UCLA opens CWS with Omaha’s darling, Stony Brook

OMAHA, Neb. — Greetings from Omaha. I was nearly killed by a combination of demonic rain (anyone ever driven through a Midwest thunderstorm?…insane), lightning and semi trucks on my drive to Nebraska but I’m thrilled to finally be here. I’ll just be bringing you coverage of today’s opener v. Stony Brook. The rain appears to have let up for now but it’s supposed to rain all week so we could definitely see some delays or postponements.

While Stony Brook was busy shocking No. 7 national seed LSU, UCLA’s consistent brand of baseball has kept them as under the radar as an undefeated No. 2 seed could be. All of Omaha is pulling for Stony Brook as the locals love the underdogs. The Bruins faced a similar problem with TCU in 2010 but coach John Savage doesn’t seem to mind.

“If everyone is pulling for them, that’s what college baseball is all about,” Savage said in a press conference Thursday. “We’ll embrace it and go play.”

The Seawolves are playing in their first ever CWS and are just the second No. 4 regional seed to reach the series (Fresno State did it in ’08 and won the title). I’m not picking them to win it but they’re the real deal. They’re hitting .335 as a team (No. 2 in the nation), they lead the country in wins at 52-13 and, like UCLA, had seven players drafted.

Lastly, for all you Valley folks, Stony Brook has three Crespi alumni: Ace of staff and today’s starter senior RHP Tyler Johnson (12-1, 1.91 ERA), sophomore outfielder Joshua Mason and sophomore outfielder Michael Hubbard.

I’ll post lineups when I get them tomorrow. We do know that UCLA will start sophomore RHP Adam Plutko (11-3, 2.56 ERA).

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UCLA football early TV schedule released

From UCLA:

UCLA’s first two home football games of the 2012 season have been selected for television broadcast in the Pac-12 Conference’s early selection period. The season opener with Rice has also been chosen for tv by Conference USA broadcast partners.

FOX (over-the-air, Channel 11 in the Los Angeles area) will broadcast the home-opener on Sept. 8 against Nebraska on a national telecast. The game will kickoff at 4:30 pm (PT). The Bruins will make their television debut on the new Pac-12 Networks on Sept. 15 when they host Houston in the Rose Bowl. Kickoff time for that contest is at 7:30 pm (PT).

UCLA’s season-opener at Rice, on Aug. 30, is part of the television package belonging to Conference USA, and will be broadcasted nationally on the CBS Sports Network at 4:30 pm (PT).

All other UCLA football games this season will be eligible for a selection process for television broadcast. These selections will take place, in general, 12 days prior to the date of the event.

To see if your cable provider is currently signed up as a partner who carries the Pac-12 Networks, please click here to be directed to the channel locator.

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UCLA baseball playing for the Cup

The UCLA baseball team won’t just be playing for their first College World Series championship when they embark on their fourth trip to Omaha this week.

The Bruins are playing for the Cup.

With the athletic program ranked sixth in the Capital One Cup rankings – thanks to top-10 finishes in volleyball, tennis, golf, soccer and water polo – a title run in the CWS would give UCLA a shot to hoist the trophy.

Florida might stand in the way, as the Gators are not only ranked No. 1 in the current Capital One Cup rankings, but also head to Omaha. The Cup will be presented at the Espy’s on July 11, and the prize includes $400,000 in scholarship money for student-athletes.

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Franklin, McDonald to represent UCLA at Pac-12 Media Day

Perhaps unsurprisingly, UCLA redshirt senior running back Johnathan Franklin will be the team’s offensive representative at Pac-12 Media Day on July 24 at Universal Studios.

He is, after all, one of the team’s elder statesmen, coming off another strong season, a mouthpiece for going on three years.

But from a defense that includes many upper classmen and even several senior starters, the new staff has selected redshirt sophomore safety Tevin McDonald to attend the event.

McDonald had an impressive freshman season and has made a very good impression on the new coaching staff, particularly defensive backs coach Demetrice Martin. McDonald bulked up some during the offseason and will help fortify a veteran defensive backfield, with Aaron Hester, Sheldon Price and Andrew Abbott. His maturation this season is key as he tries to follow in the footsteps of Rahim Moore.

