UCLA: John Savage

Rapid Reaction: Florida State 4, UCLA 1

June, 19, 2012

UCLA's season came to an end with a 4-1 loss to Florida State in an elimination game at the College World Series Tuesday in Omaha. Here’s a quick look at the game:

OVERVIEW: Florida State struck early, tagging UCLA starter Zack Weiss for two runs on three walks and a hit in only 1/3 of an inning before he got pulled.

Both of the Florida State first-inning runs came on bases loaded walks as reliever Grant Watson walked the first man he faced after coming in with the bases loaded.

The Seminoles (50-16) consistently worked long at-bats, forcing UCLA pitchers to make 94 pitches through the first four innings. They left eight runners on base over that stretch but struck for two more runs in the fourth when cleanup hitter Joyce Boyd laid down a surprise bunt with the bases loaded and one out on the first pitch by UCLA reliever Ryan Deeter.

Third baseman Kevin Kramer charged the ball and tried to grab it, but overran the ball. As the it sat on the infield grass, Florida State's Devon Travis motored from second and scored giving Boyd a two-run bunt single that traveled about 50 feet.

Florida State pitchers Scott Sitz, Hunter Scantling and Robert Benincasa did the rest. Sitz, the starter, pitched 6 2/3 innings and gave up only one run and five hits with eight strikeouts. Scantling and Benincasa closed out the game with 1 1/3 perfect innings.

TURNING POINT: Things started looking up for UCLA in the sixth inning when Kevin Williams walked, Beau Amaral doubled, Tyler Heineman got hit by a pitch and Cody Keefer singled in a run to make the score 4-1.

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Rapid Reaction: Arizona 4, UCLA 0

June, 17, 2012
UCLA lost to Pac-12 rival Arizona, 4-0, in a winners bracket game at the College World Series on Sunday night in Omaha. Here's a quick look at the game:

OVERVIEW: Arizona pitcher Konner Wade turned in a dominant outing by pitching a five-hitter with four strikeouts and no walks. He retired 14 consecutive batters to start the game and Chris Keck's pinch-hit single with one out in the eighth was the only hit Wade allowed with less than two out. Wade erased Keck one pitch later on an inning-ending double play.

The Wildcats (45-17) did all of their offensive damage in the fourth inning against UCLA starter Nick Vander Tuig (10-4) by stringing together five consecutive one-out hits that accounted for all four runs. A two-run single by Seth Mejias and a two-run double by Bobby Brown were the key blows.

After that, the story was Wade, who needed 109 pitches to get through his fifth complete game of the season. Earlier this season, Wade had given up 10 hits and six runs in a 15-3 loss to UCLA, but on Sunday only two runners advanced past first base.

Wade was in absolute control of the strike zone with a sinking two-seam fastball and threw strikes on 72 of his 109 pitches. He threw first-pitch strikes to 20 of the 31 batters he faced and he set the tone early by throwing strikes on 20 of his first 26 pitches.

The loss ends a 10-game win streak for UCLA (48-15), who last lost on May 20 at California. Vander Tuig hadn't lost a decision since a 3-0 loss April 21 at Oregon State, which was the only other game this season in which UCLA was shut out.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins finally appeared to be figuring out Wade when they strung together three consecutive two-out hits in the bottom of the fifth and loaded the bases. UCLA came up empty, however as second baseman Kevin Williams went up swinging at the first pitch and flew out to left field. UCLA didn't threaten again.

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UCLA has unfinished business in Omaha

June, 14, 2012
The name on the front of their jerseys is the same and if UCLA had names on the backs of their jerseys, many of those would be the same, too.

But make no mistake, the UCLA baseball team that takes the field against Stony Brook for the College World Series opener Friday at 2 p.m. Pacific in Omaha, Neb., is a much different Bruins team than the 2010 version.

This team relies on balanced across all three phases of the game rather than a pitching staff that was among the best ever assembled in college baseball. This team has veteran leadership and experience rather than a staring lineup that included mostly freshmen and sophomores.

