Pitching, defense put UCLA past LSU in game 1 of College World Series

Pitching and defense.

Analysts always seem to undervalue the critical importance of these two baseball facets when they forecast the College World Series. So naturally, LSU came into Sunday's Omaha-opening contest as the favorite against UCLA. But the Bruins, experts in both vital areas, executed perfectly and rode the Tigers' mistakes to a 2-1 victory in another classic Pac-12-SEC showdown.

True to form, John Savage's club played superb defense while putting offensive pressure of its own on LSU's fielders. The Tigers, just like so many of the Bruins' victims throughout this season, buckled under the weight of UCLA's crisp play. Both of the Baby Blue's runs were unearned, but they found a way to turn the game to their dominant bullpen with a lead.

[Related: How to follow the Pac-12 at the College World Series]

That's all that mattered.

James Kaprielian and Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year David Berg slammed the door on the Tigers after Bruins ace Adam Plutko turned in seven stellar innings. The only blemish on his line was Mason Katz's fourth-inning solo shot, the first home run in three-plus games of competition at TD Ameritrade Park.

That statistic speaks to the spaciousness of this ballpark's outfield, a fact that promises to be a huge boon for the Bruins throughout their stay in Omaha. UCLA wins by playing the tiniest of small ball and should be the favorite whenever the baseball stays in the yard.

[Related: NCAA baseball championship bracket]

Sunday's game was Exhibit A.

After Katz's homer gave LSU a 1-0 lead, the Bruins answered by manufacturing runs with the help of errors in the sixth and eighth innings to tie the game and take the lead. After Kaprielian's fantastic work in the eighth, Berg came on and benefited immensely from a spectacular around-the-horn double play turned by his infield. It was another vintage UCLA defensive moment, just like Berg's retirement of JaCoby Jones to seal the game with two runners on shortly thereafter. With the LSU partisans in attendance roaring at fever pitch, Berg worked around a walk and a 3-0 count to Jones. He came back in the count and induced a game-ending flyout to right field. It sealed his school-record 22nd save of the season, and the UCLA dugout was finally able to exhale.

[Related: Beavs fall to Mississippi State in game 1 of College World Series]

LSU isn't done yet, but the Bruins have done themselves a major favor by moving into the winner's bracket. They move on to face NC State Tuesday at 5 p.m. PT.
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.
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