Here is the schedule for the event:

9 a.m.
Welcome – Larry Scott, Pac-12 Commissioner
Gary Stevenson, President of Pac-12 Enterprises
9:15 a.m.
Colorado – Coach Jon Embree, David Bakhtiari (OT), Douglas Rippy (ILB)
9:35 a.m.
Arizona – Coach Rich Rodriguez, Matt Scott (QB), Jake Fisher (LB)
9:55 a.m. Arizona State – Coach Todd Graham, Cameron Marshall (RB), Brandon Magee (LB)
10:15 a.m.
Utah – Coach Kyle Whittingham, John White (RB), Star Lotulelei (DT)
10:35 a.m.
UCLA – Coach Jim Mora, Johnathan Franklin (RB), Tevin McDonald (FS)
10:55 a.m.
USC – Coach Lane Kiffin, Matt Barkley (QB), T.J. McDonald (S)
11:15 a.m. Break
11:25 a.m.
Washington State – Coach Mike Leach, Jeff Tuel (QB), Travis Long (DE)
11:45 a.m.
Oregon State – Coach Mike Riley, Markus Wheaton (WR), Jordan Poyer (CB)
12:05 p.m.
California – Coach Jeff Tedford, Keenan Allen (WR), Marc Anthony (DB)
12:25 p.m.
Washington – Coach Steve Sarkisian, Keith Price (QB), Desmond Trufant (CB)
12:45 p.m.
Stanford – Coach David Shaw, Stepfan Taylor (RB), Chase Thomas (OLB)
1:05 p.m.
Oregon – Coach Chip Kelly, Kenjon Barner (RB), Michael Clay (LB)

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UCLA headed to College World Series for second time in three years

All season long, UCLA baseball coach John Savage has stressed “sticking to the process.” When things don’t go right for the Bruins, Savage demands that his team not panic and stay calm.

It was nothing new on Saturday when UCLA played small ball, using two sacrifice flies, a squeeze bunt and a passed ball to methodically beat TCU 4-1 to punch its ticket to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. for the fourth time in school history. UCLA remained undefeated as it did not lose a game in either the regional or super regional.

“We chipped away,” Savage said. “We don’t blow anyone out. We hung around. We made everything count.”

While the Bruins’ offense was manufacturing runs, their pitchers were keeping TCU’s (40-22) offense from generating base runners. The Horned Frogs’ only source of runs in the super regional were solo home runs.

“We’re not a power hitting team,” sophomore shortstop Pat Valaika said. “Our game plan is to wear pitchers down. We work really hard to pass the baton and get the next guy to the plate. It worked tonight and it’s worked all season.”

UCLA started the season picked fourth in the Pac-12 and ranked in the mid-20s. With an RPI and strength of schedule in the top five, the No. 2 Bruins worked their way through a difficult non-conference slate that featured playoff teams Baylor and Purdue.

They went on to handle a grueling Pac-12 slate – one that featured five playoff teams – on their way to winning a share the regular season conference championship for the second straight season.

“To come out of the west is one of the hardest things in college baseball to do,” Savage said. “It never gets old. It’s like going to the biggest bowl game or the Final Four. It’s the epitome of college baseball to go to the middle of the country in the middle of June.”

The trek to the Midwest will be the the Bruins’ second in three years as they came up just short of a national championship in 2010, losing to South Carolina in the College World Series final. Six of UCLA’s nine position players were on that team as freshmen.

“That junior class is special and it will go down as one of the best classes in the history of the school,” said Savage, whose team does not have a senior on the roster. “It says a lot about their character and their leadership.”

Oddly enough, UCLA’s (47-14) off year came last season when it had two top-five draft picks in its starting rotation. This year, an improved offensive attack coupled with solid starting pitching and consistency from the bullpen combined to send the Bruins back to the mecca of college baseball.

“We had good chemistry my freshman year and this team is very similar,” junior infielder Trevor Brown said. “We all get along. We have great starting pitching and a great lineup. We feel very blessed to be going back to Omaha.”

Savage is quick to note, however, that these are not the 2010 Bruins. It’s a more mature, more confident group of juniors, six of which were drafted during the first two days of this week’s MLB draft.

“This team has a new identity,” Savage said. “We’re going to be going to Omaha with ‘Bruins’ on our chest but this is a different roster.”

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UCLA needs one more win to punch ticket to Omaha

UCLA will be the road team in Game 2 of tonight’s super regional v. TCU.

The Horned Frogs (40-21) will go with right hander Preston Morrison who is 9-1 on the year with a 1.98 ERA against UCLA’s (46-14) Nick Vander Tuig. Vander Tuig is 9-3 this season with a 4.53 ERA.

