Notes: UCLA sets numerous marks in title run

» John Savage’s two championship teams finished with identical 49-17 records. He earned his first ring as a USC pitching coach in 1998, in a 21-14 victory over Arizona State that saw the teams combine for eight home runs.

“I looked at the record yesterday, and I had a good feeling we were going to end up with the same amount of wins, the same amount of losses,” Savage said after beating Mississippi State 8-0 Tuesday night, earning his first as UCLA’s head coach. “I knew the game wasn’t going to be 21-14, thank God.”

Sixty-two home runs were hit during the 1998 CWS. This year’s saw just three. His team is built as a polar opposite to those “Gorilla Ball” squads, one that squeezes in just enough offense to complement defense and pitching. The Bruins took the bumpier road and sped along untouched, downing No. 5 seed Fullerton, No. 4 seed LSU and No. 1 seed UNC through the postseason.

“I don’t think any of the experts thought we would be here at this stage, and we did it the right way,” Savage said. “We played baseball.”

» UCLA’s pitchers combined for a 0.80 ERA in the College World Series, the lowest mark in the aluminum bat era (since 1974). The Bruins were also the first team to ever run through Omaha without allowing more than one run in any game.

The superlative defense, marked by the play of all-tournament shortstop Pat Valaika, helped hold opponents to 1-27 with runners in scoring position. Continue reading

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College World Series all-tournament team

Catcher: Brian Holberton, North Carolina
First base: Wes Rea, Mississippi State
Second base: Brett Pirtle, Mississippi State
Third base: Colin Moran, North Carolina
Shortstop: Pat Valaika, UCLA
Outfield: Michael Conforto, Oregon State
Outfield: Eric Filia, UCLA
Outfield: Hunter Renfroe, Mississippi State
DH: Trey Porter, Mississippi State
Pitcher: Adam Plutko, UCLA
Pitcher: Nick Vander Tuig, UCLA

Most Outstanding Player: Adam Plutko UCLA

Votes were cast by the present media. Ballots were filed by the eighth inning of the final game.

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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.” Continue reading

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Bruins take ‘refuse-to-lose attitude’ into CWS final

OMAHA, Neb. — The magic started on June 1, nearly a month before UCLA found itself playing for a national title.

In the second game of the Los Angeles Regional, the Bruins faced down a four-run deficit against Cal Poly. They weathered an uneven start from sixth-round pick Nick Vander Tuig, spoiled the Mustangs’ no-hit bid and won 6-4.

The way it happened — the friendly bounces, the fly ball that swam into the lights and became a triple — only reinforced their inner faith.

“We kind of had a feeling there like, ‘Hey, this is getting going,’” sophomore closer David Berg said. “We had a bit of a refuse-to-lose attitude. That’s really when we started gaining a lot more confidence.”

It’s worked. UCLA (47-17) has made the College World Series in three of the past four years, but this latest run has been the most remarkable. No one on the roster hits above .283. For the first time since 2009, no Bruin was taken on the first day of the MLB draft.

Yet the team enters a best-of-three championship series against Mississippi State at 5 p.m. PT Monday riding its longest winning streak of the season. Not bad for a program returned that lost the top five hitters from last year’s CWS team. Continue reading

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Bruins survive LSU with 16th one-run victory

This is how they love to play.

The Bruins haven’t dominated this season, but that hasn’t stopped the team from reaching the College World Series for the third time in four years. Upon arrival, coach John Savage’s squad showed that small ball works just fine in Omaha too.

Jumping on two errors by No. 4-seeded LSU, UCLA scraped through its CWS opener Sunday evening with a 2-1 victory. The Bruins handed Tigers starter Aaron Nola his first loss of the season, scoring unearned runs in the sixth and eighth inning. Continue reading

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Three Bruins taken in Day 2 of MLB Draft

RHP Nick Vander Tuig — San Francisco Giants, 6th round, No. 192
RHP Zack Weiss — Cincinnati Reds, 6th round, No. 195
SS Pat Valaika — Colorado Rockies, 9th round, No. 259

The big surprise was the absence of Adam Plutko, a three-time all-conference pitcher who nevertheless slipped past 10 rounds. He went off the board early today, going No. 321 overall to the Cleveland Indians. If he signs, he’ll join former teammate and Golden Spikes winner Trevor Bauer.

