OMAHA, Neb. — UCLA baseball, welcome to the crowd.
The Bruins had won plenty of national championships — 108 in the NCAA, 129 overall — but never one in baseball.
Until Tuesday, when the Bruins defeated Mississippi State, 8-0, to complete a sweep of five games at the College World Series.
The final out, an appropriate capper to a special season: Record-setting closer David Berg, on the mound for the final inning because coach John Savage said he “had to be,” induced a grounder to first baseman Pat Gallagher, whose underhand toss led Berg to the bag.
“Ironic,” Savage said. “The ball ends up in his hands and we’re national champs.”
Berg made a record-tying 51st appearance in a season, but he wasn’t really needed. Starter Nick Vander Tuig was dominant, limiting a powerful Mississippi State lineup to five hits and a walk over eight innings as UCLA slowly pulled away.
He was asked if there was a point where he knew he had enough runs to win.
“I really didn’t think about it,” Vander Tuig said. “I just kept executing pitches.”
The Bruins (49-17) executed just about everything.
It was UCLA’s third CWS appearance in four years, and it’s clear the Bruins have mastered the new era in college baseball.
Fifteen years ago, there were 62 home runs hit by the final eight teams in the NCAA tournament. This year, there were three.
Pitching and defense rules. And UCLA had plenty of both.
Vander Tuig improved to 14-4. In five CWS games, UCLA pitchers had an earned-run average of 0.80, a record low in the aluminum bat era.
UCLA starters combined to pitch 34 innings, giving up 21 hits, five walks and only three earned runs. In support, the defense made only three errors.
On offense, UCLA didn’t hit any balls over the fence, but the Bruins know how to turn up the heat on a defense until it wilts. Mississippi State (51-20) not only wilted, it dried up and crumbled, contributing three errors to UCLA’s cause.
Leadoff batter Brian Carroll scored twice without hitting the ball after being hit with a pitch and after drawing a walk. Eric Filia had five runs batted in, the first on a long sacrifice fly, the second on a sacrifice bunt, the third on a garden-variety bouncer up the middle and the last two on a single to right field.
“We’re not going to hit a bunch of home runs, but we grind out at-bats, work counts, fight off good pitches, hit pitches we can hit,” Filia said. “The whole time that’s what we did, and we did a great job of it.”
Three Bruins, who produced 12 hits, were hit by pitches, two worked walks and there were four sacrifices. There were even two extra-base hits by the Bruins, which gave them five in five CWS games.
The four sacrifices tied a CWS finals record. The Bruins had 12 in Omaha, tying a record set in 1962.
So it went for UCLA, and so it is likely to continue to go just as long as that other L.A. Pac-12 Conference school doesn’t coax Savage across town. (Yes, USC is looking for a baseball coach, and has been waiting to speak to Savage, a former Trojans pitching coach.)
The Bruins’ victory gave the Pac-12 Conference consecutive national titles for the first time since Oregon State won in 2006 and 2007. Arizona won the title last year.
So was it a win for the Pac-12 and West Coast baseball? No, it was not.
“This,” Savage said, “is for all Bruins baseball players, all the coaches … all the guys who came before I got here. This is for them.”
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