Here are tonight’s lineups:

UCLA

25 CF Beau Amaral
8 C Tyler Heineman
7 LF Cody Keefer
20 RF Jeff Gelalich
11 1B Trevor Brown
10 SS Pat Valaika
18 DH Cody Regis
3 3B Kevin Kramer
5 2B Kevin Williams

21 RHP Nick Vander Tuig

TCU

1 CF Kyle Von Tungelin
24 C Josh Elander
0 1B Kevin Cron
35 3B Jantzen Witte
2 2B Derek Odell
31 LF Jerrick Suiter
4 DH Josh Gonzales
5 RF Brance Rivera
26 SS Keaton Jones

18 RHP Preston Morrison

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Plutko seeks return visit to Omaha

A little sneak preview of future glory might just have prepared Adam Plutko for a return trip to Omaha.

Plutko headed to the Midwest along with his father, Gary, to watch the UCLA baseball team compete in the 2010 College World Series after his senior year at Glendora High.

After home runs by high school teammates Cody Regis in the regionals and super regionals, they just had to go be a part of it.

Not yet in college but already bleeding Bruin blue – he committed to UCLA as a sophomore in high school, don’t forget – he took in the sights and sounds of one of the great spectacles of college sport. He watched Trevor Bauer and Gerrit Cole, his two future mentors, mow down batter after batter. He soaked in the scene as the Bruins checked off accomplishment after accomplishment. He shared in their disappointment when they lost in the championship series to South Carolina.

But most of all, he readied himself to be on the big stage himself.

After his performance on Friday – a seven-hit, seven-strikeout effort in a 6-2 UCLA win over TCU in College World Series Super Regionals at Jackie Robinson Stadium – he and the Bruins are one step away.

“My dad looked at me and said we gotta go,” Plutko said. “We took the first flight we could. It was just so phenomenal being out there. It’s the only place on earth like that.”

Plutko did not master the Horned Frogs with the same ruthless efficiency he displayed against Creighton in a 3-0 two-hitter over the Bluejays in the regionals last Saturday, but aside from a pair of early inning hiccups, he was able to bide his time until the Bruin bats exploded in the bottom of the sixth inning.

Plutko allowed solo home runs to Josh Elander and Kyle Von Tungeln in the first and third innings, respectively, but limited the damage, scattering five hits while staying out of trouble before giving way to UCLA reliever David Berg after an Elander single in the top of the eighth.

By then the Bruins lead by four, thanks to one huge sixth inning.

First, UCLA’s loaded the bases to open the inning by way of TCU wildness – a walk and two hit batters – and Trevor Brown stroked a single into centerfield to score Tyler Heineman, tying the game.

Three batters later, Cody Regis strolled to the plate once more with the bases loaded and the Bruin junior fried the Horned Frogs just as he did two years ago.

Then, he was a freshman batting .500 with four RBIs against TCU in the College World Series tournament in Omaha, when the Bruins beat the Horned Frogs three times in six days.

Now, he delivered with a bases-clearing double to put UCLA ahead for good.

“I talked to coach (Rex) Peters before that bat and he basically he said (TCU pitcher Justin Scharf) likes to work down away in the zone,” Regis said. “We’re somewhat familiar with them – obviously not same team – but having that in back of your mind it gives you confidence going into it.”

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Steady David Berg finishes 6-2 win for UCLA

After giving up two solo home runs in the first three innings of UCLA’s 6-2 win over TCU, ace Adam Plutko settled down to put four straight zeroes on the board.

With his pitch count at 105 in the eighth inning, UCLA coach John Savage turned to freshman walk-on David Berg in a nationally televised game with a trip to Omaha hanging in the balance.

Berg, a side-arm right-hander, set down the next three batters he faced. Savage gave him the ball again in the ninth. Three up, three down.

“He’s been a rock,” Savage said. “He gets the ball outing after outing and he’s the same guy. When they know what you’re going to do to them and you still do it, that’s a good sign.”

Berg’s line: Twenty-five pitches, four strikeouts, no hits.

As Savage said, you know what you’re going to get with Berg. So often this season that has been an untouchable sinking fastball and absolute consistency.

Berg broke UCLA and Pac-12 records for appearances with 45 and he’s thrown in 20 of the Bruins’ last 21 games.

The contrast of UCLA’s starters’ high heat to Berg’s sinker has kept teams off balance all season.

“It’s a pretty interesting dynamic,” Berg said. “A lot of our starters are fly-ball pitchers, so all of a sudden, I come in with that sinking fastball and get ground balls.”

Now, Berg and the Bruins are now a game away from Omaha, and if Savage sticks to the bullpen rotation that has won his team 46 games this season, Berg will continue to get innings.

“It helps because I know I’m going in and I’m not thinking about it,” Berg said. “You stick with what you’ve been doing.”

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UCLA taking balanced approach against familiar foe

The UCLA baseball team has been here before, hosting the NCAA Series Super Regional, peaking at the right time.

