UCLA freshman Kyle Molnar named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week

UCLA’s Kyle Molnar was named the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week today, his prize for accomplishing something no Bruin had in over a decade.

The freshman righty struck out eight batters in a row in an 11-2 win over Washington State on Sunday, giving the team its fifth straight win and a series sweep to open conference play. The last UCLA pitcher to record that many consecutive strikeouts was David Huff, who fanned nine straight on Feb. 16, 2006 at Pacific.

Molnar’s streak looks even more impressive given the Bruins’ track record of producing top pitchers. Since Huff was taken 39th overall in the 2006 MLB draft, seven UCLA pitchers have become either first-, second- or third-round picks.

That run includes Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer — who went first and third overall in 2011 — as well as James Kaprielian, who went 16th to the New York Yankees last June. Cole struck out seven straight against Texas A&M in March 2010.

Molnar, who opened the season as UCLA’s Sunday starter, was ranked as Baseball America’s No. 53 draft prospect. The Aliso Niguel alum was intent on going to college despite one West Coast scout describing him as the most pro-ready high school pitcher available last year.

The 6-foot-4 freshman has a 4.50 ERA through five starts, but that number drops to 3.43 after excluding his career debut against North Carolina.

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John Savage wins 400th game as UCLA baseball coach

Arguably the most successful baseball coach in UCLA history, John Savage has reached a new milestone: 400 wins.

The 12th-year head coach earned that victory in dramatic fashion on Sunday night, as the No. 14 Bruins (6-5) pushed past USC, 5-3, in a 14-inning thriller. Senior outfielder Christoph Bono batted in UCLA’s go-ahead runs with a bases-loaded chopper in the top of the final frame at Dodger Stadium.

Savage now has a 27-14 record against the Trojans, more wins than he has against any other opponent. The two teams will meet again on May 13 to start a three-game series at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

The 51-year-old now is the fourth active Pac-12 coach to hit the 400-win threshold, joining Stanford’s Mark Marquess, Oregon State’s Pat Casey, and Cal’s David Esquer — and is the only one except Marquess to do it in fewer than 12 full seasons.

He remains the Bruins’ third-winningest coach behind Gary Adams (985) and Art Reichle (747), but holds a higher winning percentage (.592) and brought back the program’s only national title in 2013. Savage is under contract through 2025.

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Is UCLA baseball ready to make a run after 2015’s sudden ending?

Outfielder Eric Filia (4) was a crucial part of UCLA's national title run in 2013, but missed the last two seasons due to injury and an academic suspension. (Ted Kirk/Associated Press)

Outfielder Eric Filia (4) was a crucial part of UCLA’s national title run in 2013, but missed the last two seasons due to injury and an academic suspension. As a senior, he is expected to be the Bruins’ biggest bat. (Ted Kirk/Associated Press)

The UCLA baseball team clinched the No. 1 overall seed in last year’s NCAA Tournament, but sputtered out against Maryland in the regional round. Heading into John Savage’s 12th season, are the Bruins ready to make a deeper run despite the departures of several stars?

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UCLA baseball hires LMU’s Bryant Ward as assistant coach

UCLA baseball has hired Bryant Ward away from Loyola Marymount, filling in a spot on its staff that opened a month ago.

Ward will serve as the Bruins’ assistant coach and recruiting coordinator, overseeing the infield and hitting instruction the same way T.J. Bruce did for the past five years. Bruce, a tenacious recruiter, took Nevada’s head coaching job in late June.

Ward appears to be cast out of a similar mold. At LMU, he helped pull in a top-25 recruiting class in 2011, the school’s first in 15 years — and replicated the feat two years later. The East Carolina alum also coached previously at the University of South Florida and Cal State Fullerton.

His two-year tenure with the Titans (2005-06) put him on the same staff as former UCLA assistant Rick Vanderhook, who just completed his fourth season as CSUF head coach.

“We are very excited about Bryant joining the program,” UCLA head coach John Savage said in a statement. “He is a dedicated coach who excels at teaching infielders and is an outstanding recruiter. He will bring tremendous passion and energy to the program.”

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UCLA assistant TJ Bruce leaves to coach Nevada baseball

UCLA baseball assistant TJ Bruce has taken the head job at Nevada, becoming the latest member of John Savage’s growing coaching tree.

Bruce, who turned 33 in March, always seemed bound for a bigger opportunity. He had served as the Bruins’ infield coach for the past five years, as well as their hitting assistant. But one of his primary duties was recruiting coordinator, where he helped the program reel in three top-10 classes.

After UCLA won its first College World Series title in 2013, I asked Bruce what he had planned as a celebration. He was set to hit the recruiting trail the next day. Continue reading

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