OMAHA, Neb. — Coming into Friday’s opening game of the College World Series, TD Ameritrade Park was buzzing about Stony Brook. The Seawolves are in Omaha for the first time and are just the second ever No. 4 regional seed to reach the Series.
Flecks of UCLA-blue dotted a sea of Stony-Brook-red in the stands. As a result of their opening opponent and consistent style of play, the Bruins are one of the least-talked-about No. 2 seeds the Series has seen in a while. After the first inning of an eventual 9-1 win for the Bruins, UCLA was the talk of Omaha.
“We kind of calmed things down, especially here in Omaha with the crowd,” junior center fielder Beau Amaral said. “We knew everybody was going to be rooting for (Stony Brook) and being able to take the crowd out of it early is a pretty big deal.
UCLA sophomore right-hander and ace of staff Adam Plutko zapped most of the energy out of the pro Stony Brook crowd in the top of the first by setting the Seawolves down in order, striking out two. UCLA’s offense finished the job in the bottom half by plating five runs on five hits against Stony Brook’s solid right-hander Tyler Johnson (Crespi).
Amaral led things off with a single up the middle, junior catcher Tyler Heineman gutted out an infield single, junior left fielder Cody Keefer walked, junior right fielder Jeff Gelalich singled to right, junior first baseman Trevor Brown singled up the middle and sophomore shortstop Pat Valaika laid down an RBI sacrifice bunt. Before Johnson had recorded two outs, he found himself in a 5-0 hole.
“That’s a very good lineup,” said Johnson who suffered just his second loss of the season. “They have a lot of left-handed guys too, A lot of good hitters. They’re here for a reason. I didn’t do a good job of throwing strikes.”
Johnson’s words could have been plucked from any other losing pitcher’s press conference who has faced UCLA in the playoffs. The No. 2 Bruins remain undefeated in the postseason and all of their wins have been similar.
It’s almost as if UCLA has found a formula for how to wear teams down: Getting at least solid innings from its starting pitcher, stringing timely, seeing-eye hits together and turning it over to the bullpen to close things out. Friday was no different as Plutko scattered five hits over seven innings, seven of UCLA’s position players had at least one hit and right-handed freshman reliever David Berg shut things down in the last two innings by not allowing a hit in seven batters faced.
“It was a typical Bruin win, really,” UCLA coach John Savage said. “Nothing fancy. No big home runs or anything like that. It was just more plate discipline. … We walked nine times, had nine hits, we played catch and we threw strikes. When you do those things, usually good things happen.”
It’s that grinding style of baseball that helped UCLA fly under the radar early in Omaha. Now, they have everyone’s attention but the formula will remain the same.
“Regardless of who we play, this group has been ready to play when the first pitch goes,” Savage said. “They did a great job. This was a great way to start the tournament.”