more hits and one more run through the next seven innings and were held scoreless for six straight innings. Sophomore right handed pitcher James Kaprielian had a masterful performance allowing only one run and five hits through 6.2 innings while fanning 10 Cardinal batters and walking four. Freshman Nick Kern earned his third save of the season as junior closer David Berg watched from the bullpen. Berg pitched 1.2 innings in Tuesday’s marathon game in Santa Barbara facing only five batters.
Jason Drantch of the Daily Bruin reported on Thursday:
One reason for the bullpen’s dominance was the return of junior closer David Berg, who missed the previous seven games with a bicep injury.
“Well, what do you think?” Savage rhetorically responded when asked if Berg’s return was sorely needed. “Yes, the answer is 100 percent yes. The guy has that calming presence about him and that closing presence.”
His return to the mound allowed junior Max Schuh and redshirt freshman Nick Kern to step back into their normal roles as setup men. This comfort of having Berg back might have helped them rebound from this weekend, as they no longer had to deal with the pressure of trying to fill Berg’s shoes.
If Berg was “sorely needed,” why was it that he watched a freshman close out the game?
The most depressing part of the story, for Bruins’ fans at least, is that UCLA has yet to play the best teams in the conference. A 10-9 record against the bottom five teams in the conference does not instill confidence when top-ranked teams Oregon State, Washington and Oregon still lie ahead. Two of the series will be on the road where Washington and Oregon State are nearly unbeatable.
The good news is if the Bruins manage wins against the top three teams in the Pac-12, there will be serious consideration for their selection into the postseason.