And while the 2010 team was the upstart program making only the third College World Series appearance since 1969, this team comes in as a national power with something to prove after coming up short in the 2010 national championship series.

"We got left at the altar last time," coach John Savage said. "There are some guys left saying 'hey, we came that close to winning the national championship.'"

There are seven of those players, to be exact. Seven current juniors who were on the team that advanced through the College World Series bracket only to get swept by South Carolina in the best-of-three championship series.

Outfielders Beau Amaral and Jeff Gelalich, designated hitter Cody Regis and infielder Trevor Brown all either started or played regularly during that 2010 post season run. Outfielder Cody Keefer was a starter that season until a leg injury knocked him out of the last 20 games. Catcher Tyler Heineman did not play in the College World Series, but he was there to experience the loss as was closer Scott Griggs, who pitched an inning of relief in Omaha that season.

For those players, a shot at redemption and a chance to complete some unfinished business is before them, but the Bruins know they have to keep those thoughts in check.

"It’s always disappointing to come that close and to lose," Gelalich said. "But it’s a different team, a different group of guys, a different ball park. We’re not going to try to make one game bigger than it needs to be."

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Daily dose of Berg provides relief for UCLA

June, 12, 2012
David BergJayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireDavid Berg has more pitching appearances in one season than any other Bruin in any season before him. Last year at this time Berg had no scholarship offers.

LOS ANGELES -- A year ago at this time, David Berg had no idea if or when he would ever appear in a Division I college baseball game. Now he's in line to appear in more of them than any pitcher ever has in one season.

Berg, a freshman walk-on, has pitched in 47 games for the Bruins this season -- tied for the second most appearances by a pitcher in Division I history and four behind the all-time record set by Connor Falkenbach of Florida in 2005.

Just as the Minnesota Twins had "Everyday Eddie" with Eddie Guardado, the Bruins have Daily Dave. He has become a valuable cog in a bullpen that has played a significant role in getting UCLA to the College World Series for the second time in three seasons. UCLA (47-14) opens play against Stony Brook on Friday at 2 p.m. PT in Omaha.

And if recent history is any indication, it's almost a sure bet Berg will pitch in that game. The submarining right-hander has appeared in 21 of UCLA's last 22 games -- sitting out only Adam Plutko's two-hitter in the regional opener.

During that stretch, he has pitched 31 innings with a 1.45 ERA and given up only 21 hits and three walks while striking out 34. Named a freshman All-American by Collegiate Baseball, Berg has been even better in the postseason having given up no runs and four hits with 10 strikeouts and a walk in eight innings.

For the season, opponents are batting .172 against him -- a figure that leads all qualifying Pac-12 pitchers by 41 points -- and his 1.58 ERA leads the conference by nearly half a run.

"He's been a savior," coach John Savage said. "It’s really a credit to him and his character and his ability. He has no fear. He’ll go up against anybody anywhere and I can’t say enough about him. We would not be in the position we are without David Berg."

A year ago, it was unfathomable that the coach of a major Division I program would say those words about Berg. During his senior year at Bishop Amat High School in La Puente, Berg received a grand total of zero scholarship offers. A couple of Division III schools had expressed interest, but offered no guarantees of making the team.

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UCLA headed back to College World Series

June, 9, 2012

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."

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Regis delivers for UCLA after difficult week

June, 8, 2012
UCLA baseball celebrationJayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireBrenton Allen (23) scores as teammates Trevor Brown, left, and Jeff Gelalich welcome him home.

LOS ANGELES -- The primal scream Cody Regis let out when he reached second base told you all you need to know about the kind of week he has had.

Regis brought his roller-coaster week to a high when he cleared the bases with a three-run double in the sixth inning of UCLA's 6-2 super regional victory over Texas Christian on Friday night at Jackie Robinson Stadium. His clutch hit helped get the Bruins to within one victory of a return trip to the College World Series, so yeah, Regis was excited.

But the raw emotion he let out came from much deeper than giving his team a comfortable lead that starting pitcher Adam Plutko and reliever David Berg easily made stand up. Regis had a week's worth of pent up frustration because the Major League Baseball draft came and went without his name being called.


