OMAHA, Neb. — Before the season started, the UCLA baseball team walked into one of the national championship rooms on campus and gazed up and down the walls: 108 NCAA titles, but none credited to them.
That changed Tuesday night, the Bruins capping a perfect run through the postseason with an 8-0 stomping of Mississippi State. There had been grumbles all week long about UCLA’s lack of hitting, myriad suggestions that the walls needed to move in or the bats fixed or the balls changed.
No more. The Bruins owned the night, one closed with a dogpile as fireworks lit up behind the left field bleachers. Players eight-clapped to the adoring fans that had traveled to Omaha for them, mugging for pictures as they stretched the celebrations out as long as possible.
“We’ve been close,” coach John Savage said. “We’ve been knocking on the door. We knocked on the door in ’10, we knocked on the door in ’12. We knocked it down in ’13.”
Earlier in the season, he talked about how much a championship means to a program, how it can alter perceptions across the country. UCLA was already a perennial contender; two trips to Omaha in three years had made that clear. Still, a hurdle remained.
Asked again how he thinks his program now resonates nationally, Savage responded: “At the end of the day, I think winning. People always called us a ‘sleeping giant.’ I got a kick out of that.”
During the postgame press conference, he pointed out how many stories stood out in this title run. David Berg, who started his career as a walk-on, set a new NCAA single-season saves record in the penultimate game. Nick Vander Tuig, who lost his senior high school season to Tommy John surgery, will end his collegiate career as the winning pitcher in a title-clinching game. Cody Regis, the team’s lone true senior, went undrafted twice but transformed himself into a skilled second baseman.
But at the center of it all is still Savage, soaked with a jug of water just seconds after he handed off the trophy. It was he who crafted the Bruins’ identity around superior pitching and defense, who — despite losing five big bats to the draft — set a championship as a team goal.
“Anything other than that, we came up a little short,” assistant T.J. Bruce said. “He paved the way for us. Anytime you can win a national title, it starts at the top. …
“Right now, he’s the best coach in the country. We believe that.”