UCLA headed back to College World Series
June, 9, 2012
By Peter Yoon | ESPNLosAngeles.com
LOS ANGELES -- Reservations for 27 in Omaha, please.
Put it under the name Bruins.
UCLA clinched a spot in the College World Series by defeating Texas Christian, 4-1, Saturday night to complete a sweep in the best-of-three Super Regional.
The Bruins (47-14) are headed to the biggest stage in college baseball for the second time in three seasons thanks to an opportunistic, selfless approach on offense and clutch pitching in key situations--a formula that could serve the Bruins well as they try to make a run deep into the College World Series.
In typical UCLA style Saturday, the Bruins scored twice on sacrifice flies, once on a passed ball and once on a safety squeeze. Starter Nick Vander Tuig and reliever David Berg handled the rest, with the only TCU damage coming via a Brance Rivera solo home run in the third inning. The Horned Frogs (40-22) scored three runs in the two games--all on solo homers.
"We just chipped away," coach John Savage said. "This was a typical game for us. We don’t blow anybody out. We hang around. We made everything count."
It's an approach that UCLA has used to great success this season. The Bruins are seeded No. 2 nationally because they find ways to win games. They have won nine consecutive games and 19 of the last 21. Not many of those games go to double digits, either. UCLA has held 16 of those last 21 opponents to three runs or fewer.
"We’re not a power hitting team," said shortstop Pat Valaika. "Our game plan is just to grind pitchers down. Grind for nine. That’s our approach at the plate. We try to see a lot of pitches. We work hard to pass the baton and get the next guy to the plate."
TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle certainly found that out over the last two days. In the two games combined, the Horned Frogs had the same number of hits as UCLA (14) and out homered the Bruins, 3-0, but came away on the losing end of a two-game sweep.
"They have an outstanding team," Schlossnagle said. "Not just talented, but they play very good baseball. Every mistake we made or every opportunity they created for themselves they cashed in on and that’s what good baseball teams do. That’s good baseball. That’s what Omaha clubs do and that’s why they’re headed there."
The last time UCLA headed to Omaha, they made a run to the national championship series before losing to South Carolina. The way the current team is playing, a similar run is well within reach. UCLA has outscored it opponents, 34-9 in its five post season games this season and in doing so has hit only two home runs.
They are pitching well and have made only one postseason error so far. Catcher Tyler Heineman threw out another potential base stealer Saturday and has controlled opponents on the basepaths by gunning down all four runner who have attempted to steal off of him.
And UCLA starters Adam Plutko and Vander Tuig have been lights out. They have given up only four runs on 15 hits in 30 innings during the post season while reliever David Berg has pitched eight innings and given up no runs on four hits with 10 strikeouts.
It gives Trevor Brown, a junior who played in Omaha in 2010, the same kind of feeling he had as a freshman.
"It feels really similar," he said. "I felt like we had really good chemistry my freshman year and good leadership and this team is very similar to that. We have great starting pitching and a great lineup."