Regis, a junior first baseman with a .284 career batting average, 16 home runs and now 117 RBIs, took that as a personal slight and then took it out on TCU.

"It was a bitter pill to swallow," Regis said. "It was really hard. It was disappointing for me, but it kind of motivated me a little bit. It put a chip on my shoulder."

Things looked grim for UCLA (46-14) as Texas Christian (40-21) took a 2-1 lead on solo home runs by Josh Elander in the first and Kyle Van Tungeln in the third, and TCU pitcher Brandon Finnegan had retired 10 consecutive Bruins after Kevin Kramer's two-out RBI single in the second inning.

But Tyler Heineman drew a walk to start the sixth, and two TCU pitchers loaded the bases by hitting Cody Keefer and Jeff Gelalich with pitches. Trevor Brown tied the score at 2 with a single, and Pat Valaika gave UCLA a 3-2 lead with a run-scoring groundout.

An intentional walk to Brenton Allen loaded the bases again and set the stage for Regis. On his 21st birthday, he delivered a three-run present to the Bruins by blasting a liner that skipped through the gap in left-center field, hit off the wall and propelled UCLA to a Game 1 victory in the best-of-three super regional.

"When I made contact, I knew I got it well," Regis said. "And when the play was finally over, the adrenaline really hit. I got to second and the emotion of everything just overcame me and I just let it go."

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Catcher Heineman a tower of strength

June, 7, 2012
Tyler HeinemanChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesTyler Heineman considered leaving UCLA -- his dream school -- after sitting on the bench for most of his first two seasons.

LOS ANGELES -- As it turns out, getting stuck with Tyler Heineman at catcher has worked out pretty well for the UCLA baseball team.

He's a .351-hitting catcher who bats second on the team seeded No. 2 nationally in the NCAA baseball tournament, a top-notch defensive catcher who handles the pitchers like a pro and a valuable clubhouse presence who provides leadership to a young pitching staff.

He has started 54 of UCLA's 59 games this season, will start another when the Bruins begin their NCAA super regional against Texas Christian on Friday at 6 p.m. PT at Jackie Robinson Stadium and was selected by the Houston Astros this week in the eighth round of the Major League Baseball draft.

Not bad for a guy who was supposed to be the weak link for UCLA this season -- a junior who received no scholarship offers out of Windward High School, came to UCLA as a walk-on only because it was his dream school and played sparingly during his first two seasons.

When three-year starter Steve Rodriguez and top high school recruit Austin Hedges signed with major league teams after getting picked in the 2011 draft, Heineman became the UCLA starting catcher by default. But he since has emerged as one of the top college catchers in the country and was one of 12 semifinalists for the Johnny Bench Award, given annually to the nation’s top catcher.

“You never really expect to have this kind of a year, but I always hoped I would,” Heineman said. “I certainly knew I was capable of it and wanted to, but until you go out and do it, you just never know. I'm extremely happy with how it's played out so far.”

There weren't many others who knew Heineman was capable of this type of season, especially offensively. His .351 average is second on the team, and his batting skills have developed into those of a prototypical No. 2 hitter. He leads the team with 16 sacrifice bunts and has a 20-14 walk-to-strikeout ratio.

His work behind the plate is even better. He has been charged with only four passed balls and two errors in 54 games, and has thrown out 20 of 44 (45.4 percent) would-be base stealers. All that in addition to providing a calming influence on a staff that lost aces Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer to the major leagues last season, and is relying on three sophomores and a freshman to anchor the starting rotation.

“He's just made himself a really good baseball player,” coach John Savage said. “It's really a great story of a guy that's stayed with it and a guy who didn't play very much his first two years and came on to the scene as a junior and has made a huge impression.”

It's also a rarity, Savage said, especially for a catcher. Sitting on the bench for the better part of two seasons tends to erode skills, but Heineman kept his focus, soaked in as much knowledge as possible and put everything together this season to become a team leader in all areas.

