NCAA baseball super regionals: Bruins are Omaha-bound, Oregon State loses
Pitching, defense, and clutch hitting again prove to be vital parts of a solid championship formula: UCLA is heading back to Omaha for the third time in four years. The Bruins waltzed into Fullerton's Goodwin Field and swept two games of the super regional, beating the Titans 3-0 Saturday night on the strength of Nick Vander Tuig's solid start, more excellent bullpen work, and a trio of first inning runs that capitalized on Fullerton's early sloppiness.
The UCLA bus can now roll back north on the Santa Ana Freeway to its Westwood home earlier than most expected, because Sunday's game won't be necessary. The Bruins can begin packing their bags for an excursion to the mecca of the college baseball world.
John Savage's lineup entered this postseason hitting a very pedestrian .252, but UCLA again proved that massive offensive numbers aren't necessary for elite-level success in this new BBCOR bat era. Vander Tuig's 6.1 scoreless innings frustrated a Fullerton team that racked up 10 hits but couldn't cash in to score a single run. Despite throwing 54 pitches in a stressful extra-inning outing the day before, Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year David Berg closed out the Titans with a typically businesslike ninth inning.
James Kaprielian and Zack Weiss both delivered scoreless relief work to bridge the gap between Vander Tuig and Berg, and that success meant that the Bruins had to score in only one inning to finish the sweep. That frame was the first, when Pat Gallagher's clutch two-out, two-RBI single provided the winning difference after two Fullerton errors. UCLA, which has been so clean defensively during their run this season, made no such costly mistake of their own. That meant that in hindsight, this one was over almost immediately after it started.
The Bruins will open their College World Series appearance with what will be a highly anticipated match-up against SEC power LSU. After qualifying for Omaha only twice before 2010, the Bruins' program has now punched a ticket to college baseball's promised land in the three of the past four seasons under John Savage. The Baby Blue is certainly no stranger to big-time success on the college baseball stage now. They'll ride their experience and undefeated 2013 postseason momentum right into legitimate national title contention.
Like UCLA, the Beavers swept through their home regional last week. But unlike the Bruins, Oregon State's super regional got off to a very rocky start. The record crowd at Goss Stadium was rocking as Pat Casey's club came within a strike of defeating Kansas State to open the best-of-three series, but the Wildcats stunned the Beavers by scoring five runs in the ninth and tenth innings to steal a 6-2 road victory. Ross Kivett tripled off Jace Fry before Tanner Witt singled him in to force extra innings. There, the Wildcats' Josh Davis punched the game-winning RBI hit into the outfield.
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The loss was certainly gut-wrenching from Oregon State's perspective. The Beavers must now win consecutive elimination games against Kansas State if they are to return to Omaha for the first time since their 2007 national title campaign. Given the strength of Oregon State's nation-best starting rotation, that's certainly possible. But the momentum is now in the Wildcats' dugout, and the Beavers must find a way to reverse its flow starting at 7 p.m. PT tomorrow.
Casey will give the ball to Andrew Moore (1.22 ERA, .192 OBA) in hopes of getting the first part of this job done. He'll also hope for more production from his offense against the rather pedestrian secondary arms of the Kansas State pitching staff. The Beavers' only Saturday runs came on the strength of Michael Conforto's two-run home run, and that certainly was not enough for victory.
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David Lombardi has covered Pac-12 baseball since 2007. He’s a play-by-play voice and on-air reporter in the San Francisco Bay Area. He’s on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.