No. 9 UCLA Baseball Prepares for Houston College Classic

Feb. 26, 2009

UCLA Game Notes - Houston College Classic (PDF) Get Acrobat Reader

Friday, Feb. 27, 5 p.m. PT

UCLA - Rob Rasmussen, LHP, So. (1-0, 0.00)
RIce - Mike Ojala, RHP, Jr. (0-0, 1.42)

Saturday, Feb. 28, 1:30 p.m. PT
Baylor - Kendal Volz, RHP, Jr. (0-0, 1.50)
UCLA - Gerrit Cole, RHP, Fr. (1-0, 0.00)

Sunday, March 1, 9 a.m. PT
UC Irvine - TBD

HOUSTON - UCLA makes its first appearance playing in the Houston College Classic this weekend when it faces No. 10 Rice on Friday at 5 p.m. (PT). The Bruins will face No. 6 Baylor on Saturday at 1:30 p.m. (PT) and No. 5 UC Irvine on Sunday at 9 a.m. (PT). All three games will be broadcast (audio) live at The Houston College Classic is one of the sport's most respected in-season tournaments. This year's Classic features UCLA, UC Irvine, Rice, Baylor, Texas A&M and Rice. The Bruins will send sophomore left-hander Rob Rasmussen to the mound on Friday evening against Rice. Freshman right-hander Gerrit Cole is slated to start for UCLA on Saturday against Baylor.

UCLA enters the weekend with a 2-3 record, having won two of three games against 2008 Palo Alto Regional competitor UC Davis last weekend before losing consecutive midweek contests at UC Santa Barbara and at home versus UC Riverside. Under fifth-year head coach John Savage, the Bruins have earned a berth to the NCAA Regionals each of the past three seasons, marking the first time UCLA's baseball program has accomplished that feat. The Bruins have totaled 33 wins, finishing third in the Pac-10 Conference, the last three years.

The Bruins last played in a major-league ballpark in 2004, when UCLA competed in the Aztec Invitational at Petco Park (home of the San Diego Padres). The Bruins have also played at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, home of the Minnesota Twins, in each of three seasons (1987, 1991 and 1997). UCLA won each of its three games at the 1997 Hormel Foods Classic, and went 2-1 at both the 1991 Oscar Mayer Classic and the 1987 Wheaties Tournament. This weekend's action marks UCLA's first-ever appearance to Minute Maid Park. The Bruins last played in the state of Texas in 2005 (March 11-13), losing all three games at Texas A&M.

Most recently, 2008 staff ace Tim Murphy was selected in the third round of the MLB Draft (89th overall) by the Texas Rangers. Last summer, Murphy split time pitching for the Spokane Indians (3-1, 3.03 ERA, 32.2 IP) in short-season single-A ball and for the Clinton LumberKings (1-0, 2.40 ERA, 3 starts) in the Midwest League (low-A). Additionally, former UCLA ballplayer Eric Taylor, Jr. has spent the last three seasons in the Houston Astros minor league organization. Taylor batted .255 with nine homers and 56 RBI in 132 games for the Lexington Legends (single-A) in 2008. He spent the 2005 and 2006 seasons playing baseball at UCLA.

Freshman Chris Amezquita crushed his first collegiate home run in his first plate appearance as a Bruin on Friday, Feb. 20, in a pinch-hit at-bat with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning. Amezquita became the first Bruin to record his first collegiate home run in his first game since Tim Murphy accomplished the feat on Feb. 3, 2006, versus Fresno State. However, Murphy's home run came in his second at-bat.

The 2009 baseball season marks the 90th year of UCLA baseball. The Bruins have fielded a baseball team every year since 1920, when head coach Fred Cozens led UCLA to a 3-10 overall record. Including that inaugural season, UCLA has registered a record of 2,102 wins, 1,816 losses and 34 ties. In 90 seasons, the baseball program has seen eight head coaches and totaled 15 NCAA Tournament appearances.

UCLA's infield, still in flux, will feature several new faces in 2009 and offers the ballclub several intriguing options. The Bruins have considered moving junior first baseman Casey Haerther to third base (served as DH in 2007, first baseman in 2008). Along with Haerther, junior Alex Weber-Shapiro and senior Cody Decker will compete for playing time at first base. Sophomore Niko Gallego, freshman Tyler Rahmatulla (Mater Dei HS), senior Eddie Murray and freshman Chris Amezquita (Servite HS) are all pushing for playing time around the infield. Gallego started all three games at shortstop last weekend against UC Davis.

