ECU baseball preview: East Carolina - UCLA Series Preview
Diamond Pirates Head To Cali To Battle No. 15 Bruins
CUSA Fans Director of Content and East Carolina sports correspondent Thomas "Bubba" Rosenbaum provides us with a preview of the upcoming baseball series between ECU and UCLA.
After opening its season by winning a three-game series against Liberty, East Carolina (2-1) will now travel to California for a second consecutive season.
Last year, ECU traveled to perennial powerhouse Cal State Fullerton, where it was humbled by one of college baseball’s most storied programs. The Titans swept the Pirates in dominating fashion, outscoring them, 21-1, in the three-game set.
This trip to “The Golden State” will see Billy Godwin and his Diamond Pirates test themselves against No. 15 UCLA. The three-game series marks the first meeting between the two programs and should be an excellent early season measuring stick for both clubs. Things will get underway on Friday night at 9 p.m. (EST) inside Jackie Robinson Stadium, which is named for the Bruins’ former four-sport star who’s most often remembered for breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier. The teams will meet again at 5 p.m. (EST) on Saturday before concluding the series on Sunday with a 4 p.m. (EST) match-up.
John Savage, who is in his third season at the helm of the UCLA program, has executed a tremendous turnaround in a short period of time. After a successful stint at UC Irvine, Savage suffered a 15-41 season in his first year with the Bruins. However, last season, he rebounded to post a 33-25 record and finish third in the PAC-10, which is one of college baseball’s premier conferences. This performance was good enough to get the Bruins a ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
With a strong nucleus returning from that club, UCLA was projected by most prognosticators to either win or at least contend for the PAC-10 title. The league’s coaches picked the Bruins to finish fourth behind Arizona State, Oregon State and Stanford. They have started a little slowly and will come into the ECU series with a misleading 3-4 record, as all seven of their games have been against teams that were ranked in the Top 29 at the time of the game.
The Bruins opened their season by taking 2-of-3 at home from No. 23 Winthrop, which included a 19-5 beatdown of the Eagles in Sunday’s rubber match.
Next, they traveled to south Florida for three with the No. 5 Miami Hurricanes. UCLA, who was ranked 11 th at the time, was swept by the Hurricanes—losing three closely contested heartbreakers. On Friday, senior Tyson Brummett limited Miami to just one run on three hits in 7.2 innings, but UCLA couldn’t muster a run and dropped a 1-0 decision. In game two, the Bruins trailed 6-3 in the seventh, but they mounted a rally and took an 8-6 lead into the bottom of the ninth after back-to-back home runs in the top of the inning. However, UM answered with three runs of its own and captured the thrilling 9-8 victory. It was more of the same on Sunday, as UCLA tied the game at three with a solo homerun in the top of the eighth before Miami responded with four in the ninth. It held on for the 7-3 win.
The Bruins returned home and notched a narrow 3-2 victory over No. 29 UC-Riverside on Tuesday. Four pitchers combined to throw a two-hitter while striking out an eye-opening 15 batters in the process, but UCLA was forced to hang on after things got interesting in the top of the ninth.
Offensively, UCLA has had its struggles. Yes, they are averaging 5.6 runs per game, but 19 of their 39 came in a blowout defeat of Winthrop (19-5). Therefore in their other six, they’re only scoring 3.3 per contest and have put a tremendous strain on their pitching staff. The Bruins come in hitting at a .280 clip and have four long balls to their credit.
Fortunately for Coach Savage and his squad, their starting pitching and fielding have been solid thus far. UCLA was the top fielding team in the PAC-10 a year ago and have started strong in that regard in ’07, having only committed six errors through seven games.
Solid defenses are strong up the middle and the Bruins are just that.
Sophomore shortstop Brandon Crawford, who was named to the initial 2007 Brooks Wallace Award Watch List—which is presented annually to college baseball’s top player, leads the Bruins’ attack. He possesses a team-high .423 batting average and five of his 11 hits have been for extra bases. As a freshman, the Pleasanton, California-native earned team MVP and All-PAC 10 honorable mention honors after batting .318 with 6 homers and 30 RBIs. His primary weakness seems to be that he strikes out excessively, as he topped the team with 46 a year ago. Oddly enough, he also leads the team in walks with 24.
Behind the plate, 2006 Baseball America Freshman All-American Ryan Babineau is an ironman. The 6’2”, 195-pound sophomore has started all but two games (63-of-65) in his Bruins’ career. Perhaps even more impressive is the fact that he has not committed an error in 501 chances. Babineau has thrown out 3-of-6 runners attempting to steal this year after mowing down 18-of-43 in 2006. He swings a decent stick, as he is hitting .280 with four extra base hits this season after finishing at .258 with six round-trippers and 25 RBIs in his freshman campaign.
UC-Santa Barbara transfer Alden Carrithers has solidified second base for the Bruins. He has posted a .296 average while leading the team in doubles (4) and RBIs (8).
First baseman Tim Stewart, who is in his second season with the Bruins after transferring from UC Irvine, has started his senior season in supreme fashion. His .375 batting average ranks him second on the team. Stewart doesn’t mind taking one for the team, as he has already been plunked with five pitches. In 2006, he hit .301 and was tied for the team lead in home runs with six.
UCLA’s starting pitching has been good while the bullpen still has plenty of room for improvement. Right-hander Tyson Brummett is off to a sensational start in his senior season. In 15.2 innings, he has only allowed two runs on nine hits while striking out 14 and walking five. Yet, the Bruins’ ace is barely 1-1 despite an ERA of 1.15 due to an extreme lack of run support.
Gavin Brooks, who has been UCLA’s Sunday starter, has had no decisions in his two starts. In his 8.1 innings of work, the 6’3” freshman lefty has allowed four runs on eight hits. He has struck out six while walking three.
Savage and his staff have been trying various people in the other starting spot. Garett Claypool, Brendan Lafferty and Paul Schmidt have recorded a start apiece. Claypool pitched three scoreless and hitless innings against UC-Riverside in his college debut on Tuesday. Lafferty and Schmidt have been roughed up in their appearances.
The Bruins most effective reliever is Jason Novak. The 6’1” sophomore has only given up 1 run on seven hits in 12 innings of work. He has held opponents well below the Mendoza line while striking out ten and only walking three.
Don’t be surprised if Claypool or Novak gets the starting nod for Saturday’s game.
This staff will face a Pirates’ offense that banged out 15 hits in their 11-2 victory over Liberty on Sunday. They are batting .275 with two home runs. The line-up contains a nice mix of right-handed and left-handed batters.
Harrison Eldridge excelled in the lead-off role, reaching base 10-of-15 times in the series. “H”, who now plays center field for ECU as opposed to right, is hitting .583 with two doubles and 2 RBIs.
Senior leftfielder Ryan Tousley, who will also see time at designated hitter, got his second and final season in the purple and gold off to a good start by going 5-of-12 versus the Flames.
The Pirates’ shortstop Dale Mollenhauer, who started all 59 games in his sophomore campaign, went 4-of-12 with a grand slam and 5 RBIs against Liberty.
Jamie Ray, who started 22 games in 2006, also hit the ball well on opening weekend. He collected three hits in ten at-bats, but several of his outs were well hit.
FOR EAST CAROLINA TO WIN, IT MUST:
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