Bruin signees Dom Nunez — a third baseman out of Elk Grove — and righty pitcher Dustin Driver were taken No. 169 overall by the Rockies and No. 221 overall by the Athletics, respectively. Steven Farinaro went to the Cardinals in the 11th round (No. 335).

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UCLA beats Fullerton in extra-innings thriller

FULLERTON — Of course it would be him.

It wasn’t easy this time, not after he had blown his second save of the season. But David Berg, UCLA’s electrifying closer, held on through three innings and 54 pitches — helping the Bruins to a 5-3 win in extras over Cal State Fullerton.

A sellout crowd of 3,244 packed the Goodwin Field stands Friday evening for game one of the Super Regional, swaths of orange mixed with generous strokes of blue. Plenty protested the iffy calls and curiously wide strike zone, but after the last out, many murmured: That was some game.

With two outs left in the 10th and the Titans in scoring position, Berg jousted with CSUF’s J.D. Davis. After falling behind on an 0-2 count, the designated hitter fouled off pitch after pitch. Then Berg threw his 11th of the at-bat, a full-count slider that froze Davis. The murmurs: Some pitch. Continue reading

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Plutko seizes postseason wins record, guides Bruins past Aztecs

LOS ANGELES — This wasn’t Adam Plutko at his sharpest.

A three-time all-conference selection, his best doesn’t include mishandling a bunt or hitting a batter on a 0-2 count. But the right-handed hurler never broke as he secured his fifth postseason win in a gutsy effort.

His solid, if unspectacular, outing Friday sufficed as he guided UCLA to a regional-opening 5-3 victory over San Diego State. The Bruins have now moved into the winner’s bracket of the double-elimination tournament, with a 6 p.m. matchup against Cal Poly looming Saturday.

Along the way, Plutko became the school’s all-time postseason wins leader — passing former Golden Spikes winner and No. 3 draft pick Trevor Bauer. Continue reading

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David Berg, Pat Valaika win Pac-12 honors

David Berg was officially crowned the conference’s best pitcher Wednesday afternoon, but coaches likely kicked themselves sore long before then.

Lightly recruited out of Bishop Amat High, the sidewinder came out of nowhere a year ago to lead the league in ERA (1.46) and set a record for appearances (50). As a sophomore, he became Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year with an even more dominant effort, one that has seen him collect a school-record 18 saves.

A quick run down of some other impressive numbers: a 0.70 ERA, best in the country; 0.78 WHIP, second in the country; 64 innings pitched, only 6.2 behind midweek starter Cody Poteet.

“You can’t really have a year as a reliever than he’s had this year,” coach John Savage said. “You’re talking about innings, hits per innings, walks per nine. You’re talking about strikeouts, saves, wins. He’s done it all. He should be up for not only Pitcher of the Year, but Player of the Year.”

Berg entered the season as a setup man, the position he’ll likely play in the pros, but became the closer when freshman reliever James Kaprielian was injured early in the season. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as the 6-foot righty became the third Bruin to win Pitcher of the Year — after Trevor Bauer (2011) and Pete Janicki (1992).

“We wouldn’t be where we are without him,” Savage said.

Pat Valaika also became the first Bruin to win Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, bolstering his first appearance on the all-conference team. The junior committed just five errors in 174 chances, tying the lowest mark for Pac-12 shortstops. He also leads the team in multiple hitting categories, including home runs, RBI and slugging percentage.

Pitchers Nick Vander Tuig and Adam Plutko made the All-Pac-12 team for the second and third time, respectively. Outfielder Brian Carroll and infielder Kevin Kramer earned honorable mentions.

Conference champion Oregon State took the other three major awards: sophomore outfielder Michael Conforto won Player of the Year after leading the league in OBP (.457); pitcher Andrew Moore took Freshman of the Year after notching 12 wins; Pat Casey was named Coach of the Year.

You can see the entire all-conference roster below the jump. Continue reading

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