It's far too soon to start talking about the College World Series in Omaha, Neb., but tonight's highly anticipated baseball game at UCLA's Jackie Robinson Stadium could answer a few things.
First, can UCLA flamethrower Gerrit Cole be the Friday night starter coach John Savage needs him to be this season? Will Cole be able to go pitch-for-pitch with one of the nation's best, Vanderbilt's Sonny Gray? Cole and Gray, both sophomore right-handers, posted impressive numbers for Team USA last summer. Each breezed through his respective 2010 debut last Friday and leads teams that are 4-0 heading into tonight's 6 p.m. ballgame.
"I have to make sure he's not too amped up and stays within himself," UCLA catcher Steve Rodriguez said. "He has the stuff to get anyone out in the country, so as long as he doesn't try to overdo it, he'll be fine."
Second, can the Bruins -- an underachieving bunch over the last two years -- manage to eek out a win against a perennial power? Tonight's nonconference game has serious RPI implications, meaning a win would be huge for a UCLA team that is looking to get back to postseason after whiffing on a Regional bid last spring.
"It's really a national stage," Brett Krill said. "We're off to a great start and people are starting to talk."
Which brings us to our third question -- are UCLA's bats for real? Through four games, the Bruins are hitting a mind-numbing .393 with 10 home runs and have outscored their opponents 50-11. Assistant coach Rick Vanderhook has transformed the lineup into a patient and opportunistic hitting machine in just his second season in Westwood. Gray poses the season's first major test for the young Bruins.
"Our No. 1 goal is about wearing him down," Krill said. "He's a great pitcher -- we know who he is. But as long as we compete, stay within ourselves and stick our plan, I think we'll be fine."