UCLA tops UNC, advances to College World Series finals; OSU headed home
Well, that was as UCLA as UCLA Baseball gets. The Bruins have hit only .182 in Omaha so far, and their closer may have induced some ulcers in the fan base when he loaded the bases before recording an out. Yet somehow, some way, John Savage's club hasn't lost yet. They managed to again prevail against top overall seed North Carolina 4-1 to advance to the College World Series best-of-three championship series.
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The formula, one built on pitching and defense, has been simple enough. But the actual moments, particularly the stressful ninth innings that highlighted this Bruins' win and the one last Sunday against LSU, have been more complicated. Although whenever push has come to shove and the tension has reached a fever pitch, the Bruins have come through. Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year David Berg delivered in the clutch again on Friday night, inducing a Landon Lassiter fly out to end the contest with the bases loaded. Remember that UCLA is a mind-boggling 17-2 this year in one-run games. Although this victory did not count in that category, it sure felt like one, and that statistic demonstrates that the Bruins have ice water coursing through their veins. Cody Regis, Kevin Williams, and Pat Valaika all drove in runs for the Bruins to make starter Grant Watson (6 IP, 4 H, 0 R) a winner.
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The familiar ending may have been torturous, but Savage can care less at this point: UCLA is just two wins away from a national title. Their bid for the ultimate prize begins Monday at 5 p.m. PT against the SEC's Mississippi State.
Earlier Friday afternoon, The Beavers' season came to an end with a 4-1 loss to Mississippi State in Omaha, a setback that has provided a sobering reminder of just how difficult it is to win the College World Series. The Pac-12 champions had torn through most of this 2013 season with ease rarely seen in this parity-filled age of college baseball, but the Bulldogs sent them back to Corvallis with a 52-13 final record. Oregon State's bats cooled off over the final two games in Omaha. They scored only two runs over those 18 innings, and the slowdown was not ideal against a Mississippi State squad that touched up freshman phenom Andrew Moore in the fourth and fifth innings. Hunter Renfroe's three-run laser beam home run in the fifth provided the winning difference in the game. It capped a Bulldogs rally that started after two were out.
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Oregon State struggled to find an answer on the offensive end as a trio of double-play balls took the wind out of the Beavers' sails. Pac-12 Player of the Year Michael Conforto, who was spectacular on the defensive end, finished 0-for-4 at the plate. Andy Peterson's RBI hit in the sixth was Oregon State's only knock with a runner in scoring position over the past two games, and it was not nearly enough to make up the deficit. 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.