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BASEBALL: Cougs take on UCLA in a huge road test

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Be afraid UCLA.  Be very afraid.
via <a href="http://image3.examiner.com/images/blog/EXID784/images/Derek_Jones_2(3).jpg">image3.examiner.com</a>
Be afraid UCLA. Be very afraid. via image3.examiner.com

This will also serve as tonight's game thread.

Time (PDT) WSU Starter UCLA Starter GameTracker
FRIDAY 6:00 p.m.
RH Chad Arnold (5-2, 3.40 ERA, 1.273 WHIP, 67 K, 92 2/3 IP) RH Gerrit Cole (8-2, 3.41 ERA, 1.216 WHIP, 113 K, 89 2/3 IP) Here
SATURDAY 2 p.m. RH James Wise (3-1, 4.24 ERA, 1.393 WHIP, 34 K, 46 2/3 IP) RH Trevor Bauer (9-3, 2.95 ERA, 1.257 WHIP, 116 K, 94 2/3 IP) Here
SUNDAY 1 p.m.
TBA LH Rob Rasmussen (8-2, 3.00 ERA, 1.154 WHIP, 96 K, 78 IP) Here

Bonus: there should be free audio at the UCLA site here for tonight's game.

The Cougs continue their heartwarming journey through the Pac-10, with the final stop of their "big heart" tour coming at UCLA this weekend.

This series is a huge one for the Cougars.  They seem to be squarely in the NCAA field, with ESPN having them as a 2 seed in the University of Virginia pod (side note: BOOOOOOOO!).  However, a series win would give us a good idea where this team is going in to the postseason and would also improve their seeding, perhaps moving their regional game a bit closer to home.

WSU is coming in to this series hot.  Winners of their last seven, the bats have come alive and the pitching has been outstanding, with Paris Shewey and Travis Cook joining in on the fun this week.  Derek Jones' return to the lineup has been a key in getting the offense going.  Against USC, Jones went 7-13 with 11 RBIs and 3 HR, adding a much needed power surge for the streaking Cougs.  The emergence of Adam Conley as the teams' third starter has also been crucial in the success of the team as of late.  Conley went another solid 8 innings on Sunday, allowing only 2 runs.  Expect to see him on the mound to finish the series.

On the other side, UCLA is coming in to the contest just as hot as WSU.  Winners of their last 9, and 11 of their last 13, UCLA sits alone in second place, 2 games behind ASU.  The Bruins boast a top flight pitching staff, with a staff ERA of 3.12 and a Pac-10 high 543 Ks. With the problems the Cougs have on the road, especially in the K% department, it's important that the hitters stay patient and work the counts this weekend.  Oddly enough, the Bruins seem to play better on the road (only 4 losses) than at home, being swept by ASU and dropping a series to Oregon at Jackie Robinson field this year.  The Bruins are also 7-7 against teams in the top 25 this year, a group the Cougs recently entered.

UCLA also boasts a strong lineup, batting .310 collectively.  The Bruins best hitter right now is Dean Espy.  Espy leads the team in batting average (.358), slugging percentage (.612), RBI (44), and is tied for the lead with 7 HR.  The Bruins have drawn a good number of walks this year (221), leading me to believe they're patient.  The number of strikeouts their hitters have amassed (357) seems to suggest otherwise.

The Bruins are a very good team and this is a huge test for a Cougar team that is firing on all cylinders towards the end of the year.  A series, would put the Cougs firmly into the postseason with good seeding and a ton of momentum.  A sweep would give the Cougars sole possession of second place in the Pac-10, a huge milestone for Marbut's boys.  A series loss would be a step back, with a sweep killing a lot of the momentum built up in the past few weeks. 

All three match-ups should be great to watch, with excellent pitchers going head to head every game.  No matter what happens, we will know a lot more about where this team is headed and just what we can expect in the postseason by Sunday.

For coverage from the other side of things, read Ryan Rosenblatt's preview over at Bruins Nation here.