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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Gonzaga baseball up to tough test UCLA presents ahead of NCAA regional opener

By Justin Reed For The Spokesman-Review

For the 10th time since 2002, and first time in the postseason, the Gonzaga and UCLA baseball teams are set to meet on Friday.

The Zags earned the third seed in the Minneapolis Regional while UCLA grabbed the second seed.

Minnesota (41-13) was selected as the 14th-best team in the country and will host the regional at its home ballpark, Seibert Field. Canisius (35-20) is the fourth seed in the regional.

All games can be seen on ESPN3, along with whiparound coverage of live regional games on ESPNU.

The Bulldogs (33-22) and the Bruins (36-19) played series in 2002, 2015 and last season. UCLA has the advantage, winning six of the nine games, outscoring the Zags 49-40 over that span.

This is the 10th NCAA Tournament appearance for the Zags and the third one under head coach Mark Machtolf (since 2004), one behind Larry Koentopp (1970-1977) for the most under one coach.

“We are excited about our draw. We thought we might be out in Minnesota,” Machtolf said. “UCLA has a great program, great team, and we are excited to get out of the West and have a go at it.”

GU is streaking, winning 12 of its last 15 games, including an impressive showing in the West Coast Conference Tournament. The Zags walloped Loyola Marymount 13-1 before dispatching regular-season champion Pepperdine twice, 4-2 in the first game and a 17-2 shellacking in the championship.

After missing out on the tournament last season, the Bulldogs chose to keep the decision out of the hands of the selection committee this time. The committee left the Zags out of the Road to Omaha in 2017, much to the displeasure of GU, which felt it was snubbed.

“(Last year) was one of those years where usually we are on the bubble as far as an at-large and last year we had a 40 or a 41 RPI, but were left out and we were really disappointed,” Machtolf said. “(We had) a little added motivation this time.”

Machtolf made sure his players understood what was on the line, especially because the Zags finished the year ranked 62nd in RPI.

“Coach Mac is always saying, ‘Don’t ever put your fate in someone else’s hands, just go out there and bring your lunch pail and hard hat and go to work everyday and go earn it,’ ” senior Gunnar Schubert said. “Going into that tournament, that was our goal.”

UCLA had the third-best RPI in the Pac-12 (26), behind Oregon State (7) and Stanford (2), which are both hosting regionals this weekend.

“Usually, they can really pitch and play defense and I think this year they are a little bit better offensively,” Machtolf said of the Bruins.

The Bruins and Zags are built in similar ways. Both teams take pride in their lockdown pitching with superb defensive play.

UCLA is third in the country in earned-run average at 2.94 while GU is sixth with a 2.96. On the defensive side, the Bulldogs have a fielding percentage of .985, good for second in the country. The Bruins are fourth at .982.

The one area in which UCLA is noticeably better is in the run-scoring department. The Bruins scored seven runs a game and GU scored a shade more than five.

But the two best offenses the Zags played this season were Oregon State (7.5 a game) and Stanford (6.7). GU held both to four runs, albeit in losing efforts.

The teams are familiar enough with each other after GU traveled to Los Angeles for a three-game series last season. The Bulldogs took the Friday game 2-1 in extra innings before falling 6-1 and 5-4. GU struck first in the third game, plating two in the first inning before the Bruins pulled out a win in the end.

“For the series, we held our own, but we should have beat them. We had those games,” senior Jake Vieth said.

“I think our team this year, with how we are playing right now, I think it will be a really good game.”

Vieth and Schubert transferred to GU from Tacoma Community College and Pierce College, respectively, before last season, so this is their first taste of postseason baseball in Zags colors. Schubert isn’t taking his only trip to the NCAA Tournament for granted.

“It’s a dream come true,” Schubert said. “Every team is a tough team, that’s why they are in the regionals. I think no matter what, going forward every game we can’t make any mistakes here. We are just going to go work hard and do what we can and hopefully come out on top.”