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Damien grad, Jon Olsen ’15, receives PAC12 Honors!

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Jon Olsen’s path to nailing down UCLA’s Sunday starter role started on a cloudy day in Dodger Stadium. In 5 2/3 innings, he struck out nine USC batters. In the first five innings, he relinquished only one hit.

Olsen arrived that day, UCLA head coach John Savage said. The sophomore from Damien High has continued to carve out a critical role for the Bruins.

“We would not be close to where we are without him,” Savage said.

Where the Bruins are is back in the NCAA tournament. After a one-year hiatus, UCLA returned to postseason play as the No. 3 seed in the Long Beach Regional, where it will face No. 2 seed Texas in the first round of regional tournament at 4 p.m. Friday at Blair Field. No. 1 regional seed Long Beach State and San Diego State round out the four-team, double-elimination bracket.

Olsen led the Bruins (30-25) during Pac-12 play with a 2.08 ERA and 6-0 record. He delivered clutch wins in series finales to help UCLA finish third in the Pac-12.

Whether he was trying to avoid a sweep (against Washington State on May 14), securing a sweep (against Cal on March 26) or deciding a series (against Oregon on May 27), the 6-foot-3 right-hander transformed into a stalwart third starter for the Bruins.

The turnaround started in the Pacific Northwest. After he struggled as a freshman with a 7.35 ERA in 11 appearances, the Rancho Cucamonga native played summer ball for the Bellingham Bells. In the West Coast League, he slashed his ERA to 2.05 in 10 games with a 7-2 record. His fastball jumped from 86 to 90 mph. He still commands a lethal curveball.

“I’m a different pitcher this year than last year,” Olsen said. “I grew up a lot going to Bellingham, Wash., and learned a lot about myself and who I was as a pitcher.”

As a freshman, Olsen never went longer than 3 1/3 innings in a game. Since the breakthrough performance in Dodger Stadium, he had nine starts of five or more innings, including a career-high eight innings against Oregon last weekend. He gave up only four hits and one run with eight strikeouts as UCLA won 10-1 to clinch the series.

When a shoulder injury limited No. 2 pitcher Jake Bird for 10 weeks this season, Savage kept Olsen as the team’s No. 3 so he could find consistency with his weekly routine. It exploited the fact that many teams don’t have a strong third starter on Sundays, giving Olsen favorable matchups, Savage said.

Although he was denied the promotion, Olsen said he was just focused on getting a good result for the Bruins as they hope to return to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

“My goal was to try to win games for my team,” Olsen said. “I don’t care if that was on a Friday or a Saturday or a Sunday or Tuesday or whenever. It was all just trying to win games.”

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