Cal baseball looks to ride strong play into series against top-ranked UCLA

An athlete holds up a baseball bat.
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For ages, physicists have questioned the potential outcome of an unstoppable force colliding with an immovable object. This weekend’s matchup between the scorching-hot Cal baseball team and No. 1 UCLA, however, may finally yield the answer.

Cal enters this weekend’s series having won eight of its last nine games, while UCLA flaunts a 28-6 record and has rested atop college baseball’s rankings for the past several weeks.

The Bears have been firing on all cylinders throughout their nine-game hot streak, featuring an offense that averages a whopping 7.77 runs per game. Both on the field and in the clubhouse, Cal baseball has found its rhythm and enjoyed itself in the process.

“Everyone’s playing for each other,” said Cal skipper Mike Neu. “These guys are really bought into our core values and playing for the guys that are right next to them. So I think there’s not any selfishness on this team, and I think that’s been a big part of the reason we’ve been able to be consistent as we get deeper into the season.”

Cal’s sluggers will have their work cut out for them this weekend, though, as UCLA boasts one of the finest pitching staffs in all of college baseball. Junior Ryan Garcia has arguably been the Bruins’ ace this season, as the right-hander’s 1.32 ERA ranks second out of all Pac-12 pitchers. After fanning 13 batters through seven scoreless innings against East Carolina last weekend, Garcia was named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week and will wear the title as he toes the rubber against the Bears this weekend.

Out of the bullpen, UCLA sophomore Holden Powell has done an excellent job closing out games all season long for the Bruins. Powell’s 11 saves on the year are the most in the Pac-12, and his impressive 2.42 ERA is a testament to his ability to maintain leads during his outings.

Although UCLA possesses a pitching prowess the Bears have not seen in recent weeks, Cal will continue to employ the same methods at the plate that have fueled its recent offensive surge.

“Our approach is to be on time to the fastball,” Neu explained. “We’re really just trying to see fastballs that we can hit and be on time to it and do damage to those pitches. And hopefully react to some of the other pitches. … You know you’re going to see a little more offspeed, but just stick to the game plan and not try to do too much.”

In regard to Cal’s recent performance on the mound, the team’s pitching staff has enjoyed success from both its younger arms and its returning veterans.

After missing the beginning of the season because of an appendectomy, junior Jared Horn has made a stellar recovery and now holds the Pac-12’s fifth-ranked ERA at 2.03. Last weekend against Arizona, Horn carved up nine batters and allowed just two earned runs through a career-high eight innings.

Freshman Sam Stoutenborough has shown incredible progress in his recent outings, as the righty has allowed only three earned runs in his last 19 innings. On the year, Stoutenborough holds a 5-3 record and a 2.85 ERA.

In going on the road to take on Division I baseball’s premier squad, Cal is presented with a chance to make a statement and establish itself as a force to be reckoned with in the Pac-12.

“We know we have to put in a solid effort every game to win this series,” Neu said. “We’re playing well right now, so we feel confident going in. It’s a great opportunity for us really.”

Joey Patton covers baseball. Contact him at [email protected].