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:


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


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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