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UCLA is armed for another chance at reaching Omaha

The Bruins return every starting pitcher and an All-American reliever from last season, when they made it to the College World Series for the second time in three seasons. USC begins play with a new coach.

February 14, 2013|By Gary Klein
  • Right-hander David Berg throws a pitch against Stanford during the Bruins' 2012 season.
Right-hander David Berg throws a pitch against Stanford during the Bruins'… (Scott Chandler )

After once going three decades between College World Series appearances, UCLA is on the verge of becoming an Omaha regular.

The Bruins advanced to the World Series twice in the last three years.

UCLA enters Friday's opener against Minnesota ranked second by ESPN/USA Today and 12th by Baseball America. And with every starting pitcher and an All-American reliever back from a team that finished 48-16 overall, 20-10 in the Pac-12 Conference last season, the Bruins might be positioned for another run to Omaha.

"We're still building," UCLA Coach John Savage said, "still creating that identity."

Since taking over the program before the 2005 season, Savage has built the Bruins with pitching.

This season, junior Adam Plutko, who had a 12-3 record and 2.48 earned-run average last season, and junior Nick Vander Tug (10-4, 4.43) anchor a staff that also includes Zack Weiss, Grant Watson, Ryan Deeter, freshmen Hunter Virant, Cody Poteet and James Kaprielian, and All-American reliever David Berg, who appeared in 50 games and had a 1.46 ERA.

However, the Bruins must replace outfielders Jeff Gelalich, Beau Amaral and Cody Keefer, catcher Tyler Heineman and utility player Trevor Brown — all of whom signed pro contracts.

Shane Zeile, coming off a shoulder injury, is moving from third base to catcher. Second baseman Kevin Williams also is nursing a shoulder injury. And senior first baseman Cody Regis, who has played more postseason games than any player in UCLA history, must sit out until the start of the spring quarter because of an academic issue.

Meantime, USC enters Friday's opener against No. 22 Cal State Fullerton two days after Athletic Director Pat Haden fired Frank Cruz as coach for violating NCAA rules that limit the number of hours athletes can spend in activities directed or supervised by the coaching staff.

Second-year assistant Dan Hubbs was elevated to head coach for a team that finished 23-32 overall and 8-22 in the Pac-12 last season.

Hubbs declined to comment on the circumstances surrounding Cruz's departure. He said he was told by USC officials that, "you're not the interim coach, you're the head coach, so that's what I'm going on."

"When I got into coaching, USC was obviously the dream place," said Hubbs, an All-American pitcher for the Trojans in 1993. "I didn't expect it to happen this way so it was pretty bittersweet because Frank Cruz is a really good friend of mine. ... On the other hand, it's kind of the dream job. I look at this as an opportunity."

Hubbs said a roster that includes 16 freshmen will probably show its youth at times. Junior left-hander Bob Wheatley will start against Fullerton. Sophomore Wyatt Strahan and freshman Kyle Twomey are other starters.

Fullerton, under second-year Coach Rick Vanderhook, is favored to win its fourth consecutive Big West Conference title.

Junior Michael Lorenzen is a dual threat as a center fielder and closer for a team that finished 36-21 overall and 17-7 in the Big West last season. Shortstop Richy Pedroza and third baseman Matt Chapman are other top players for a team with a young pitching staff.

UC Irvine, with pitcher Andrew Thurman, and Long Beach State, with outfielder Richard Prigatano, are expected to challenge Fullerton for the conference title.

Shortstop Brandon Trinkwon and pitcher Andrew Vasquez of UC Santa Barbara, pitcher Jerry Keel of Cal State Northridge and outfielder David Andriese of UC Riverside are among other players to watch in the Big West.

Shortstop Austin Davidson, pitchers Corey Miller and Scott Frazier and outfielder/pitcher Aaron Brown are key players for Pepperdine, which finished 36-23 and won the West Coast Conference last season.

Loyola Marymount features senior outfielder Matt Lowenstein and pitchers Trevor Megill and Colin Welmon.

gary.klein@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesklein

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