The UCLA baseball team has been here before, hosting the NCAA Series Super Regional, peaking at the right time.
Only this time, they’re taking a more balanced approach.
Two years ago, the Bruins were propelled by a pitching staff that ranked among the nation’s best, guided by a two-headed sensational sophomore monster in Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, backed by the nation’s best Sunday starter in Rob Rasmussen and bolstered by perhaps the country’s best bullpen.
The bats, however, were prone to lapses, and they ultimately failed in the College World Series championship series against South Carolina.
This year, as proven in UCLA’s thorough domination of last weekend’s regionals – a combined 23-6 handling of Creighton, New Mexico and Creighton again – everything is clicking.
“We feel really balanced as a team,” said shortstop Pat Valaika, whose Bruins host TCU at Jackie Robinson Stadium, beginning at 6 p.m. tonight. “We pitch real well, we play solid defense and we score a lot of runs; that’s a recipe for a lot of wins. We don’t have to rely on our pitching, I think, like we did last year with Cole and Bauer
“This year it’s more of a whole team effort.”
It certainly was in the regionals.
There was Friday starter Adam Plutko – who picked up a win in his lone playoff start last season as a freshman – dazzling the Bluejays in a 3-0 two-hitter.
There was scorching Jeff Gelalich, smashing two home runs in the series-clinching win over Creighton.
It was a group effort, and one that will be needed against the Horned Frogs, as TCU brings a little edge into the matchup.
UCLA defeated the revenge-thirsty Horned Frogs three times in the 2010 College World Series en route to a program-best runner-up finish.
Head coach John Savage isn’t about to take anything for granted.
“TCU played very, very well up at A&M, I thought one of the toughest regionals in the country,” Savage said. “To do what they did in College Station was very, very impressive. They’re a little bit like us.”
And both teams are a little like they were two years ago.
But only a little.
“It’s been different – I’ve kind of seen it all being here for three years, being able to watch Cole and Bauer and have a pretty big spotlight on them,” UCLA centerfielder Beau Amaral said. “This year, it’s been a lot different. You kind of want the target on your back. This year we haven’t had it as much early on, not having Cole and Bauer. But I think I’ve we’ve earned it throughout the year.”