Steady David Berg finishes 6-2 win for UCLA

After giving up two solo home runs in the first three innings of UCLA’s 6-2 win over TCU, ace Adam Plutko settled down to put four straight zeroes on the board.

With his pitch count at 105 in the eighth inning, UCLA coach John Savage turned to freshman walk-on David Berg in a nationally televised game with a trip to Omaha hanging in the balance.

Berg, a side-arm right-hander, set down the next three batters he faced. Savage gave him the ball again in the ninth. Three up, three down.

“He’s been a rock,” Savage said. “He gets the ball outing after outing and he’s the same guy. When they know what you’re going to do to them and you still do it, that’s a good sign.”

Berg’s line: Twenty-five pitches, four strikeouts, no hits.

As Savage said, you know what you’re going to get with Berg. So often this season that has been an untouchable sinking fastball and absolute consistency.

Berg broke UCLA and Pac-12 records for appearances with 45 and he’s thrown in 20 of the Bruins’ last 21 games.

The contrast of UCLA’s starters’ high heat to Berg’s sinker has kept teams off balance all season.

“It’s a pretty interesting dynamic,” Berg said. “A lot of our starters are fly-ball pitchers, so all of a sudden, I come in with that sinking fastball and get ground balls.”

Now, Berg and the Bruins are now a game away from Omaha, and if Savage sticks to the bullpen rotation that has won his team 46 games this season, Berg will continue to get innings.

“It helps because I know I’m going in and I’m not thinking about it,” Berg said. “You stick with what you’ve been doing.”

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UCLA sweeps Los Angeles regional with 13-5 win over Creighton

Creighton came streaking into Sunday’s final game of the Los Angeles regional against UCLA.

After losing to the No. 1-seeded Bruins on Friday, the No. 4 seed Bluejays eliminated No. 2 seed San Diego and No. 3 seed New Mexico. Creighton jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning, marking the first time UCLA had trailed all weekend.

As panic began to set in with two outs in the bottom half of the inning, UCLA junior right fielder Jeff Gelalich sent a two-run home run into the right field batting cage at Jackie Robinson Stadium to draw the No. 2 Bruins level. They would go on to win 13-5 to advance to a super regional to be played next weekend.

“The momentum shifted in their favor after the first,” Creighton senior catcher Anthony Bemboom said.

UCLA comes out of the weekend undefeated, beating Creighton 3-0 on Friday and New Mexico 7-1 on Saturday. The Bruins will host a super regional against the winner of the College Station regional final game today between Mississippi and Texas Christian.

Starting pitching carried No. 2 UCLA (44-14) through the first two days of the regional as sophomore right hander Adam Plutko threw a complete-game, two-hit shutout against Creighton (28-30) on Friday and sophomore right hander Nick Vander Tuig gave up just one hit in eight innings on Saturday.

Sunday, it was UCLA’s offense leading the way as right handed sophomore starter Zack Weiss struggled to get through five innings. Gelalich – who leads the team in home runs with 11 – would homer again in the fifth inning. Junior second baseman Trevor Brown and sophomore shortstop Pat Valaika also finished with two runs batted in.

UCLA coach John Savage didn’t shy away from comparing this year’s team to 2010′s, the last Bruins team to make it to Omaha.

“This team is just as good as that team,” Savage said. “They’re basically the same players but two years older. They’ve grown up and played a lot of postseason baseball. There are some comparisons but we’ve finding a different way of doing it.”

Last season’s UCLA team was beaten in the regional final in large part because of a lack of timely hitting a problem that followed the Bruins throughout last season. This year, UCLA ranks in the top 20 in both batting average (.309) and on-base percentage (.396).

“This is the time of the year that we want to be playing our best baseball,” junior second baseman Trevor Brown said.

Creighton eliminates New Mexico

In the first game of the day, No. 4 seed Creighton eliminated No. 3 seed New Mexico, 7-2.

