By Matt Tresaugue
Arizona Daily Wildcat
UCLA coach Gary Adams had a few extra minutes Wednesday afternoon to return a phone call before his team headed to San Diego State for a nonconference baseball game.
"Our bus broke down and we're waiting for the replacement," said Adams, laughing. "It's kind of been the story of our season."
It should. Arizona and the Bruins have mirrored each other this season. Both programs were ravaged by the professional draft last summer and their dismal records reflect the bare cupboards left behind.
UCLA (11-23, 5-10 in the Six-Pac) sits in fifth place in the conference, 3 games ahead of the Wildcats (7-31, 3-15). The race for fifth place begins at 7 tonight when they meet for the first time this season at Sancet Field.
"It should be the best of the worst," Adams said.
The Wildcats view this series as their best chance to turn around a forgettable season. Arizona lost two of three to No. 11 Arizona State last weekend, but showed signs of life.
"The records indicate we've got a good shot to take a couple this weekend," Wildcat left-hander Ben White said.
"It looks like we've had the same season," outfielder Menno Wickey said. "We're fighting to get out of the cellar."
The Bruins, who lost seven players and two key recruits to the professional ranks, uncharacteristically started the season slow, losing five of six to start and 17 of 20 over a six-week span at midseason.
"I've never had a team that had a bad start and stayed on the bottom," said Adams, who is in his 20th season at UCLA. "We are not buried six feet under yet, but we might be down to 5 feet, 10 inches."
UCLA has won four of its last five, including two of three from Cal last weekend.
"They have a lot of new players," UA coach Jerry Kindall said. "Besides (Mike) Mitchell and (David) Roberts, we do not have much information on them. We are going to have to sort through the stats."
The Bruins' statistics are not impressive. Five starters are hitting under .250, including three under .200. Even at .323, Mitchell, a preseason All-America selection, is struggling.
"We've been pretty lousy," Adams said. "We've always been a team that hits the ball well. We could make mistakes and make up for them with the bats. We're not that way this season. We thought our pitching would have been a lot better, and it's been pretty shoddy.
"I feel for Jerry, and I hope he feels for me."
PITCHING MATCHUPS _ Left-hander Steve Arffa (1-5, 4.56 ERA) opposes UCLA right-hander Brian Stephenson (3-2, 5.75) tonight. White (2-6, 8.55) opposes UCLA left-hander Nick St. George (3-4, 3.69) tomorrow at 7. And right-hander Ryan Frace (0-4, 6.08) opposes UCLA left-hander Dan Kramer in the series finale Sunday afternoon at 1..
NOTES _ The Six-Pac's players of the week will be featured in the series.
Arffa earned Pitcher of the Week honors after striking out 12 Sun Devils in a complete-game win last week. His performance stopped the Wildcats' five-game losing streak and boosted team morale.
"Steve is a great presence on the mound, whether or not he thinks so," Wickey said of the reserved staff ace. "When he has his rhythm, it puts the whole defense in sync and we play better."
UCLA freshman catcher Tim DeCinces, the son of former Angels and Orioles third baseman Doug, was named Player of Week for hitting .470 and driving in the game-winning run Sunday against Cal.
¨Kindall will continue using left-hander Tod Brown (2-6, 5.29) out of the bullpen. Brown, who had started five consecutive Friday games, pitched a strong 5 innings, allowing one run while striking out six, last Saturday in his first relief outing since February.
"Brown has such good control," Kindall said. "He has three pitches and throws strikes. When a hitter is up with men on base, he doesn't know what to expect."
¨While the Wildcats and Bruins fight this weekend to climb out of the cellar, USC and Arizona State will battle for league supremacy in Los Angeles.
The ninth-ranked Trojans (29-10, 14-7) lead Arizona State (30-11, 12-6) and No. 8 Stanford (23-15, 12-6) by a half-game in the standings. The Cardinal play Cal in a home-and-home series.
"Our season turned at USC last year," said ASU All-America third baseman Antone Williamson about the Sun Devils' sweep of the Trojans last April en route to the conference title. "We need to do the same (this) weekend." Read Next Article