For the second time in school history, UCLA will battle for an NCAA baseball championship.
With a 4-1 win over No. 1 seed North Carolina Friday night, the Bruins maintained their spotless postseason record and earned a spot in a best-of-three championship series against Mississippi State starting Monday. Neither team has ever won a baseball title.
In their most unlikely run into Omaha, UCLA — which last played for a title in 2010 — relied on pitching and defense to beat three top-five national seeds in the last two weeks.
Friday’s victory offered more of the same. The Bruins rode a stellar start from sophomore Grant Watson, who allowed just four hits in six scoreless innings. The lefty hadn’t pitched since throwing seven scoreless innings against San Diego on June 2, but coach John Savage said he didn’t hesitate to use Watson instead of ace Adam Plutko on four day’s rest.
“I think he showed the whole country he was ready to pitch on a big stage,” Savage said.
UCLA scraped together two one-run innings against starter Kent Emanuel before abusing UNC’s bullpen in the seventh — forcing the Tar Heels to use three different relievers before shortstop Pat Valaika connected on a two-RBI double.
UCLA entered the ninth inning with a comfortable 4-0 lead, a massive cushion for closer David Berg. The Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year flirted with disaster, however, loading the bases with two singles and a walk. After Savage calmed him down with a talk at the mound, Berg regained command and got out of the inning on a bases-loaded flyout.
The Bruins have only allowed three runs in their first three College World Series games combined — the lowest total ever since the aluminum bat era began in 1974.
Should they beat Mississippi State, the championship would bump UCLA athletics’ total count to 109.
“Everything matters,” designated hitter Kevin Williams said of the road ahead. “And every little thing is magnified.”