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UCLA juniors hoping to get back to College World Series

The Bruins' third-year players, who reached the World Series as freshmen, have been a part of 128 victories and are playing in their third home regional. UCLA plays Friday night against Creighton.

May 31, 2012|By Gary Klein
  • UCLA's Cody Regis, right, is congratulated by teammate Dean Espy after hitting a two-run home run against Texas Christian at the College World Series in 2010. Regis is hoping to help the Bruins reach the College World Series again this year.
UCLA's Cody Regis, right, is congratulated by teammate Dean Espy… (Eric Francis / Associated…)

As freshmen they went to the College World Series.

In 2011, while backing the two most high-profile pitchers in the nation, they struggled to repeat their success and the team failed to advance out of a regional.

Now, an experienced junior class that has won more games in a three-year span than any in UCLA history is hoping to lead the Bruins back to Omaha for another shot at a national championship.

Outfielders Jeff Gelalich, Beau Amaral and Cody Keefer; infielders Cody Regis and Trevor Brown; catcher Tyler Heineman; and pitcher Scott Griggs spurred UCLA's drive to a share of the Pac-12 title and a No. 2 national seeding in the playoffs.

On Friday at 7 p.m., the Bruins play Creighton in an opening game of a regional at Jackie Robinson Stadium. San Diego plays New Mexico at 3 p.m.

UCLA is 42-14, surprising many who thought the Bruins would falter without pitchers Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, the first and third overall picks in the 2011 Major League Baseball draft.

The Bruins are batting .310, more than 40 points higher than last season, and have scored 351 runs, 90 more than they did in 2011.

"People thought, 'This is the Cole and Bauer show,' and in a lot of ways it was," UCLA Coach John Savage said. "But they had good players around them. And I think they've proven that."

The juniors have been a part of 128 victories and are playing in their third home regional.

Gelalich is batting a team-best .367 with nine homers. Heineman (.359), Keefer (.338), Brown (.326) and Amaral (.313) are right behind, and Griggs has 15 saves.

Creighton (26-28), featuring left-hander Ty Blach, won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament to gain an automatic bid to the playoffs. San Diego (40-15), with star third baseman Kris Bryant, finished second in the West Coast Conference. New Mexico (36-22), led by third baseman DJ Peterson and catcher Mitchell Garver, won the Mountain West Conference tournament.

Cal State Fullerton (35-19), seeded second in the regional at Eugene, Ore., plays Indiana State (41-17) in a first-round game. Oregon (42-17), seeded fifth nationally, plays Austin Peay (38-22).

Oregon Coach George Horton, who guided Fullerton to the 2004 national title, said he considered the Titans the best No. 2-seeded team in the playoffs. He was not enthusiastic about the NCAA selection committee's decision to put the Ducks and Fullerton in the same regional.

"In a way it makes it more difficult because they know me so well," Horton said of Fullerton Coach Rick Vanderhook and his staff. "But it makes it harder for them because I know them so well."

WCC champion Pepperdine (34-21) opens against Michigan State (37-21) in a regional at Palo Alto. Top-seeded Stanford (38-16) plays Fresno State (30-26).

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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