Culver City Observer -

UCLA Eyes Challenging Baseball Schedule

 

February 26, 2015

UCLA enters the 2015 season looking to bounce back from a rough campaign last season which saw the team miss the postseason for the first time since 2009.

The Bruins swept three games from Hofstra to begin the season.

Despite missing the postseason in 2014 the Bruins' program is at an all-time high having made the postseason in seven of the last 10 seasons including three trips to the College World Series and a National Championship in 2013. This year's squad returns 19 players who were a part of the National Championship winning team and welcome a crop of young players who will look to make an immediate impact.

Head Coach John Savage returns for his 11th season with the Bruins . He is currently the third longest-tenured head coach in UCLA baseball program history, leading the team to a 349-254-1 overall record. In seven trips to the postseason at UCLA Savage has compiled a 32-14 record (.696 winning percentage), recording the most postseason victories of any head coach in program history.

In addition, Savage is one of just five head coaches in college baseball history to have guided his team to a College World Series title, produced the first overall pick in the MLB Draft, and coached at least one Golden Spikes Award winner.

"Last year was a tough year and I think we learned from it," said Savage. "The target on our back was extremely big; however, we're very excited about this year's team. It has enough depth, talent and experience to be successful.

The Bruins will battle through a challenging 56-game slate looking to make it back to the postseason. The strength of the team will be the pitching staff where they return all four starting pitchers and senior closer David Berg from a year ago.

Junior James Kaprielian will once again be the Friday night starter with Grant Watson and Cody Poteet following him on Saturdays and Sundays respectively. Midweek duties will come down to a mix of last year's starter Grant Dyer and freshman stand-out Griffin Canning who has impressed thus far.

Kaprielian is coming off a successful season in 2014 which saw him post a 7-6 record with a 2.29 ERA and a Pac-12 leading 108 strikeouts in 106 innings of work. Earning All-Pac-12 honors, Kaprielian was especially effective down the stretch, posting a 1.72 ERA and 32 strikeouts over his final four games. This summer, the Tustin native pitched for the USA Collegiate National Team where he was awarded International Performance of the Year for his six-inning, 12-strikeout shutout of Chinese Taipei on July 4.

Senior Grant Watson returns for his fourth year as a starting pitcher in the program. The veteran lefty compiled a 4-9 record with a 3.80 ERA and 71 strikeouts in 17 appearances (15 starts) last season. Adept at controlling the run game, Watson led the Pac-12 with five pickoffs in 2014.

In the bullpen the Bruins host a plethora of arms including Berg, one of the best closers in NCAA history. He has made a school and conference record 132 appearances and holds the single season record for saves (24) in NCAA history. The senior was drafted in the 17th round of the 2014 MLB Draft by the Texas Rangers, but decided to return to Westwood for one more shot at a championship.

In 2013 Berg became the first reliever in Pac-12 history to be named Pitcher of the Year and was UCLA's first recipient of the NCBWA Stopper of the Year award. Last season, Berg posted a 3-2 record with a 1.50 ERA and 11 saves in 31 relief appearances. Berg racked up 35 strikeouts and conceded just eight walks over 48 innings.

Joining Berg in the bullpen is a slew of veterans including Hunter Virant, Nick Kern and Tucker Forbes among others.

"Our pitching depth is deep," said Savage.

Junior Trent Chatterton, who was the everyday shortstop last year, will slide over and become the starting second basemen. Chatterton was impressive in a full-time starting role last year, leading the team in hitting during conference play with a .327 batting average. Overall, he racked up 21 runs, nine doubles and 17 RBI in 56 starts.

Sophomore Luke Persico who will assume duties at first base after playing all of last year at second base. Persico hit .246 with 22 runs, seven doubles, five triples and 15 RBI last season. His five triples were good for first on the team and he added three steals to go along with it.

The Bruins return two full-time outfield starters from last season in juniors Christoph Bono and Ty Moore.

The Bruins will play 31 conference games and 26 non-conference games. Featured on the non-conference schedule are match-ups with No. 1 Vanderbilt and No. 7 TCU. Both games will be part of a weekend leading up to the Dodgertown Classic against USC on March 8.

The Bruins will open Pac-12 conference play on Friday, March 13 with a three-game home series versus Washington.

 

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