UCLA's baseball team, champion of the Pac-10 Southern Division for the first time since 1979, is counting on hard hitting and one outstanding pitcher as the NCAA West Regional opens today at the Bruins' Jackie Robinson Stadium.
In the opening game of the four-team double-elimination tournament, Pacific Coast Athletic Conference champion UC Santa Barbara (43-17) plays West Coast Athletic Conference co-champion Loyola Marymount (45-12) at 11 a.m., and UCLA (39-21 overall and 21-9 in conference) meets Hawaii (41-22), runner-up in the Western Athletic Conference, at 3:30.
The tournament winner will join winners from seven other regionals this month in the Division I College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
UCLA's making it into the regionals is something of a surprise. THe Bruins finished fifth in the conference last season.
'Hitting Carried Us'
Coach Gary Adams credits hitting and talented youngsters with the sudden turnaround. UCLA set school records by batting .348 and slugging 99 home runs and 137 doubles.
"The hitting carried us," Adams said. "Every one of our position players could hit one out."
UCLA's attack became ferocious once the younger players won starting jobs, according to Adams. There are only three seniors: Rick Smith, a reserve catcher, first baseman John Jocelyn and designated hitter Gary Berman.
Much of the sock comes from juniors Torey Lovullo, a second baseman, and catcher Todd Zeile, who batted .346, hit 13 home runs and knocked in 43 runs.
Three freshmen cracked the lineup: Bobby Holley at shortstop, Scott Cline at third base and Bill Haselman in right field.
Players of the Year
Lovullo and pitcher Alex Sanchez were voted co-players of the year in the Pac-10.
A 6-0, 180-pound switch-hitter, Lovullo batted .321, hit 16 homers and 16 doubles and knocked in 65 runs. He was also outstanding in the field.
While Lovullo, a heady player, improved when he developed physically, gaining 15 pounds of muscle, Sanchez was a strong-armed pitcher who blossomed into a big winner when he learned to use his head.
"He always had good stuff, but in the past he would just stand up there and throw as hard as he could," Adams said. "Now he has learned to mix up his pitches and keep hitters off-balance."
Sanchez, a 6-3, 185-pound sophomore, improved with each outing. He allowed only two earned runs in his last 20 innings.
Won 'Big Games'
"None of his wins down the stretch were cheap," Adams said. "We matched him against the top pitchers in every series and he won all the big games for us. He was outstanding."
Sanchez finished 16-2 and struck out 134.
All of the season heroics by Lovullo, Zeile, Sanchez and others will be necessary if the Bruins are to move into the College World Series.