Over the past few weeks, watching UCLA baseball has produced a sense of near-inevitability.
The Bruins’ stellar pitching will keep any game close. They’ll rarely make mistakes. And more often than not, they’ll do just enough to win.
The size of the stage hasn’t changed that. Through two games in the College World Series, they are batting 2-for-27 with runners on base. They have notched one RBI in Omaha. Yet they have scored four runs, beating both LSU and North Carolina State, 2-1.
One more, and they’ll be back in a best-of-three championship series for the second time in four years.
“It’s more mentality for us,” said third baseman Kevin Kramer, who singled in the fifth with bases loaded to score the Bruins’ first run last night. “Like coach says, taking advantage of opportunities. We’re not going to put up any gaudy numbers.”
Down 1-0 against the Wolfpack, UCLA had packed the bases in standard form: walk, single, walk. It got its go-ahead run soon after, taking the lead on a two-out wild pitch.
The Bruins still left three runners on base by the time the inning ended, but a one-run cushion was all they needed. After allowing a run in the third, starter Nick Vander Tuig retired 12 straight batters, commanding his fastball for six strikeouts and no walks.
After Vander Tuig , coach John Savage handed the ball to closer David Berg, recently named the top reliever in the country. The Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year wasn’t in peak form, hitting a batter to put runners on first and second. N.C. State’s bunt only resulted in a force out at third, but next up was shortstop Trea Turner, a .378 hitter.
He caught a bad pitch and had what looked a three-run homer, but it fell at the warning track into the glove of Christoph Bono. Berg then struck out three of the next five batters, earning his 23rd save and tying a NCAA single-season record. He now shares the mark with Austin Peay’s Tyler Rogers (2013) and USC’s Jack Krawczyk (1998).
“Our guys know our strength, and sometimes it’s walking a tightrope,” Savage said.
Right now, the Bruins look like Nik Wallenda.
They have room to breathe, their next game not until Friday at 5 p.m. PT, when they will face either top-seeded UNC or NC State depending on which team wins Thursday. Savage has the flexibility in picking a starter: he can opt for ace Adam Plutko, the winner of Sunday’s CWS opener, or Grant Watson — who hasn’t pitched since a stellar one-hitter against San Diego two weeks ago.