Baseball America ranks UCLA as No. 1

By Ryan Eshoff

The UCLA baseball team began the season ranked No. 23 in the country. The Bruins promptly won their first 22 games. Now, the Bruins (25-3) have ascended 22 spots to assume the nation’s top ranking.

The combination of UCLA taking its second consecutive Pac-10 series – against Oregon State over the weekend – and previously top-ranked Arizona State dropping two out of three against Washington State helped vault the Bruins to No. 1 when Baseball America released the new rankings on Monday morning. The Sun Devils fell to third, right behind Virginia, which moved up from No. 4.

“As everybody knows, it’s all about the next seven weekends of Pac-10 play,” coach John Savage said. “But it’s a credit to our players and my assistants. We’re halfway through the season, and they’ve stuck together and played pretty well.”

The Bruins’ ascension marks the first time they have been ranked No. 1 during the season since March 3, 1997. Baseball America anointed UCLA as its preseason No. 1 before the 2008 season. The recognition will mean little unless the Bruins can maintain their success in the Pac-10 and against their midweek opponents.

“We’re not going to let it affect us in any way,” Savage said of the ranking. “The guys know that they haven’t accomplished anything that we set out for. They know that we’re a long way from reaching our goals.”

Now that they have a larger target on their backs, UCLA’s first test as front-runners will come today as the Bruins hit the road to face UC Riverside (15-11). It will be the fourth consecutive game away from Jackie Robinson Stadium for UCLA, which moved its road record to 9-1 in taking two out of three at Oregon State.

The Bruins and Highlanders have met once already this season, with UCLA squeaking out a 3-2 victory at home on March 9. The two teams share a mutual opponent in Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which UCLA swept and UC Riverside took two out of three from. Despite their record, the Highlanders should pose a significant threat.

“Riverside’s a very competitive team offensively,” Savage said. “Very well-coached. I have a ton of respect for coach Smith and his staff. We’ll see how we respond.”

Today’s showdown will be an opportunity for UCLA starter Garett Claypool to rebound from last week’s Tuesday outing, when he gave up five first-inning runs en route to a 6-1 loss to Cal State Fullerton. Claypool did pick up the victory in Saturday’s 16-inning marathon against Oregon State, a game in which he went four and two-thirds scoreless innings in relief.

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