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Six more Bruins selected in MLB draft

June, 5, 2012
UCLA baseball players Beau Amaral, Tyler Heineman, Scott Griggs, Trevor Brown, Eric Jaffe and Cody Keefer were selected Tuesday during the second day of the Major League Baseball draft.

They joined Jeff Gelalich, taken in the supplemental first round Monday, to give UCLA total of seven players drafted in the first 15 rounds--tied for most in school history.

"We are thrilled to see seven of our players selected in the first 15 rounds," coach John Savage said. "This is both a reflection of their very hard work and our team's success. It's an exciting time in their lives, knowing that they have a chance to begin a pro baseball career. We couldn't be any more proud of their accomplishments."

Amaral, a center fielder, went to the Cincinnati Reds in the seventh round. Heineman, a catcher, and Griggs, the closer, went in the eighth round to the Houston Astros and Dodgers, respectively. The San Francisco Giants used a 10th-round pick on Brown, who has versatility to play any infield position including catcher.

Jaffe, a seldom-used reliever, went to the Chicago White Sox in the 11th round and Keefer, the UCLA left fielder, went to the Miami Marlins in the 15th round.

The draft concludes Wednesday with rounds 16-40.

Bruins to face TCU in Super Regional

June, 4, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- UCLA will face a familiar foe in Texas Christian in a Super Regional this weekend at Jackie Robinson Stadium, the Bruins learned Monday after the Horned Frogs defeated Mississippi, 7-4, Monday in the College Station Regional final.

The best-of-three Super Regional series between UCLA (45-14) and TCU (40-20) is scheduled for Friday and Saturday at 6 p.m. and Sunday at 7 p.m. if necessary. The game Friday will be televised by ESPN and Saturday's game will be on ESPN2. If Sunday's game is necessary, it will also be on ESPN2.

UCLA and TCU faced off three times in the 2010 College World Series. The Bruins won two of those three games, including a 10-3 victory in a game for the right to play in the national championship series.

This season, the Horned Frogs finished tied with New Mexico for first place in the Mountain West Conference this season. Led by junior catcher Josh Elander (.316, 10 HR, 42 RBI) and freshman pitcher Preston Morrison (9-1, 1.98 ERA), they are playing a Super Regional for the third time in the last four years.

"TCU had a very successful season in the Mountain West and won a challenging regional in College Station at Texas A&M," UCLA coach John Savage said in a statement. "This will be a very tough test for our program, and we're looking forward to opening the series on Friday at Jackie Robinson Stadium."
LOS ANGELES--Yes, UCLA can hit a little bit, too.

And the Bruins do, indeed, have a solid bullpen.

Dominant starting pitching had been the story for UCLA the first two days of the NCAA regional at Jackie Robinson Stadium, but the Bruins broke out the bats in a big way Sunday and thumped Creighton, 13-5, to win the regional and advance to a Super Regional for the second time in three years and third time in six.

UCLA, seeded No. 2 nationally, will face the winner of Monday's elimination game between Texas Christian and Mississippi next weekend. If the Bruins continue to play the way they did in the regional, they should have no trouble winning that best-of-three series and making a return trip to Omaha for the College World Series.

The Bruins (45-14) simply steamrolled through the regional, displaying dominance in all facets of the game. Right fielder Jeff Gelalich keyed the Bruins charge Sunday, blasting two home runs off the hitting facility beyond the right field fence to lead the offensive outburst.

The 11-hit attack came on the heels of dominant outings by starters Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig, who combined to give up only three hits and no earned runs in 17 combined innings on Friday and Saturday. Zack Weiss started Sunday and wasn't quite as effective, but the offense and the bullpen -- which hadn't gotten much work this weekend -- carried the day.

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Vander Tuig continues UCLA pitching dominance

June, 2, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- If UCLA’s pitching staff was supposed to be down this season, nobody bothered to tell the Bruins pitchers.

Nick Vander Tuig flirted with a no-hitter against one of the nation's best hitting teams and turned in the second consecutive dominant outing by a UCLA starter as the Bruins trounced New Mexico, 7-1, Saturday night in the second round of the NCAA regionals at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

Vander Tuig did not allow a hit until a leadoff double in the eighth and struck out a career-high 11 with only one walk and an unearned run in eight innings for the Bruins, who will play Sunday at 7 p.m. with a chance to win the regional and advance to the Super Regionals.

