By Max Calderone | Sports Writer
Baylor baseball (2-1) got off to a nice start in the 2018 season by winning a three-game series over Houston Baptist (1-2). Next up, they’ll head west to Los Angeles to square off against the No. 11 UCLA Bruins (4-0).
Sophomore left-handed pitcher Cody Bradford threw eight innings of shutout baseball to give the Bears the win on opening day. Head coach Steve Rodriguez hopes his team gets more of the same this Friday night.
“It’s going to be a matter of how he feels and what he’s doing,” Rodriguez said. “Being able to come in off the starts he made last year and going out and doing what he did [against Houston Baptist University], that’s really impressive. It shows you what kind of character and poise he has.”
Bradford took a no-hitter into the seventh inning and turned the ball over to senior closer Troy Montemayor in the ninth with the Bears ahead 1-0 to shore up the victory.
“I peaked at the scoreboard once or twice,” Bradford said to reporters following the game. “But I really try to push that out of my head and just focus on each batter.”
The Bears will send Bradford to the mound tonight to face off against a Bruins lineup that scored 35 runs in a three game sweep of Portland last weekend. UCLA is hitting .338 as a team through four games with four home runs and 33 RBI.
Rodriguez was more focused on the Bruins pitching and defense, which has only surrendered six runs over its first four games.
“They’re going to compete in the zone, throw all sorts of pitches for strikes. They’ve made one error this year in four games which is really impressive. And this might be the best offensive team they’ve had in a while,” Rodriguez said. “On paper, they’re probably on of the most well-rounded teams we’re going to play right now.”
The trio of sophomores hit a combined .484 in Baylor’s opening series against HBU, including three home runs, one apiece. But the rest of the batting order was fairly quiet and will have to step up against a top opponent.
Rodriguez attributed the slow start to the early timing of the season, saying it always takes time for the bats to warm up.
“Pitchers are always ahead of the hitters, just until they get their timing down,” Rodriguez said. “You just have to make sure you can make those adjustments.”
Rodriguez, a California native, is excited for the team’s first road trip of the season. He said traveling with a group of guys is the best time to get to know what everyone’s really like away from home.
“On the road, you have to rely on each other,” Rodriguez said. “Building camaraderie and building the atmosphere of a team is something I always really enjoy.”
But Rodriguez does recognize that his team isn’t traveling just to have fun and enjoy the California sun. Baylor will have a job to do.
“It’s a business trip,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve got to play three games, we’ve got to play the best baseball we can.”
Rodriguez said UCLA will cater to the “west coast” style of baseball with strong pitching and good defense, one that has only made just a single error in four games so far. He expects to see the Bruins try to play small ball and manufacture some runs, instead of relying on their power to out-slug the Bears.
Rodriguez is keeping it simple – he said his team just needs to go out and play their game.
“The biggest thing is we need to go out there and we need to play good baseball,” Rodriguez said.
The Bears and Bruins will start the three game set at 8 p.m. Friday, followed by a 4 p.m. start on Saturday and a 3 p.m. first pitch on Sunday.