Cal State Fullerton seems to have UCLA’s number
Numbers don’t lie.
UCLA’s baseball team has been little more than a speed bump for Cal State Fullerton. All you have to do is go to the big box score.
In 2007, the Bruins toddled off to Fullerton for a super regional. They were sent right back home after being outscored, 14-3, in two losses to the Titans.
In 2008, the Bruins returned to Fullerton, beat the Titans in one game and needed only one more victory to advance. UCLA pitchers gave up 16 runs in two losses to Fullerton.
This has been the pattern since John Savage took over the UCLA program in 2005. The Bruins are 3-18 against the Titans under Savage.
So with UCLA set to face Fullerton in the best-of-three super regional, beginning Friday night at Jackie Robinson Stadium, the expected sound bites are rolling out of Westwood.
“I don’t think it means anything, to be honest with you,” UCLA pitcher Trevor Bauer said. “We don’t put in anything as far as historical numbers. Those were different teams.”
Yet, a peek behind that square-jaw stance was given by UCLA pitcher Rob Rasmussen, who said, “I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t come to mind,” when asked about Fullerton’s dominance. He immediately went back to the team line, saying, “We’re focused on ourselves, not who we’re playing.”
Somewhere between Bauer’s “honest” statement and Rasmussen’s “I’d be lying” admission is the straight scoop about how the Bruins look at a weekend series in which the winner goes to the College World Series.
The Bruins (46-13), seeded sixth overall, are a different team, a fact made clear by the school record for victories. But it would also be working from a stretch to say that things have changed completely. Fullerton (45-16) swept two games from UCLA this season.
“That question, I think, says a lot about them,” Savage said when asked about his record against Fullerton. “They have beaten a lot of people. For whatever reason we have not been able crack that nut.”
But, he added, “This is a new team, a new year and a new group of players.”
The one-sided nature of the series has Fullerton players spinning just as fast as the Bruins, with the Titans looking to go to Omaha for the eighth time in the last 12 seasons.
“I think, because we had the opportunity to come out on top, and move on past them, they are going to be a lot more hungry,” Titans outfielder Gary Brown said. “I’m not saying we’re not hungry. We are just as hungry to get back to Omaha. But we understand that they don’t want to be embarrassed and might feel disrespected by us because of our success.”
The Bruins have fretted little about others this season, with that confident focused-on-ourselves mantra. That comes easy when you have a pitching staff that has the nation’s second lowest earned-run average (2.94).
Fullerton may have won both games against UCLA this season, but the Titans did not face the Bruins’ big three — pitchers Gerrit Cole (10-2), Bauer (10-3) and Rasmussen (10-2). These three have been the Friday-Saturday-Sunday pitchers all season.
The Titans gave pitcher Garett Claypool (8-3) two of his three losses in midweek games.
“We played two good games against them and they came out on top,” Savage said. “Weekends are a different environment, a different mind-set. The Friday-Saturday-Sunday series is a grind and what’s what this will be.”
Still, this is Fullerton, and Bruins players remember being ground up by the Titans in a postseason weekend series before.
Even though he battled back from injuries in 2008, Rasmussen carries a haunting memory from that season, when he lost the regional-deciding game to the Titans.
“There was that bitter feeling after we lost,” Rasmussen said. “We had been ranked No. 1 in the preseason and had high expectations. Fullerton beat us in the super regional [in 2007] and we wanted that regional. We didn’t get it.”
Now the Bruins get yet another shot at the Titans and, “getting eliminated by Fullerton definitely motivates you,” Rasmussen said.