UCLA (44-14), seeded No. 2 nationally, will face the winner of an elimination game between New Mexico (37-23) and Creighton (27-29). The Bluejays eliminated San Diego on Saturday. Should the Bruins advance, they will have starting pitching to thank.

Vander Tuig and Friday’s starter Adam Plutko have given up only one run and three hits in the two games of the regional and UCLA pitchers have limited New Mexico and Creighton to an .070 batting average in the two games.

“UCLA is seeded the way they are seeded because it was obvious tonight,” New Mexico coach Ray Birmingham said. “They have given up one run in two ballgames. UCLA can pitch.”

This is the type of dominant starting pitching the Bruins often got last season with Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole, but even those two, selected No. 1 and 3 in the Major League Baseball draft last year, didn’t turn in these types of outings in last year’s regional.

Bauer pitched a five-hitter with 11 strikeouts and Cole lost his start in the regional as UCLA failed to advance. With those two gone, coach John Savage has employed a different strategy with his starters this season, asking them to go only five or six before handing this over to a stellar bullpen. Things have played out differently in the postseason, however, as the bullpen has been in for only one inning in two games.

“I wouldn’t say surprised,” Savage said of his starters going deep into the last two games. “We have starters that are capable of those two outings.”

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Plutko pitches a gem in regional opener

June, 1, 2012
Adam PlutkoAP Photo/Gus RuelasAdam Plutko pitched his second complete game of the season as the UCLA beat Creighton.

LOS ANGELES -- Adam Plutko was pitching with a heavy heart, but luckily for him the baseball felt light.

A day after attending the funeral of his great grandmother, Plutko turned in the finest pitching performance of the season for UCLA as he spun a two-hitter to lead the Bruins to a 3-0 victory over Creighton in a first-round game of the NCAA Los Angeles Regional on Friday night at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

It was the first postseason shutout for UCLA since an 8-0 victory over Yale in 1992, putting the Bruins, seeded no. 1 in the regional, in a winner's bracket game against New Mexico on Saturday at 7 p.m.

After driving back from the funeral in San Diego on Friday morning, Plutko met his team at the ballpark and proceeded to dominate the Creighton bats from the outset. The sophomore right-hander retired the first nine batters he faced and 15 of the first 16. He struck out seven and walked three and allowed only one base runner to advance past first base.

"It’s been kind of a rough week," Plutko said. "It’s been a whirlwind of a week, but it was a lot of fun to pitch this game."

The complete game was a boon for the Bruins (43-14), who have not gotten many of them this year. Plutko had the only other one -- a 2-0 victory at Georgia on March 9. Obviously the Bruins have been relying heavily on their bullpen, but to get complete game in the first game of a regional could prove invaluable down the road.

"Adam gave his best outing of the year, quite honestly, and we needed it," coach John Savage said. "In a series when you are talking about multiple games in a few days, you’re talking about saving your bullpen and Adam just did it as well as he could."

The Bruins got all the offense they would need in the first inning when Cody Keefer beat out a chopper to shortstop for a two-out infield single and Jeff Gelalich followed by ripping a run-scoring double into the left-center gap.

Another two-out rally in the second produced two more runs as Cody Regis singled and Kevin Kramer and Beau Amaral followed with back-to-back doubles to give UCLA a 3-0 lead.

After that it was all Plutko (10-3) who effectively moved his fastball around the strike zone to keep the Bluejays (26-29) off balance. He got some help from Amaral, who made two nice running catches in center field with a man on first to thwart a potential Creighton threat.

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With Savage, UCLA baseball has arrived

May, 31, 2012
John SavageChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesSince arriving at the school in 2005, UCLA baseball coach John Savage has led the Bruins to new heights, but a national championship is still missing.

LOS ANGELES -- After nearly a century of playing at the intercollegiate level, UCLA baseball has finally arrived.

