UCLA baseball regional is close to home for Loyola Marymount
He was one of the last members of the team to leave Banner Island Ballpark in Stockton on Saturday. His Gatorade-saturated champions T-shirt had dried by the time he got on the team bus.
The Lions had defeated Saint Mary’s to win the West Coast Conference tournament and the conference’s automatic berth into the NCAA tournament. Gill had led his team to a regional for the first time in his 11-year tenure, ending the school’s 19-season playoff drought.
“Emotionally I’m on a pretty big high right now,” Gill said after a 4-2 extra-inning victory. “These guys are unbelievable. They were picked to finish seventh in our conference and we just won the conference tournament. I’m pretty proud of them.”
But the Lions and Bears — oh my — will have to deal with the regional’s host, UCLA. The Bruins (47-8) were selected the NCAA tournament’s top overall seed for the second time in program history after a historic regular season.
The Bruins won every weekend series, including four against teams that finished the regular season ranked in the top 12 of D1Baseball’s top 25. They also won every midweek game and the Pac-12 Conference with a 24-5 conference record.
UCLA led the nation in earned run average (2.59) and WHIP (1.06). The Bruins’ top two starting pitchers, Ryan Garcia and Jack Ralston, are a combined 20-0. Reliever Nathan Hadley is 8-1. Closer Holden Powell led the Pac-12 with 16 saves. They are one of the top defensive teams in the nation, ranking second in fielding percentage (0.982). And UCLA scores 6.6 runs per game. It has five starters hitting better than .300, four who have at least 20 extra-base hits.
The Bruins will open against Nebraska-Omaha. The Mavericks (31-22-1) are making their first Division I tournament appearance. This will be their second trip to Los Angeles this season after opening with two losses in a three-game series at USC.
The winner of the double-elimination Los Angeles Regional will play the winner of the Corvallis Regional, which features No. 16 national seed Oregon State hosting Creighton, Michigan and Cincinnati. The potential Pac-12 super regional matchup is one of five intra-conference national seed alignments.
Five Pac-12 teams made the tournament. Stanford is also a regional host as the No. 11 national seed. California is the No. 2 seed in the Fayetteville Regional hosted by Arkansas. Arizona State is the No. 2 seed in the LSU-hosted Baton Rouge Regional.
Only one other team from Southern California will be participating in a regional. UC Santa Barbara defeated rival Cal Poly in the season finale to lock up its first Big West Conference title since 1986. The Gauchos (45-9) earned the league’s automatic bid and are the No. 2 seed in the Stanford Regional, opening Friday at 7 p.m. against Fresno State (38-14-1) and Ryan Jensen, whose fastball has reached triple digits.
UC Irvine finished 37-17 and second in the Big West, but the NCAA selection committee didn’t go with a bubble team west of Texas. Texas Christian was a surprise selection despite a losing record in Big 12 Conference play.
Cal State Fullerton (27-26) saw its 27-year string of postseason appearances end, as did its 44-year streak of winning at least 30 games.
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