Strumpf, top seed UCLA begin to focus on NCAA Super Regional
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Chase Strumpf got to enjoy an incredible moment few players ever experience. Now he needs to put it in the back of his mind and focus on what’s next.
UCLA’s second baseman hit a pivotal home run that helped the top-ranked Bruins advance in the NCAA Tournament and found out he was selected by the Chicago Cubs in the second round of the Major League Baseball draft all in a two-minute span Monday.
Strumpf’s three-run shot in the fourth inning gave the Bruins a four-run lead over Loyola Marymount. They won 6-3 to reach a Super Regional for the first time in six years. UCLA now turns its attention to Michigan, but everyone in the program acknowledged the pressure of advancing in the tournament and the distraction of the draft this past week was unique.
“Whenever you get drafted, it’s exciting enough. But when you throw a three-run homer in there that can separate a championship game is a memory of a lifetime,” coach John Savage said. “The fact that his father came down and hollered at him is a moment their family will never forget.”
An inning after Strumpf homered, he committed an error that led to a Loyola Marymount run. And he wasn’t the only UCLA player who might have been a bit distracted. First baseman Michael Toglia, drafted 23rd overall by the Colorado Rockies, made two errors in the first inning that led to a pair of Lions runs.
“Obviously, it’s easy to fall into the trap of saying, ‘Great, it happened, but let’s just forget about it.’ But you can’t really ignore something like that. That’s a pretty momentous moment in your life,” Strumpf said. “I think I was just trying so hard to just not think about it, that I was starting to think about it a little bit and got distracted. But also, everyone makes an error.”
Strumpf is one of a program-record 13 players who were selected over the draft’s three days. Savage is happy about the accomplishment, but also worried it might be a distraction as the Bruins (51-9) prepare for Michigan. The best-of-three series begins Friday at Jackie Robinson Stadium, with the winner advancing to the College World Series.
“It’s really a tough time for a college coach because it can tinker with the culture and environment a little bit without you really knowing it,” Savage said. “We should be enjoying this moment a little more.”
Savage didn’t say whether “enjoying this moment” meant the draft or his team’s postseason run, but he could have meant both. UCLA tied Vanderbilt for the most players selected this year (those schools are the top two seeds in the tournament). The last time the Bruins made the Super Regional, they won their only baseball national title.
Savage has seen past teams become distracted after the draft, but also noted this group has been stronger mentally compared to past teams. Seven regulars were drafted, as well as the top two starting pitchers.
“You have to acknowledge it is tough, but there was a solid group of guys in the same boat,” Strumpf said. “We knew our task was to win the game and worry about whatever happens after that.”
The Bruins are also used to pressure this season. They have been the nation’s top-ranked team for most of the year and staved off regional elimination with three straight wins. They are the first team since Florida State in 2003 to lose one of its first two regional games and come back to advance.
Strumpf has struggled most of the season but is finding his stride at the right time. He was named the most outstanding player of the Los Angeles Regional and has four hits in his last eight at-bats with six RBIs and a home run.
“He’s that guy you want in a big moment. The fact that he’s so capable makes us feel comfortable,” Savage said. “He’s had more strikeouts this year but he can also produce for power like he did on Monday.”
The Wolverines (44-19), who won the Corvallis Regional, own some bragging rights over the Bruins with a 7-5 win at Dodger Stadium on March 8.