By Steve Ramirez
FULLERTON – When it comes to high school baseball, the San Gabriel Valley plays second fiddle to no other area.
The area’s pride was in full display Friday as an NCAA baseball Super Regional opener between visiting UCLA and Cal State Fullerton featured five local players, including starting pitchers Justin Garza (Bonita High School) of Fullerton, Adam Plutko (Glendora) of UCLA and Bruins closer David Berg (Bishop Amat), who threw three innings in relief to lead UCLA to a 5-3 victory in 10 innings over the Titans.
The Bruins, seeking their third trip to the College World Series in four seasons, improved to 43-17 and will look to advance to Omaha, Neb., when the best-of-three series continues Saturday at 7 p.m.
The series was a showcase for the Valley, and no one knows that more than Berg, who walked on to UCLA before becoming the elite closer in college baseball.
“You’re playing against guys you know and grew up watching,” Berg said. “Guys over at Bonita, Glendora and Bishop Amat, so you definitely know where they from. You’ve seen them play before.
“It’s a little extra emotion because you’ve competed against these guys. It’s a little more prideful and get the (win).”
Berg improved to 7-0 after throwing 54 pitches in his three
innings. The sophomore after Fullerton put runners on first and second with one out,finished it up with back-to-back strikeouts of J.D. Davis and Michael Lorenzen to win it. He had a nine-pitch battle with Davis before getting him looking for the second out.
“I was really just trying to get a ground ball and a double play (against Davis),” Berg said. “I made some really good pitches, and 3-2, I figured he was probably looking for another fastball, so I felt the slider was the right pitch to go with and he froze on it.”
The duel between Garza and Plutko featured two of the past three area players of the year, which each having their moments. Garza, who led Bonita to its first CIF-Southern Section title since 1951 last spring, gave up three runs and allowed five hits. He also had six strikeouts. It’s the first time Fullerton (51-9) has lost when he’s pitched, ending a 16-game streak.
“I just had a bad start,” said Garza, who is 12-0. “I admit it. I’m not tiring. I had trouble early, but I felt my command come back late in the game. I’ll be fine.”
Plutko, who was area player of the year in 2010 when he led Glendora to its first division title, gave up one run and six hits in seven innings and had two strikeouts. He alsolearned he was selected on day two of the First-Year Player Draft.
“It was tough for him,” UCLA coach John Savage said. “But I knew he was going to be a bulldog, and (a start) that will be remembered for this program for a long time.”
Also playing a key role was former Northview standout Richy Pedroza, who went 1 for 4 and keyed Fullerton’s two-run rally that tied the game 3-3 in the eighth.
By Steve Ramirez