Probable Pitching Matchups Game One Saturday: Joe Haase (Sr, RHP) vs. UCLA's Adam Plutko (So, RHP)
Game Two Saturday: Lance Breedlove (Sr, RHP) vs. UCLA's Nick Vander Tuig (So, RHP)
Sunday: Connor Podkul (Fr, RHP) vs. UCLA's Zack Weiss (So, RHP)
Weekend Weather Forecast for Los Angeles Saturday: 74 degrees, clear skies
Sunday: 74 degrees, clear skies
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- No. 11 Purdue baseball may be idle from Big Ten Conference play this weekend but the stakes remain high for the Boilermakers as they travel to the West Coast for a three-game series at No. 14 UCLA that carries national significance as the NCAA Tournament nears.
Purdue (34-7, 14-4 Big Ten) and UCLA (29-12, 12-9 Pac-12) will play three times in just over 24 hours at Jackie Robinson Stadium, beginning with a 4 p.m. ET doubleheader Saturday. Game two of the twinbill is set for a hard start time of 8 p.m. ET unless the first game runs long. The series concludes Sunday at 4 p.m. ET.
UCLA (No. 4) and Purdue (No. 5) are both ranked among the top five in the RPI entering the week. The winner of the series would enhance its opportunity to become one of the eight national seeds in next month's NCAA Tournament and potentially host a Super Regional, June 8-10.
The Boilermakers have not played in California since 2002, losing both games of a weather-shortened series against Cal State Northridge. The only previous Purdue-UCLA meeting, a 10-6 win for the Bruins, took place on the Boilers' 2001 spring break trip to California. Purdue's Southern California natives, Lance Breedlove (Long Beach) and Angelo Cianfrocco (San Diego), both get an opportunity to play in front of friends and family this weekend.
Back in the Midwest, the other 10 Big Ten teams square off this weekend. The three series of note feature Minnesota (9-6 Big Ten) hosting Penn State (8-7), Michigan State (8-7) traveling to Illinois (8-7) and Indiana (9-6) hosting Nebraska (8-7). The Boilermakers may be able to clinch their first Big Ten title since 1909 at home next weekend during a series vs. Michigan, but not before then.
For Purdue, the series at UCLA came to be in part because of Cleveland State discontinuing its baseball program after the 2011 season. With only six baseball-playing schools, the Horizon League opted to play a double round-robin conference schedule. The Boilermakers were originally scheduled to play Valparaiso at home this weekend. But the Crusaders no longer had an opening after their league schedule changed. Thankfully, the Pac-12 also has 11 baseball-playing members (Wisconsin and Colorado do not sponsor the sport).
Head coach Doug Schreiber said he felt his experienced team was up to the challenge of flying to the West Coast the weekend after finals and booked the series. Schreiber and assistant coach Jeff Duncan coached and played, respectively, at Jackie Robinson Stadium during their years at Arizona State.
Seniors Eric Charles and Tyler Spillner will both play in their 200th career games this weekend. Charles remains one run shy of matching the program's all-time record. Last weekend in the series win against Michigan State, Barrett Serrato recorded his 100th RBI (on a grand slam Friday) and Kevin Plawecki registered his 200th career hit (a first-inning single Sunday).
The Boilermakers are 18-4 in true road games and 25-5 in games played away from Lambert Field this year. UCLA is 17-9 at Jackie Robinson Stadium in 2012, playing 26 of its 41 games at home. The Bruins did fly east the weekend of March 9-11, sweeping a three-game series at Georgia. Maryland is the only common opponent for Purdue and UCLA. The Bruins lost two-of-three to Maryland during the season-opening weekend. The Boilers lost their Feb. 25 game with the Terps in Greenville, N.C.
Two of the top three picks in the 2011 MLB First-Year Player Draft were UCLA starting pitchers. The Bruins lost to South Carolina in the Championship Series of the 2010 College World Series and won the 2011 Pac-12 title. They're enjoying another quality season, winning 12 consecutive games from Feb. 25 through March 16. That streak included a series win against Big 12-leading Baylor, the series sweep at Georgia and a nonconference victory against rival USC in a game played at Dodger Stadium. However, the Bruins have lost three of their last four weekend series in Pac-12 play.
The strength of UCLA's team this year appears to be the bullpen. Led by closer Scott Griggs (10 saves, 1.11 ERA), the Bruins feature four relievers with sub-2.00 ERAs. David Berg (1.67 ERA in 28 appearances) and Ryan Deeter (0.83 ERA in 26 appearances) have successfully shortened games as setup men for Griggs.
The UCLA lineup is a balanced unit, featuring six players with 20-plus RBI, led by first baseman Trevor Brown (35). Purdue also has six regulars with at least 20 RBI. Catcher Tyler Heineman is batting .381, handling the bat well (19 walks vs. 10 Ks and a team-high 11 sac bunts) as the regular No. 2 hitter. Jeff Gelalich leads the team in batting average (.383), home runs (6), walks (24) and stolen bases (14).
The Boilermakers have 13 victories against teams ranked among the Top 60 in the RPI and entered the week with the second best winning percentage (.829) in the country. A strong showing this weekend would only add to the program's impressive season-long résumé.