UCLA’s Enigmatic Hooper Turns CornerAnalysis
LOS ANGELES — UCLA sophomore southpaw Justin Hooper got his sign Tuesday night at Jackie Robinson Stadium. He took a breath and fired. A 93 mph fastball steamed across the plate for a strike. He got the ball back and did it again. UC Riverside cleanup hitter Aaron Cisneros was late and under a 92 mph heater. He hit a lazy fly ball to right field.
Highlanders left fielder Cade Peters took his turn next. He fouled off two pitches before waving at a 83 mph slider that looked straight before taking a sudden right turn, diving down and away from Peters’ bat.
Hooper fell behind Casey Worden, throwing three straight balls. It looked like the control issues that plagued the 6-foot-7 uber-prospect last season had returned. This was the point where last year Hooper wasn’t able to bear down and figure out how to get out of his own way. A little bit of adversity had the potential to send an outing spiraling from a clean inning to a multi-runner jam without a batter putting the ball in play.
This time, Hooper took a deep breath, stepped back on the rubber and showed a glimpse of just how special he could be. He locked back in, threw a strike, got a foul ball and then finished off Worden to end the inning.
That’s how it’s supposed to look.
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