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Local athletes will participate in NCAA baseball tourney

Posted: May 29, 2013 8:47 p.m.
Updated: May 29, 2013 8:47 p.m.

Hart graduate and UCLA shortstop Pat Valaika is one of five athletes with Santa Clarita Valley ties participating in this weekend's NCAA baseball tournament.

The Santa Clarita Valley once again has a few good reasons to tune into the college baseball postseason, which begins Friday.

This year’s NCAA Division I baseball tournament bracket was released Monday, and it revealed that five local products will be involved.

Two of those players will suit up with the UCLA Bruins as they host their fourth straight NCAA Regional in Los Angeles beginning Friday.

The NCAA No. 17 Bruins (39-17) will take the field with junior Pat Valaika, a Hart High graduate and sophomore Shane Zeile, a Valencia High graduate.

Both have been regular starters and productive hitters this season as UCLA tries to make a run at a national title.

The Bruins fell short in the final stage of the tournament, the College World Series, last year.

Playing in the same regional as UCLA is Valencia graduate Brian Mundell, who is a freshman at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Cal Poly is the No. 2 seed in the regional, while UCLA is No. 1.

West Ranch graduate Casey Watkins is a senior back-up catcher for Cal State Fullerton, which will host Arizona State, New Mexico and Columbia in the Fullerton Regional beginning Friday.

The final local on the roster of an NCAA tournament participant is former College of the Canyons player and University of Oregon junior Jake Jelmini. He has yet to see the field this season as Oregon (45-14) prepares to host its own regional in Eugene, Ore.

The NCAA tournament begins as a 64-team field that is divided into 16 different regional sites, determined by the region’s top seed. Each site includes four teams, which will play this weekend in a double-elimination tournament until a winner is crowned.

Those 16 winners then advance to the Super Regionals to play for an entrance in the eight-team World Series bracket.

UCLA is hosting a regional for fourth year in a row and playing in its seventh NCAA tournament in the last eight years.

The Bruins will open up tournament play on Friday against San Diego State (31-29) at 6 p.m.

Earlier in the day on the same field, Cal Poly (39-17) will play the University of San Diego (35-23) at 2 p.m.

As UCLA’s starting shortstop, Valaika leads the team with 39 RBIs and five home runs to go along with a .262 batting average in 56 games.

Zeile is batting .241 with 19 RBIs, two home runs and 20 runs scored in 51 games, mostly as a catcher.

For Cal Poly, Mundell has come on strong in his first collegiate season, batting .266 with a team-high 10 home runs to go along with 38 RBIs and a .474 slugging percentage in 52 games as a designated hitter.

Watkins has seen very limited action this season, appearing in just five games and going 1-for-8 from the plate with a walk and five strikeouts.

Oregon begins its tournament run with a 6 p.m. game against South Dakota State (35-22), but it doesn’t appear likely Jelmini will play.

Fullerton opens with Columbia on Friday at 8 p.m.

Selected tournament games will be televised on the ESPN family of networks, to be announced later in the week.

Signal staff writer Jon Stein contributed to this report.



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