The Bluejays didn’t waste any time in dismantling the Lobos sophomore right hander Josh Walker, posting five hits and three runs in the bottom of the first inning on a three-run home run from Bemboom.

New Mexico ends its season with a record of 37-24. After winning a share of the Mountain West Conference’s regular season championship as well as the conference tournament, the Lobos beat No. 2 seed San Diego on Friday before losing to No. 1 seed UCLA on Saturday.

New Mexico’s offensive firepower was thought to be one of the more interesting aspects of the Los Angeles regional but its bats could only muster four total hits in its final two games.

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UCLA plays for regional championship against Creighton

Creighton, the Los Angeles regional’s No. 4 seed, upset No. 3 seed New Mexico in the afternoon game, 7-2.

That means UCLA will face Creighton (28-29) for the second time this weekend in the regional championship. If UCLA wins tonight, the Bruins will be your regional champs and be off till next weekend. If Creighton wins, each team will have a loss and the winner-take-all championship game will be played Monday at 7 p.m.

UCLA (43-13) took care of Creighton 3-0 on Friday largely because of Adam Plutko’s two-hit shutout. The Bruins might have an advantage on the mound again tonight as they’ll be throwing sophomore righty Zack Weiss, their No. 3 starter.

Creighton is in the same spot UCLA was in a year ago: Facing elimination in the second game of a doubleheader throwing its No. 4 starter. Creighton is going with junior right hander Nick Musek. Musek has only started five games this season, compiling a 5.40 ERA.

Here are tonight’s lineups.

Creighton

5 CF Brad McKewon
4 1B Nick Judkins
2 3B Chance Ross
10 LF Anthony Bemboom
7 C Scott Thornburg
11 SS Alex Staehely
22 RF Brennan Murphy
3 2B Jake Peter
12 DH Jordan Makovicka

UCLA

25 CF Beau Amaral
8 C Tyler Heineman
7 LF Cody Keefer
20 RF Jeff Gelalich
11 2B Trevor Brown
10 SS Pat Valaika
18 1B Cody Regis
23 DH Brenton Allen
3 3B Kevin Kramer

Also, this happened today incase you missed it…

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Vander Tuig’s near no-no pushes UCLA past New Mexico, 7-1

New Mexico catcher Ben Woodchick checked his swing. With two strikes and two outs, he was the Lobos last hope in the bottom half of the sixth inning.

After an appeal to the first-base umpire said he swung, Woodchick hurled his bat toward the third-base dugout followed promptly by his helmet. It had been that kind of night for New Mexico against UCLA’s sophomore right-hander Nick Vander Tuig.

Vander Tuig mowed through New Mexico’s lineup, allowing just one hit in eight innings and striking out 11 as UCLA cruised to a 7-1 win on Saturday. After beating Creighton on Friday, UCLA is the only undefeated team left in the Los Angeles Regional – the NCAA baseball tournament’s opening round.

“It was NIck’s night,” UCLA coach John Savage said. “He came out and was very aggressive with all his pitches. He’s one of the hardest working guys in our program. He set the tone this evening.”

Vander Tuig had a perfect game going until the bottom of the fifth inning when junior left fielder Cody Keefer made an error that eventually resulted in New Mexico’s (37-22) only run on the night. His no-hit bid was broken up in the eighth inning on a double to left field from New Mexico senior first baseman Trey Porras.

After undergoing Tommy John surgery as a senior in high school, Vander Tuig struggled through last season as UCLA’s closer. Savage said he’s finally returning pre-surgery form.

“There are little things I’ve been working on all year and I think it’s starting to carry over a little more,” Vander Tuig said.

The shutout came against one of the nation’s most successful offenses. New Mexico owns the NCAA’s fourth-best batting average (.332) and third best slugging percentage (.482).

“If you don’t see those guys on a regular basis, sometimes your success can be your demise,” New Mexico coach Ray Birmingham said. “That guy tonight didn’t make a mistake. He didn’t give you a cookie anytime during an at-bat.”

