The top-seeded UCLA Bruins are back in the tournament for the first time since winning the 2013 National Championship.
The Bruins missed out on the 2014 postseason after suffering several injuries throughout the conference season, including losing closer David Berg for the last chunk of the year.
But UCLA is back, and are the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament this year, and are hosting the Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners, Maryland Terrapins, and Ole Miss Rebels. UCLA’s only true weekend series loss came just this past weekend, as the Oregon Ducks two-of-three to play themselves into the NCAA Tournament.
A big storyline heading into this regional is Maryland having to deal with their head coach being suspended. After being tossed out of a Big Ten Tournament game, John Szefc will have to miss the first two games of the postseason, which means he may not coach his team at all in this regional. According to the Washington Post, assistant coach Jim Belanger will take over head coaching duties.
The Terps open with Ole Miss on Friday at 7 PM ET. Marlyand’s 39-21 record is much more impressive than the Rebs’ 30-26 mark, but UM was just 4-7 over their last 11 games before the Big Ten tourney. By contrast, after losing to Missouri 18-1 on May 2nd, Ole Miss went 6-1 to close out the regular season, with the only loss coming to a regional host in Texas A&M.
The other game features Cal State Bakersfield, who is making their first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance. 2015 was the seventh year of existence for the Roadrunner baseball program, and got in thanks to winning two games against Seattle to close out the WAC Tournament in Mesa, AZ.
CSUB is certainly a program on the rise in Southern California, but has not yet reached the level where they should be expected to compete in this Regional. UCLA should get by easily on Friday, and then the Bruins should be able to get by Maryland or Ole Miss without any major issues either. The one thing that’s hampered UCLA this season is quality left-handed pitching. Maryland has Jake Drossner, and Ole Miss has Christian Trent, who could be left-handed starters that spur an upset. Ole Miss closer Wyatt Short is also left-handed, and has an ERA of 1.42 in 38 innings of work this year, resulting in ten saves and a 4-1 record.
Expect UCLA to get out of this region behind their pitching staff, but if any team can present some kind of challenge to them, it is Ole Miss, assuming the pitching rotation works out the proper way.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports