UCLA tops Mississippi State 3-1 in opener of College World Series final
"How many times can UCLA come through in the clutch?" ESPN announcer Mike Patrick gasped in the bottom of the eighth inning, after Bruins' closer David Berg had induced yet another double play grounder to rescue the Baby Blue from trouble in the first game of the College World Series.
Berg wasn't done yet. He came back out in the bottom of the ninth and escaped another jam. This one ended the game and gave the Pac-12 Pitcher of the year his NCAA-record 24th save of the season.
We don't have an answer to Patrick's question just yet, but we do know that UCLA walks the tightrope with more nimbleness than anyone in the nation. Like Berg, the sidearm wizard who has defined them with his record-setting pitching in the clutch, the Bruins just keep coming through at crucial junctures. They're only one win away from a national championship after beating Mississippi State 3-1 Monday night in Omaha.
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The Bruins remain undefeated (9-0) in postseason play. A Perfect 10 tomorrow night would give John Savage's program its first-ever national championship. UCLA has won a record 108 team national championships, but baseball does not (yet) comprise a single one of those.
Now, the Bruins are on the doorstep of glory and they're marching forward with a familiar formula. Ace Adam Plutko was again rock solid, dealing six innings of one-run ball. The three-headed bullpen monster of James Kaprielian, Zack Weiss, and Berg did the rest to stun a Mississippi State squad that also came into the contest on a serious undefeated Omaha roll.
Pat Valaika's RBI single in the first inning gave UCLA a lead they would not relinquish. Eric Filia's two-out, two-run knock in the fourth made the Bulldogs pay for a throwing error earlier in the inning. That hit ended up providing the winning difference. It also was emblematic of what the Bruins do so well: They feast on opponents' mistakes while making sure that they don't make too many of their own.
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On Monday night, UCLA was again near perfect in the field. They turned double plays with lethal precision, and a sensational Filia catch highlighted a series of spectacular plays in the cavernous outfield of TD Ameritrade Park. These Bruins sure have mojo, and they'll send Nick Vander Tuig to the Omaha mound at 5 p.m. PT tomorrow as they try to finally turn those good vibes into a national championship.
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.