UCLA has had 10 pitchers drafted over the past two seasons, leaving Savage little time to develop depth in his starting rotation. As such, the bullpen has become a source of stability for the No. 2 Bruins (43-13), especially in the later innings.

So far in the postseason, Savage’s starters have carried the Bruins. UCLA has only had to turn to the bullpen once in the Bruins’ first two games of the regional as sophomore right hander Adam Plutko tossed a complete-game, one-hitter on Friday. Junior closer Scott Griggs broke UCLA’s single-season saves record during the regular season but hasn’t left the dugout all weekend.

UCLA’s offense did its part as well, pounding out 17 hits at all the right moments. Every starter in Saturday’s lineup finished with at least one hit.

Creighton eliminates San Diego

Less than 24 hours after being shutout by UCLA, No. 4 seed Creighton responded with an 8-2 victory over No. 2 seed San Diego in the first elimination game of the regional.

The Blujays (27-29) amassed 11 hits and forced San Diego to rifle through three pitchers in the first three innings.

The Toreros finish their season at 40-17 but struggled down the stretch, losing five of their final nine games.

Creighton will face elimination again today against New Mexico at 3 p.m. The winner of the afternoon game will face elimination again against UCLA at 7 p.m.

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Something has to give in matchup between UCLA and New Mexico

UCLA has won 14 out of its last 16 games. New Mexico has won 10 straight. Something has to give in Saturday’s game.

No. 2 seed San Diego was just eliminated from the regional by No. 4 seed Creighton, the victim of an Adam Plutko two-hit shutout last night, and will await the loser of tonight’s game.

I watched all of New Mexico’s 4-0 win over San Diego yesterday and they definitely have some hitters in their lineup.

Third baseman D.J. Peterson is hitting .427 (ranked No. 3 in the nation) with 103 hits (tied for No. 1 in the nation) and 17 home runs (tied for No. 9 in the nation). Also, seven of New Mexico’s nine position players are hitting over .300.

This could be the perfect storm for a UNM upset as UCLA turns to sophomore right hander Nick Vander Tuig tonight. Vander Tuig’s ERA (4.94) is the highest of any UCLA starter. He hasn’t thrown a complete game this season so the bullpen will likely get more work than it got last night.

Here are tonight’s lineups. UCLA is the visiting team (Don’t ask me why…I think it’s a stupid rule)

UCLA

25 CF Beau Amaral
8 C Tyler Heineman
7 LF Cody Keefer
20 RF Jeff Gelalich
11 2B Trevor Brown
10 SS Pat Valaika
18 1B Cody Regis
23 DH Brenton Allen
3 3B Kevin Kramer

21 RHP Nick Vander Tuig

New Mexico

10 C Mitchell Garver
5 LF Ben Woodchick
33 3B D.J. Peterson
34 RF Ryan Padilla
12 CF Josh Melendez
40 1B Trey Porras
11 2B Kyle Stiner
3 DH Alex Real
4 SS Alex Allbritton

24 RHP Gera Sanchez

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UCLA takes down Creighton behind Plutko’s two-hit shutout

Creighton, the No. 4 seed in the NCAA baseball tournament’s Los Angeles regional, made a 1,568 mile trek from Omaha, Neb. to Los Angeles’ Jackie Robinson Stadium to start postseason play.

If No. 1 seed UCLA keeps playing the way it did Friday in a 3-0 win over the Bluejays, the Bruins will be returning the favor when the College World Series begins in Omaha on June 15 at TD Ameritrade Park, Creighton’s home stadium.

Sophomore right hander Adam Plutko – the Bruins ace – pounded the strike zone and breezed through Creighton’s lineup in a complete-game shutout. Plutko only surrendered two hits, struck out seven and never allowed a Bluejay to reach third base.

Plutko was dealing with the recent death of his great grandmother and missed a team practice yesterday to attend the funeral in San Diego. He still managed to register what coach John Savage called his best performance of the year.

“Coach and I talked before the game and we wanted to make them prove they could hit my fastball,” said Plutko, adding that it was a pleasure to pitch in front of various family members who were in town. “We went right at them with it and we kept going back to it.”

Last year’s UCLA baseball team was plagued by a lack of timely hitting. Despite boasting two top-five draft picks in their starting rotation, the Bruins were eliminated by UC Irvine in a regional they were hosting.

Things are different this season for UCLA. The Bruins team batting average is 47 points ahead of where it was at the end of last season and they showed off their hot bats early in Friday’s win.

UCLA (42-13,) ranked and seeded No. 2 nationally, jumped on Creighton starter junior Ty Blach, striking for five hits and three runs in the first two innings.

“When (junior center fielder Beau Amaral), (junior right fielder Jeff Gelalich) and those guys start producing for you, it makes it a lot easier,” Plutko said. “I can’t credit our offense enough. They’ve been doing that all year for us.”
Blach had the Bruins worried as he threw a complete-game, one-hit shutout against Indiana State to kick off the Missouri Valley Conference which the Bluejays (26-29) had to win just to gain entry to the 64-team field. Blach settled things down, allowing just two hits throughout the remainder of the game, but the damage was done.

“They had a couple of two-out base hits,” Blach said. “I left a few pitches up and they made me pay for it. They’re really good hitters.”

New Mexico upsets San Diego

New Mexico, the Los Angeles regional’s No. 3 seed, upset No. 2 seed San Diego in Friday’s opening game 4-0.

The Lobos have now won 10 straight games, winning a share the Mountain West Conference’s regular season crown and taking the conference tournament.

“We’re playing well right now,” coach Ray Birmingham said. “They’re all pitching in. San Diego plays the game absolutely right.”

Junior right hander Austin House secured the win for New Mexico, scattering just six hits over seven innings. Offensively,the Lobos were keyed by sophomore third baseman D.J. Peterson who went 4-for-4 including a two-run home run in the top of the ninth for insurance..

San Diego gambled by starting sophomore right hander Michael Wagner, their regular closer, against New Mexico. Wagner was strong through the game’s first three innings but gave up the two go-ahead runs in the fourth. Offensively, the Toreros stranded five runners in scoring position.

San Diego and Creighton will play today at 3 p.m. followed by UCLA and New Mexico at 7 p.m.

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UCLA kicks off Road to Omaha against home-town team

Other fat guy Sam Strong here at Jackie Robinson Stadium for the Los Angeles regional of the NCAA baseball tournament. I’ll be posting here periodically throughout the weekend, keeping track of No. 1 seed in this regional and No. 2 national seed UCLA.

No. 3 seed New Mexico just took Game 1 so the Bruins will face the Lobos if they can beat Creighton tonight. UNM can definitely hit the ball and a few of the national bloggers here are picking them to win the regional. Sophomore third baseman D.J. Peterson, who is a finalist for the Golden Spikes Award (baseball’s Heisman) was 4-for-4 Friday with a two-run home run.

One interesting note on Creighton that I’m not sure a lot of people realize: The university is located in Omaha, Neb. so folks here are jokingly calling it “the road home” for them. Their Friday starter, junior lefty Ty Blach, is 6-5 on the year with a 2.64 ERA and just pitched a one-hit shutout in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament to get the BlueJays into the field.

A friendly reminder to follow me on Twitter if you want more timely updates.

Here are your lineups for tonight’s game:

Creighton

5 LF Brad McKweon
4 1B Nick Judkins
2 3B Chance Ross
10 C Anthony Bemboom
13 CF Mike Gerber
7 DH Scott Thornburg
11 SS Alex Staehely
3 2B Jake Peter
22 RF Brennan Murphy

31 LHP Ty Blach

UCLA

25 CF Beau Amaral
8 C Tyler Heineman
7 LF Cody Keefer
20 RF Jeff Gelalich
11 2B Trevor Brown
10 SS Pat Valaika
14 DH Shane Zeile
18 1B Cody Regis
3 3B Kevin Kramer

