Coach's First Recruits Anchor Success

May 10, 2007

By Bobby Gordon Daily Bruin

May 10, 2007

Los Angeles, CA (CSTV U-WIRE) -- Call this year two for coach John Savage and the baseball team.

While Savage is in his third year at the helm for No. 21 UCLA, he is in the second year with his first recruiting class. His first year with the program in 2005 was one to forget, with the Bruins dropping a school-record 19 games in a row.

For a lot of programs, a season like UCLA had that year might really hurt recruiting. Third baseman Jermaine Curtis out of Fontana was not deterred.

'I didn't question (the decision to come to UCLA) because our recruiting class was amazing,' Curtis said. 'We have the Brandon Crawfords, we have everyone. (Tim) Murphy ... (Ryan) Babineau. We had a strong recruiting class and I knew that we were going to turn it around as soon as we got here.'

Last year Savage's recruiting class came in and performed well, helping UCLA make an immediate turnaround and qualify for an NCAA Regional appearance at Pepperdine.

This year, those players are a little older, a little wiser and have UCLA a short stretch away from bringing home a Pac-10 title. The last time UCLA finished in first place was 2000, ending the season in a three-way tie with Stanford and Arizona State.

The stacked sophomore class on any given day makes up over half of the Bruin starting lineup. Catcher Ryan Babineau, pitcher/outfielder Tim Murphy, third baseman Jermaine Curtis, shortstop Brandon Crawford, and catcher/designated hitter/first baseman Cody Decker is not only a star list of the class, but of the team as a whole.

Decker leads the Bruins in home runs with 12, including a two-home run performance against Cal last weekend.

Curtis leads the team in hitting with a .352 batting average, and a .444 on-base percentage. In second place is Crawford, just behind Curtis with a batting mark of .344. Both players have improved their averages from last year, with Curtis leaping 16 points and Crawford making a 26-point jump.

Curtis might be one of the most key pieces to the Bruins' entire puzzle. When he was unable to play because of an academic ineligibility issue at the beginning of this season, the Bruins floundered with a 10-14 record. Since his return, the team is 18-5 and in the conference driver's seat.

Babineau has not only performed well at the plate, but has helped out in other ways as well. He has helped manage a pitching staff that has stayed strong while evolving.

The plan was to have Tyson Brummett, the starting pitcher for Sunday games, become the Friday starter, and have incoming freshman Charles Brewer and Gavin Brooks pitching on Saturday and Sunday respectively. While Brooks has pitched well on Sundays, Brewer has been not been able to pitch, first with illness and now with injury.

In his place, Murphy (4-2) has done a lot more than simply fill a role, putting up numbers that any coach would be happy with. In 48.2 innings the two-way player has thrown 66 strikeouts and helped the Bruins keep their Pac-10 series winning streak alive.

'Murphy has really established himself as our Saturday guy,' Savage said. 'It's great to see Tim. He's so athletic, and he's established himself as a pitcher.'

Another one of pitching guru Savage's investments that has paid big dividends is senior Brummett. The Utah native came in last year as a junior transfer alongside this year's sophomore class and jumped into the role as the Sunday starter. While Brummett pitched well his junior season, he has raised his game to an entirely new level in his second year playing for Savage. He made the switch from Sunday starter to Friday starter, a role reserved for a team's ace, and has seen his statistics make the same kind of change.

Last year Brummett went 6-7 with a 4.52 ERA and one complete game. This year has been a different story. The right-hander has thrown a Pac-10 best six complete games, held down a 2.92 ERA, and earned Pac-10 pitcher of the week honors on three different occasions.

'He's doing something only a few guys can do,' Savage said. 'Pitching in this league on a Friday is a very difficult task and he's really stepped up. Especially as a guy that was a Sunday guy last year, to turn into a Friday guy really is a compliment to his hard work and his getting better.'

Brummett did not get better by accident. Working under Savage, who is widely respected for his pitching knowledge, Brummett stepped into the role as the leader of the pitching staff.

'He's been on an adamant throwing program all season,' Savage said. 'His velocity is up, his breaking ball is crisper. ... We can't ask anything more than what Tyson has given us so far.'

With all of Savage's players integrated in their second year in the program, the Bruins look toward the NCAA Regionals for the second year in a row, with plans of going even farther.

(C) 2007 Daily Bruin via CSTV U-WIRE

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