FULLERTON — Of course it would be him.
It wasn’t easy this time, not after he had blown his second save of the season. But David Berg, UCLA’s electrifying closer, held on through three innings and 54 pitches — helping the Bruins to a 5-3 win in extras over Cal State Fullerton.
A sellout crowd of 3,244 packed the Goodwin Field stands Friday evening for game one of the Super Regional, swaths of orange mixed with generous strokes of blue. Plenty protested the iffy calls and curiously wide strike zone, but after the last out, many murmured: That was some game.
With two outs left in the 10th and the Titans in scoring position, Berg jousted with CSUF’s J.D. Davis. After falling behind on an 0-2 count, the designated hitter fouled off pitch after pitch. Then Berg threw his 11th of the at-bat, a full-count slider that froze Davis. The murmurs: Some pitch.
Down two runs with one out to go, Fullerton’s All-American Michael Lorenzen walked up to the plate as the go-ahead run. This year’s 38th overall MLB draft pick had connected twice for hits already. Berg struck him out on four pitches, then leapt up in celebration.
One more win over the Titans will send UCLA (43-17) to its third College World Series in four years, and back-to-back for the first time in school history.
“I think everyone that plays us would say that that team’s a little better than their numbers show,” said coach John Savage, whose Bruins entered the game hitting just .252. “We’re that type of team. We’ll fight you.”
A week ago, an opposing coach had called UCLA’s bullpen one of the best in college baseball history. Cal State Fullerton (51-9) tested that.
Freshman James Kaprielian entered the eighth with a 3-1 lead, but was hooked quickly after walking his first batter on eight pitches. Savage emphasized his faith in Kaprielian after the game, but he couldn’t sit pat when with an All-American in the bullpen. So, with six outs left and a two-run lead, he handed the ball to Berg, hoping that the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year would get the them all one win closer to Omaha.
He had done it before. The sophomore submariner already holds the school’s single-season record with 20 saves. Long the most dependable part of this Bruins’ squad, his appearance almost always signaled the game’s end.
Except, he allowed a walk, bunt, RBI groundout and single — tying the game 3-3 and, for a moment, jeopardizing the work of righty starter Adam Plutko.
For most of the game, Plutko had pitched seven uneven but effective innings. He walked one batter and hit another, gave up six hits and an unearned run, but held on as he pitched his way out of several tight spots. After being snubbed through 10 rounds of the MLB draft earlier that afternoon, the former sixth-round draft pick out of Glendora High did enough for UCLA to open a cushion.
When he forced a shallow flyout to end the seventh, stranding a runner on third, the junior yelled in celebration, punching the air as he stepped toward the dugout.
“A very emotional night for Adam,” Savage said. “Three-time All-Pac-12 pitcher, to sit there and not get drafted was difficult. … That was one of the better performances in the history of UCLA baseball.”