UCLA on cusp of title after 3-1 win over Mississippi State

OMAHA, Neb. — One more to go.

After a 3-1 win over Mississippi State to open the College World Series final, the UCLA baseball team can earn its first-ever national championship with 27 more outs.

You wouldn’t know it by the celebration. The Bruins jogged toward the mound after the final groundout, exchanging a few handshakes and high fives.

“It’s one game,” coach John Savage said. “I told the team there’s not much to get excited about. … We can enjoy this one for about half an hour, 45 minutes.”

Added closer David Berg, now alone in holding the NCAA single-season saves record: “All that matters is the next one. … Gotta live in the present. Can’t worry about the past. If we win a national title, I’ll enjoy that.”

UCLA (48-17) played to its strengths Monday night at TD Ameritrade Park, riding Adam Plutko’s solid start and a superlative defense.

The righty starter, who is now 7-0 in career postseason games, and allowed just four hits and struck out two. A flyball pitcher by trade, he used the cavernous stadium to his advantage and retired nine batters to start the game. He twice struck out Hunter Renfroe, the San Diego’s first-round pick.

Selected in the 11th round by the Cleveland Indians, Plutko did his job admirably in what was likely his last collegiate start — a performance blemished only by a bases-loaded walk and a balk, the first in this CWS.

What stood out was the Bruins’ fast offensive start. For the first time in the College World Series, UCLA plated a run in the first inning.

Third baseman Kevin Kramer struck out swinging, but advanced to first when the pitch bounced in front of the plate and skidded past the catcher. UCLA quickly took advantage as right fielder Eric Filia — batting .424 in the postseason — laced a standup double into left field.

With runners on second and third, shortstop Pat Valaika singled into the gap in shallow center, giving UCLA a 1-0 lead.

“I really wish that kid hadn’t swung at that pitch,” Mississippi State John Cohen said. “I mean, I’m not saying it to be a smart aleck, but that kid doesn’t swing at a pitch that lands in front of the plate, I think the ballgame could be different. I do.”

And as they’re do so often, the Bruins jumped all over the Bulldogs (51-19) on a crucial error. Brian Carroll reached first plate on a bunt when the throw flew slightly too high, a mistake that also advanced Brenton Allen to third.

Two at-bats later, Filia again came through, singling into right field to give his team a 3-0 lead.

It was more than enough. UCLA’s defense continued to make plays, including a leaping, fifth-inning catch by Filia that robbed catcher Nick Ammirati of an extra-base hit.

Berg entered in the eighth inning, becoming the first pitcher in NCAA history to make at least 50 appearances in multiple seasons.

Five outs later, he reached his loftier record: his 24th save, passing Austin Peay’s Tyler Rogers (2013) and USC’s Jack Krawczyk (1998) for a spot alone in the record books.

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  • RoycePowell

    Hey John Cohen….I really wish the 1st base umpire didn’t completely blow the call at first base when he called the Bruin runner out when he was clearly safe and a run would have scored with 2 outs….then the game would have been really different!!! Go Bruins and let’s wrap this up tomorrow night…then things will really be different…right John Cohen????

  • SonOfWestwood

    Hey Jack, I heard you at the postgame presser and I wanted to get your opinion on Coach Cohen’s behavior. Didn’t you find their whole panel’s behavior was kind of whiny? I hope for their sake it doesnt carry over in to tomorrow.

    • Jack Wang

      A little, but I don’t really blame teams for having that reaction. It must be immensely frustrating to play UCLA. Not flashy at all, but pressures teams into mistakes and takes advantage.

  • Scott

    I listened/watched the post game presser on ESPNU. Cohen’s attitude and comments were mildly disrespectful to the Bruins. I got the vibe that he thought the Bruins were lucky. Never mind the solid pitching and defense.

    Orel Hershisher’s hate for the Bruins showed throughout the broadcast. You would think that a former pitcher would have good things to say about a solid UCLA pitching staff and not actively lobby for more homeruns at the CWS. I have lost all respect for Hershisher – and I’m also a Dodger fan.

    • samollie

      Agree, Orel is horrible – always has been, always will be. He’s a midwesterner at heart and despise the West Coast. His broadcast partner as well is obviously not a fan of the team. Everything is a backhanded compliment. Not sure how this clown has kept an ESPN job for decades, must be as long as you hate all things West Coast, you’re good by ESPN. Bring back Jon Miller and Joe Morgan.

  • Joe Blow

    It’s in the bag. Miss. St. is horrible. WE WIN.