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WSU baseball begins Pac-12 play at UCLA

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WSU travels to Los Angeles for a three-game series this weekend.

Courtesy of WSU Athletic Communications

The Cougs are riding a season-high, three-game winning streak and will look to extend it against their toughest competition of the young season. WSU (7-9) will play a three-game series at No. 14 UCLA (8-7) starting Friday. It will be the start of conference play for both teams.

The Cougs are expected to start Ian Hamilton, Ryan Ward and Parker McFadden on the mound, while Griffin Canning, Grant Dyer and Kyle Molnar will go for the Bruins. Hamilton and Ward have shown significant improvement after shaky starts to open the season.

Hamilton, who had high expectations coming into the season, is 0-4, but has pitched better than his record recently.  In his last three starts Hamilton has given up 3 earned runs, while striking out 20, in 19 innings pitched. Meanwhile, Ward has also only given up 3 ER while striking out 15 in his last three starts. If the Cougs want to escape with their first series win at UCLA since 2002 they will need to get solid performances from the starting pitching, as well as some defense to back them up.

Offensively, WSU has been led by utility man Trek Stemp and Patrick McGrath. Stemp has hit safely in all 15 of his starts and leads the team in run and hits. McGrath has a pair of dingers this season, and has the team's top slugging percentage at .581. McGrath has only played in 11 games but can hopefully earn himself some more playing time.

One thing that new head coach Marty Lees has clearly emphasized this season has been base running. The Cougs are currently tied for 13th in the nation with 31 stolen bases. Aggressiveness on the base paths will likely be key for WSU in this series, and for the rest of the season.

UCLA has been a tough opponent for any team recently, and that trend is expected to continue this season. After winning the Pac-12 in 2015, the Bruins were picked to finish 2nd this season.They aren't loaded with top MLB talent this year, but will provide a strong test for the young Cougs.

The games Friday at 4:05 p.m. and Sunday at 12:05 p.m. will be broadcast on the Pac-12 networks. Next week WSU returns home to host Gonzaga on Tuesday before going back out on the road to face Stanford Thursday through Saturday.

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