UCLA is seeded No. 2 nationally for the NCAA tournament, which begins Friday, and when the Bruins (42-14) face Creighton in the opening round of the Los Angeles Regional at Jackie Robinson Stadium, they begin their quest to back up all the recent accolades with the UCLA’s first national championship in baseball.

Should they do so, it would be only the latest in a long line of firsts the program has achieved over the past few seasons. This year, the Bruins won consecutive conference titles for the first time. Last year, pitcher Trevor Bauer became the first UCLA player ever to win the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s top player and Gerrit Cole became the first UCLA player ever taken as the No. 1 pick in the Major League Baseball draft.

In 2010, the Bruins earned a national seeding for the NCAA tournament for the first time, were host of an NCAA regional and a Super Regional for the first time, and won a game at the College World Series for the first time.

The No. 2 seeding this year is the highest UCLA has ever been seeded for the NCAA tournament and it provides validation that the recent run of success is no fluke.

“One of our main goals when we got here was to become a national contender year in and year out,” coach John Savage said. “That is very, very difficult to do in baseball and I don’t know if we are there yet. Some people would argue yes, some would argue no.”

But at least there is an argument now.

Since its inception in 1920, the Bruins' baseball program had been an 85-year see-saw session in which the Bruins would contend for conference titles and fifth-place finishes with equal frequency. That all changed when Savage took over as coach in 2005 and built UCLA into a consistent winner that now must be considered among the nation’s top powers.

In the 58 years before Savage, UCLA had been to the College World Series only twice and had qualified for the NCAA playoffs 12 times. In the eight seasons since, Savage has taken UCLA to the NCAA playoffs six times and was two wins away from a national title in 2010.

And in conference play, the Bruins are now among the title contenders year in and year out. They have won the past two titles and have finished among the top three in the conference in seven consecutive seasons -- the longest such streak in school history.

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UCLA baseball seeded No. 2 nationally

May, 28, 2012

UCLA is seeded No. 2 nationally for the NCAA baseball championships and will face Creighton in the first game of the Los Angeles Regional Friday at Jackie Robinson Stadium, the NCAA announced Monday.

Florida is seeded No. 1 with Florida State, Baylor, Oregon, North Carolina, Louisiana State and South Carolina rounding out the top eight. The full bracket is available here.

The Bruins (42-14) earned the highest national seeding in school history, bettering the No. 6 they received in 2010. That year, UCLA advanced to the College World Series championship series, but coach John Savage downplayed the importance of earning a national seeding.

"A national seed is nice," he said. "It’s a credit to how we've played and a nice recognition of the program but that's about it. When you start Friday night, it doesn’t matter where you are seeded. You have to go out and play and you better be sharp. It’s a double elimination and if you have a couple of bad games, you’ll be going home."

The Bruins found that out last year. They weren't seeded nationally, but they were seeded No. 1 in their regional, but lost their opening game to San Francisco and could not climb out of the loser's bracket and advance.

San Francisco pitcher Kyle Zimmer, projected as a top-five pick in this year's MLB Draft, beat the Bruins, 3-0, in that opening game. UCLA can expect to face another dangerous pitcher in the regionals as Creighton features junior left-hander Ty Blach, who pitched a one-hit shutout in the opening round of the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament last week.

This year, UCLA enters the postseason having won 11 of 12 games and 14 of its last 16. The Bruins won the Pac-12 title for the second consecutive season, had the No. 2 Ratings Percentage Index in the country, went 20-4 away from home and had the No. 4 strength of schedule in the nation. It is the 18th time UCLA has earned an NCAA tournament berth, including the last five years in a row.

Creighton (26-28) earned a berth in the tournament by unexpectedly winning the the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. The Bluejays finished last in the conference regular-season standings, but went 4-0 in the conference tournament to secure and automatic bid.

San Diego (40-15) and New Mexico (36-22) will square off in the other game of the Los Angeles regional. The regional is a double elimination format and the winner will advance to play the winner of the College Station regional, which includes host Texas A&M, Texas Christian, Mississippi and Dayton.

