Jun 25, 2013; Omaha, NE, USA; General view of TD Ameritrade Park as UCLA Bruins takes infield drills before game 2 of the College World Series finals against the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

SoCal College Baseball: Mid-Season Review


Jun 25, 2013; Omaha, NE, USA; UCLA Bruins right fielder Eric Filia (far left) is congratulated for scoring during the fourth inning in game 2 of the 2013 College World Series finals against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at TD Ameritrade Park. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

 

With roughly a month left to go in the regular season, here are how four of the top college baseball teams in the Los Angeles area are doing as they prepare for the postseason and a possible berth in the College World Series:

UCLA BRUINS

Current Record:  21-16, 9-6 and 4th place in the Pac-12 Conference

TOP PLAYERS:

Shane Zeile - .349 average

Christoph Bono - 21 RBIs

David Berg – 9 saves, 1.63 ERA

James Kaprelian –  5-3, 2.12 ERA, 68 strikeouts

Compared to last year, I don’t think that anyone would doubt that these defending national champions are struggling a bit.

Although they did take two of three from last-place Utah in their latest series, the Bruins had lost two of three from Arizona and Long Beach State in recent weeks.

When you’re playing without your two best hitters - Eric Filia and Kevin Kramer, who were a crucial part to UCLA’s title in Omaha last year and who suffered season-ending injuries before the year began – that usually spells a rough road.

Especially when you have a small-ball hitting style and production is at a premium.

It’s also tough when you your two top starters who were SO crucial to the Bruins’ glorious run in Nick VanderTuig and Adam Plutko, who are pitching in the minors for the San Francisco Giants’ and the Cleveland Indians’ systems, respectively.

So where does that leave John Savage’s team?

Hopefully with a berth in the regionals if they go on a tear, though unlike the last couple of years it’s extremely doubtful that they will host anything.

 

USC TROJANS

Current Record:  20-17, 9-9 and in 6th place in the Pac-12 Conference

TOP PLAYERS:

Jake Hernandez - .336 average

Jeremy Martinez - .336 average, 22 RBIs

Kyle Davis - 3 saves, 1.48 ERA

Wyatt Strahan - 58 strikeouts

They are only in sixth place in the conference.

Their 20-17 record could be better.

But for these Trojans, it marks a huge improvement over the past few years, where they were mired at or near the bottom of the Pac-12 standings.

First-year coach Dan Hubbs needs to be given the lion’s share of the credit as his team is currently on a five-game winning streak, coming off a sweep of Arizona at home and putting themselves more than within striking distance in the conference race.

As well as their first appearance in the playoffs since 2005 if they continue to play they way they have been of late.

After a date with Hawaii this week, USC has a three-game set this coming weekend that will not only go along way in determining their future…

Jun 25, 2013; Omaha, NE, USA; General view of TD Ameritrade Park before game 2 of the College World Series finals between the UCLA Bruins and the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

It will also more or less settle whether or not they are back as a force not only in the Pac-12, but also in L.A. as they head over to Westwood for a showdown with UCLA, who beat the Trojans back on March 9.

Anyone who doesn’t think that ‘SC won’t be pumped for that series, on a level of 30 on a scale of one to 10, does not know or understand the Crosstown Rivalry.

And the Bruins sorely need to be just as pumped as those Trojans will be.

 

UC IRVINE ANTEATERS

Current Record:  25-14, 8-1 and 2nd place in the Big West Conference

TOP PLAYERS:

Connor Spencer - .367 average, 30 RBIs

Taylor Sparks - .320, 4 home runs

Sam Moore - 16 saves, 1.67 ERA

Andrew Morales - 7-0, 0.61 ERA, 80 strikeouts

Something’s different in the Big West Conference this year…

Cal State Fullerton, who usually rules that nine-team league and has done so for approximately four decades, is having a sub-par campaign as the Titans are stuck in 6th place in the conference and are barely at .500 in 2014.

It is CSUF’s Orange County neighbors to the south, the Anteaters of UC Irvine, who have stolen the spotlight as they have only lost once in the Big West to date.

Spencer, a junior first baseman, has an average that is certainly through the roof, but two pitchers on Mike Gillespie’s staff have particularly made fans go “Whoa!”

Moore’s 16 saves are quite eye-opening, but Morales, a senior right-hander, has looked like a major league all-star with his numbers.

No matter if a hurler’s making $20 million or toiling on a high school diamond; who wouldn’t want a 7-0 record with 80 strikeouts and a 0.61 earned run average, which leads the nation.

A showdown with first place Cal Poly, who’s sporting an 11-1 mark and have a sick 34-5 record overall, ranking in the top three in all the baseball polls – including the #1 spot according to Collegiate Baseball – looms.

 

PEPPERDINE WAVES

Current Record:  30-9, 14-4 and 1st place in the West Coast Conference

Current Rank:  #19 accruing to Collegiate Baseball

TOP PLAYERS:

Aaron Burnett - .352 average

* Aaron Brown - .342 average, 8 home runs, 35 RBIs

Eric Karch - 11 saves, 0.82 ERA

Corey Miller - 7-2, 1.29 ERA

* Aaron Brown - 8-1, 2.39 ERA, 75 strikeouts

When I saw that it was these Pepperdine Waves, who play their home games across the street from the beach in wealthy, celebrity-enclave Malibu, who were the best team in SoCal as UCLA wasn’t even the best team in the Westside section of L.A. anymore, well…

Even though they have enjoyed success as a program over the years, winning an NCAA championship in 1992, I couldn’t help but think “Wow!”

The win-loss record speaks for itself, as well as the numbers that Steve Rodriguez’s squad have put up; for example, who can dispute Karch’s ability with his earned run average being less than one and his 11 saves?

One player, however, has not only distinguished himself as not only – undisputedly – the best collegiate baseball player in Southern California, but is also a legitimate threat to win the Golden Spikes Award, college baseball’s version of the Heisman Trophy…

Aaron Brown, a junior who plays the outfield as well as pitch, has dominated at the plate and on the mound.

Jun 25, 2013; Omaha, NE, USA; General view of TD Ameritrade Park during the sixth inning in game 2 of the College World Series finals between the UCLA Bruins and the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

I mean, come on – an average of better than .340 with eight homers? Striking out 75 guys while posting a record of 8-1 as a left-handed starter?

If I were an opposing coach and this young man came up in the later innings,, in a close game, and particularly with first base open, I wouldn’t even bother to pitch to him as I’d order my catcher to stand up and stick his arm out.

In other words, I’d walk him.

Which I reckon teams like Cal Poly, who Pepperdine has a big clash with on April 29 after a nine-day break, local rival Loyola Marymount, Long Beach State and San Diego will be doing in the coming weeks.

It’s clear that among the college baseball teams in SoCal, this has been the Waves’ year so far.

Whether or not that remains the case remains to be seen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tags: Cal State Fulllerton College Baseball College World Series Crosstown Rivalry Featured Pepperdine Popular UC Irvine UCLA USC

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