The Bruins' seven outfielders have all been in UCLA's program at least one season. Redshirt juniors Blair Dunlap and Dustin Quist are the unit's eldest players, as each outfielder enrolled at UCLA in the fall of 2005. Last weekend, Dunlap made all three starts in center field, a position in which he earned 29 starts in 2008. Junior Justin Uribe has logged 51 starts in the outfield and looks to assume the starting role in left. Junior Gabe Cohen has patrolled right field the past two seasons and has collected 86 outfield starts (all in right). Pushing for time, along with Quist, include sophomores Raul Duran and Brett Krill and redshirt freshman Marc Navarro.

Ranked No. 1 in strength of schedule by Boyd's World, a nationally-respected ranking service, the 2009 UCLA regular-season schedule is lined with three consecutive non-conference weekend series away from the West. Following trips to the Houston College Classic, Oklahoma and East Carolina, the Bruins play nine weekends against Pac-10 opposition and a three-game non-conference set against Cal State Fullerton. In all, UCLA's travel schedule spans over 16,400 miles this spring, round trips included.

Junior Casey Haerther led the Bruins with 12 homers and 52 RBI one year ago. In three games last weekend versus UC Davis, he batted .385 (5-for-13) with one homer and four RBI. As a sophomore in 2008, Haerther batted .324 before being named an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection. Haerther is one of two Bruins (along with RHP Charles Brewer) to have been named to the 2009 Brooks Wallace Player of the Year Award Watch List. A talented defensive player at first base, Haerther may play at both first and third base this spring. Last season, he committed just three errors in 495 chances at first base.

Sophomore left-hander Rob Rasmussen earned his first weekend start last Friday and tossed five scoreless innings in a 13-1 victory against UC Davis. Making his first Opening Night start, the former Pasadena Polytechnic standout logged five strikeouts, scattering two hits and issuing just one walk. Rasmussen missed 10 weeks of the 2008 season with a broken left foot, sustained off a line-drive comebacker in his debut (Feb. 27, vs. UC Santa Barbara). Rasmussen finished his freshman season with a 0-2 record and 5.60 ERA in 17.2 innings.

Freshman right-hander Gerrit Cole recorded seven strikeouts in six innings in his collegiate debut last Saturday, limiting UC Davis to an unearned run and one hit in a 5-2 victory. Cole needed just 83 pitches over six inningsand retired nine consecutive hitters from the first through third innings. The hard-throwing right-hander from Santa Ana, Calif., was was selected in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft by the New York Yankees (28th overall). Cole became the first high school player drafted in the first round to attend college since 2002, when John Mayberry, Jr. enrolled at Stanford (Mayberry was the 28th overall selection by the Seattle Mariners).

Senior Brendan Lafferty earned UCLA's team most valuable pitcher honors last spring, making a team-high 33 appearances (all in relief), the most since Rob Henkel pitched in 34 games in 1997. He finished his junior campaign with a 4-3 mark, 3.74 ERA, three saves and 56 strikeouts in 67.1 innings. The team's most veteran returnee, Lafferty made 15 appearances in 2005, redshirted the 2006 season and pitched in 25 games as a sophomore in 2007. Lafferty moved into a three-way tie for ninth place on UCLA's all-time appearances list last Sunday when he pitched in his 75th career game (tied with Kevin Brophy and Jon Brandt).

The Bruins welcomed two assistant coaches to the program last summer. Rick Vanderhook and Steve Pearse have joined the coaching staff and bring an extensive and impressive baseball background to Jackie Robinson Stadium. Vanderhook spent 21 seasons as an assistant coach at Cal State Fullerton and enters his 24th season coaching in the college ranks. He coached Cal State Fullerton to two national titles (`95, `04) and 10 College World Series appearances. Pearse begins his 20th season as an assistant coach and has helped lead his teams to the College World Series as an assistant coach (Cal, 1992) and as a player (Fresno State, 1988).

Baseball America has tabbed UCLA as its preseason favorite to win the 2009 Pac-10 title. The national baseball publication predicts the Bruins to finish ahead of Arizona State, Stanford and Oregon State, respectively. Casey Haerther is named by Baseball America as a preseason All-Pac-10 selection. The publication lists freshman right-hander Gerrit Cole as the conference's 'top newcomer' and freshman right-hander Trevor Bauer as the Pac-10's ninth-best newcomer. Baseball America predicts six Pac-10 Conference teams will earn berths to NCAA Regionals (UCLA, Arizona State, Stanford, Oregon State, California, USC).

UCLA was selected second out of 10 teams in the 2009 Pac-10 preseason coaches' poll. Arizona State, picked to win the conference, and UCLA each received three of 10 first-place votes. Stanford, picked to finish third, gained one first-place vote, and Oregon State, selected fourth, captured two first-place votes. Arizona received the final first-place vote, being selected fifth in the preseason poll. California, USC, Washington State, Washington and Oregon round out the poll's 10 teams.

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