UCLA defeats USC, wins share of Pac-12

May, 28, 2012
LOS ANGELES -- At some point the UCLA baseball team might figure out how to win a conference title without so much drama, but until that day arrives the Bruins will just have to take what they can get.

The Bruins won a share of the Pac-12 title when they completed a three-game sweep over crosstown rival USC with a 7-6 victory Sunday in the regular-season finale at Jackie Robinson Stadium. It is the second consecutive conference title for the Bruins, who have won both by overcoming long odds on the final weekend.

This year, the Bruins trailed Oregon by two games and Arizona by one heading into the final weekend, but Oregon got swept by Oregon State and Arizona lost two of three to Arizona State, leaving the Bruins (42-14, 20-10) in a tie with Arizona (38-17, 20-10) atop the final standings. The conference crowns co-champions so no tiebreakers are used to determine a champion.

Last year, UCLA entered the final weekend a game behind Oregon State, but won the title outright when Oregon State got swept by Oregon.

"We feel very fortunate," coach John Savage said. "That’s why you play 30 games. Until the last pitch is thrown, there is anybody in this conference that can beat anybody and it just goes to show you that. I don’t know what to say other than the credit goes to the players and sometimes you get a little lucky how things fall and today we were a little fortunate."

It is the 1oth conference title in baseball for UCLA, but it is the first time the Bruins have won titles in consecutive seasons and completed a season in which the Bruins won 40-plus games for the eighth time in school history. It also continued a run of domination over USC (23-32, 8-22) as UCLA defeated the Trojans for the 19th time in the last 24 meetings.

"When you're at UCLA, you always want to beat SC and sweeping them is extra sweet," said shortstop Pat Valaika, whose two-run single in the bottom of the eighth broke a 5-5 tie. "And to sweep them to win the conference title is even sweeter."

It certainly wasn't easy. UCLA was seemingly coming from behind the whole game as USC took a 2-0 lead in the second, a 3-2 lead in the fourth and a 4-3 lead in the sixth before Trevor Brown delivered a two-run single in the sixth to give UCLA a 5-4 lead.

USC tied it in the top of the eighth when James Roberts struck out with two outs and the bases loaded, but reached first when the third strike hit the dirt and scooted to the backstop for a wild pitch.

The Bruins loaded the bases in the eighth on a hit batter, a walk and an error, bringing Valaika to the plate to face USC reliever Martin Viramontes. Valaika struck out against Viramontes on Saturday with the bases loaded in the ninth, so Valaika said he was extra focused for his eighth-inning at bat Sunday.

"I wanted a little bit of revenge," Valaika said. "I hit a curve ball, which he was throwing a lot of those yesterday, so I was just sitting on it and trying to do my job and it worked out."

The hit not only got Valaika some revenge, but it got UCLA the conference title. If they had lost to USC, the Bruins would have finished a game behind Arizona, which had already finished playing by the time Valaika came to bat in the eighth.

It completed a remarkable closing stretch of the season for UCLA, which won 11 of its last 12 games and 14 of 16 to end the regular season.The Bruins were rewarded by the NCAA for that effort when they were chosen as one of 16 hosts for the regionals which begin Friday.

It is the third consecutive year the Bruins have been selected as a regional host and on Monday morning, they are expected to earn a top eight national seeding for the playoffs.

"We’re excited with where we are," Savage said. "All the credit goes to the players. They stayed together all season with one of the toughest schedules in the country and in one of the toughest baseball conferences in the country."

And a conference in which UCLA is the champion.

"It means a lot to everybody in the program," Savage said. "To be able to say that we’re back to back, it’s special. I think everybody in our room feels that way."

Especially with how unlikely it seemed when the weekend began.

"Definitely coming into it a lot of it wasn’t in our hands," center fielder Beau Amaral said. "We just knew that we had to take care of our side of it and hope for the best and we're all pretty proud of the accomplishment. It says a lot about our team and our coaches and our program."



B. Hundley204148185613
P. Perkins1308136.33
B. Hundley923053.34
J. Payton4259914.35
D. Fuller312568.31