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2011 NCAA Regional Preview: Los Angeles

1. UCLA (33-22)
2. Fresno St. (40-14)
3. UC Irvine (39-16)
4. San Francisco (31-23)

UCLA (33-22, 18-9) Pac-10 Champions

Top Pitcher: Trevor Bauer, Jr., SP (12-2, 1.27 ERA, 189 K)
Top Hitter: Dean Espy, Jr., 1B (.322, 14 2B, 39 RBI)

A preseason top-three team and popular pick to win the national title, UCLA didn’t quite live up to expectations, especially early on in the season. Series losses to San Jose St., Nebraska and then dropping two of three in the Dodgertown Classic in consecutive weekends marked the low point of the season for the Bruins. Their struggles were largely due to an ineffective offense, a surprise for a team that hit reasonably well a year ago and returned most of their lineup. Once Pac-10 play started though, the Bruins picked it up and finished strong with series wins over Oregon, Cal and Arizona St. to claim the Pac-10 crown as the brilliance of Collegiate Baseball National Player of the Year Trevor Bauer captured headlines for a pitching staff that is ranked fourth nationally in ERA (2.45) and second in strikeouts per nine innings (9.7).

FRESNO ST. (40-14, 17-7) WAC Regular Season Co-Champions/Tournament Champions

Top Pitcher: Greg Gonzalez, Sr., SP (11-0, 1.43 ERA, 121 K)
Top Hitter: Dusty Robinson, Jr., OF (.318, 16 HR, 54 RBI)

The season couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for Fresno St. They won their first seven games and heading into April they hadn’t lost a series, while picking up series wins against Nebraska, Washington St., San Francisco and winning both of their games against Oregon St. A tough April and two losses to Cal St. Bakersfield to close the season knocked them down though and what looked like a sure host spot was gone, but they did win the WAC Tournament. Now, led by Dusty Robinson, Danny Muno and Jordan Ribera, who finished on fire after a terrible start to the season, the Bulldogs have a top offense to go along by a starting staff anchored by senior Greg Gonzalez and one of the deeper bullpens on the West Coast.

UC IRVINE (39-16, 16-8) Big West At-large

Top Pitcher: Matt Summers, Jr., SP (10-2, 1.74 ERA, .178 batting average against)
Top Hitter: Drew Hillman, Sr., OF/3B (.347, 4 HR, 47 RBI)

Good, but just not good enough to get past Cal St. Fullerton again, UC Irvine had to settle for second place in the Big West. That doesn’t mean they’re to be overlooked though, especially after winning 13 of their last 17. For the second straight season, UC Irvine is a number two seed in UCLA’s Regional and they’ll look to go one step further after losing in the Regional final last year. If they do it, they won’t do it with power, considering they hit just 11 home runs all season. They offense does what it can to generate runs without power, but it is really the fourth-ranked defense in the nation that the position players pride themselves on. That, along with the dominant Matt Summers leading a pitching staff with a 2.97 team ERA is the Anteaters’ bread and butter.

SAN FRANCISCO (31-23, 16-5) WCC Champions

Top Pitcher: Matt Hiserman, So., SP (6-3, 4.01 ERA)
Top Hitter: Pete Lavin, Sr., OF (.350, .430 OBP, 16 SB)

After starting the season 0-5, it looked like San Francisco might be in for a long year. Losing eight of 11 before the start of WCC play didn’t help either, but once conference play started, the Dons picked it up. They were surprised leaders just a couple weekend into the conference season and despite losing ace Matt Lujan to an elbow injury with just two weeks left in the season, the Dons went to Gonzaga and won two of three to win the conference. They got it done thanks to incredible defense, putting together a .984 fielding percentage, the second-best of any NCAA team since 1971. Pete Lavin leads an offense that has been hurt by the regression of Stephen Yarrow and the trio of Jonathan Abramson, Jordan Remer and Cameron Love anchor a bullpen that allows San Francisco to finish games strong.

PREDICTION: Both Fresno St. and UC Irvine will have to use their very good aces in the opener and then likely have to face Trevor Bauer on Saturday so UCLA should be sitting pretty come Sunday and wrap up a spot in the Super Regionals.