9 RHP Adam Plutko

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UCLA rolls ASU 75-58 to improve to 2-2 in Pac-12 play

ANAHEIM — Just filed my game story on UCLA’s 75-58 win over Arizona State on Saturday so look for that in Sunday’s LA Newsgroup papers or at dailynews.com

A few optimistic observations from Saturday’s game:

–Josh Smith showed yet another flash of what kind of help he can be to this team when he wants to be, scoring 18 points in 21 minutes and avoiding a foul-out after picking up two quick ones. It may have seemed easy to say the Bruins looked better without him in their win over Arizona on Thursday but open layups were abounding when he was working within the offense in the second half. Everyone, including Smith, spoke at length after the game about how his aggression opened lots of looks up.

“His energy level was up,” Howland said. “I’m pleased for him because he played aggressive and he looked to score. That’s what we’re going to continue to expect out of Josh.”

–Believe it or not, Smith’s conditioning is improving. He went up strong and with purpose more times on Saturday than he probably has all year and Howland said his weight is down to the “best it’s been in a year.” Part of that could be because he didn’t play Thursday. He had to return to Westwood this morning to pass concussion protocol and didn’t start Saturday but played well in the second half.

“I feel a lot better,” Smith said. “That’s probably why I’ve been playing a little better, playing more minutes. I’ve been in better shape this season than I was last year. As long as I stay out of foul trouble, I feel I can play more than 20 minutes.”

–Arizona State is not as good as UCLA made them look early on. The Bruins had no business letting the Sun Devils hang around but they were making some tough shots. Credit senior guard Jerime Anderson who alerted Howland that UCLA should press ASU as their two point guards were left home because of suspensions.

–Sophomore forwards David and Travis Wear finally seem to be turning into the players that UCLA fans hoped they would be. The twins combined for 58 points and 26 rebounds against the Arizona schools. Howland, as he’s wont to do, reminded naysayers that the Wears and Smith are still young.

“We’re talking about three sophomores, he said. “I thought they had a great weekend. They’re playing with a lot of physicality and it’s helping us. This was a good step. 42 points out of that front line was nice.”

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Joshua Smith suited up for ASU game

ANAHEIM — Sam Strong here filling in for fellow fat guy Jon Gold (get well soon, Gold) in Anaheim.

Not much to report in the early proceedings other than that Josh Smith is dressed out and warming up.

Luckily for UCLA fans, the Pac-12 continues to be terrible in basketball so the Bruins’ opening weekend losses may be less of a problem than originally thought. UCLA is now one of five Pac-12 teams with two or more conference losses. UCLA could drag ASU down to those ranks with a win over Herb Sendek’s Sun Devils tonight.

As reported Thursday by friend of this blog and ASU expert Doug Haller, Sendek suspended two starters and a reserve guard for the L.A. road trip.

That left ASU with just six scholarship players and in the wacky world of Pac-12 basketball, that was enough to beat USC by nine on the road with just two subs. The Sun Devils still have leading scorer Trent Lockett and third leading scorer Carrick Felix who poured in 22 against the Trojans.

A reminder to follow me on Twitter for in-game updates.

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UCLA moves to 3-5 on the year, beats Penn 77-73

ANAHEIM — UCLA went on a couple of runs to push its lead to 14 at one point in the second half but had to fend off a pesky Penn team that put together a big run of its own to make things interesting. In the end, UCLA leaves the Honda Center with a 77-73 win on Saturday to improve to 3-5 on the year.

Sophomore center Joshua Smith, playing with three and four fouls for most of the second half sparked a few big plays and finished with 12 points as did redshirt sophomore Travis Wear. At one point in the second half Smith scored on three straight possessions and started a chain of assists that ended with a 3-pointer from freshman Norman Powell to put the Bruins up 68-55.

Senior point guard Lazeric Jones led the Bruins in scoring and tied his season high with 21 points.

Penn guard Tyler Bernardini poured in 29 points including eight 3-pointers to help the Quakers hang around late in the game.

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