Only this time, they’re taking a more balanced approach.

Two years ago, the Bruins were propelled by a pitching staff that ranked among the nation’s best, guided by a two-headed sensational sophomore monster in Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, backed by the nation’s best Sunday starter in Rob Rasmussen and bolstered by perhaps the country’s best bullpen.

The bats, however, were prone to lapses, and they ultimately failed in the College World Series championship series against South Carolina.

This year, as proven in UCLA’s thorough domination of last weekend’s regionals – a combined 23-6 handling of Creighton, New Mexico and Creighton again – everything is clicking.

Everything.

“We feel really balanced as a team,” said shortstop Pat Valaika, whose Bruins host TCU at Jackie Robinson Stadium, beginning at 6 p.m. tonight. “We pitch real well, we play solid defense and we score a lot of runs; that’s a recipe for a lot of wins. We don’t have to rely on our pitching, I think, like we did last year with Cole and Bauer
“This year it’s more of a whole team effort.”

It certainly was in the regionals.

There was Friday starter Adam Plutko – who picked up a win in his lone playoff start last season as a freshman – dazzling the Bluejays in a 3-0 two-hitter.

There was scorching Jeff Gelalich, smashing two home runs in the series-clinching win over Creighton.

It was a group effort, and one that will be needed against the Horned Frogs, as TCU brings a little edge into the matchup.

UCLA defeated the revenge-thirsty Horned Frogs three times in the 2010 College World Series en route to a program-best runner-up finish.

Head coach John Savage isn’t about to take anything for granted.

“TCU played very, very well up at A&M, I thought one of the toughest regionals in the country,” Savage said. “To do what they did in College Station was very, very impressive. They’re a little bit like us.”

And both teams are a little like they were two years ago.

But only a little.

“It’s been different – I’ve kind of seen it all being here for three years, being able to watch Cole and Bauer and have a pretty big spotlight on them,” UCLA centerfielder Beau Amaral said. “This year, it’s been a lot different. You kind of want the target on your back. This year we haven’t had it as much early on, not having Cole and Bauer. But I think I’ve we’ve earned it throughout the year.”

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UCLA draws TCU in Super Regional at Jackie Robinson Stadium

From UCLA:

LOS ANGELES – UCLA has been selected as one of eight NCAA Super Regional hosts, as college baseball’s NCAA Tournament continues this weekend. The Bruins (45-14) will face TCU (40-20) in a best-of-three series at Jackie Robinson Stadium beginning Friday.

UCLA will host an NCAA Super Regional for the second time since the current postseason format expanded in 1999. Game times are 6 p.m. Friday (ESPN), 6 p.m. Saturday (ESPN2) and 7 p.m. Sunday, if necessary (ESPN2). UCLA last hosted a Super Regional in 2010, defeating Cal State Fullerton, two games to one.

The Bruins swept the NCAA Los Angeles Regional at home over the weekend, advancing to the Super Regional round for the third time in six seasons. UCLA defeated Creighton, 13-5, in the NCAA Regional final on Sunday.

“I’d like to thank our fans who came to the ballpark last weekend and watched us win the Los Angeles Regional,” eighth-year UCLA head coach John Savage said “Our program relies on strong fan support, and I urge those fans to come back for the Super Regional this weekend and give us a great home field advantage.”

All-session ticket packages for the upcoming NCAA Los Angeles Super Regional will be on sale beginning Tuesday at 10 a.m. through UCLA’s Central Ticket Office. Fans can order tickets online (tickets.ucla.edu) or by calling (310) 825-2101.

TCU defeated Mississippi in the College Station Regional final, 7-4, on Monday evening to advance to the NCAA Los Angeles Super Regional. The Horned Frogs finished the regular season tied for first place with New Mexico, at 18-6, in the Mountain West standings.

“TCU had a very successful season in the Mountain West and won a challenging regional in College Station at Texas A&M,” Savage said. “This will be a very tough test for our program, and we’re looking forward to opening the series on Friday at Jackie Robinson Stadium.”

All-session reserved tickets cost $42 for adults and $30 for youth (ages 3-16). Pending availability, single-game tickets may go on sale later this week.

NCAA Super Regionals
TCU at UCLA
Los Angeles, Calif.

Kent State at Oregon
Eugene, Ore.

N.C. State at Florida
Gainesville, Fla.

St. John’s at Arizona
Tucson, Ariz.

Arkansas at Baylor
Waco, Texas

Oklahoma at South Carolina
Columbia, S.C.

Stanford at Florida State
Tallahassee, Fla.

Stony Brook at LSU
Baton Rouge, La.

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