UCLA baseball is going into the postseason with a huge target on its back.
The Bruins, who just finished one of their most successful regular seasons ever, received their first-ever No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament this morning. They will host the Los Angeles Regional starting on Friday, playing their first game at 8 p.m. (ESPNU) against Cal State Bakersfield.
The winner will advance to face either Ole Miss or Maryland, who play beforehand at 4 p.m. at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
After missing the postseason entirely last year, UCLA (42-13, 22-7) set a new school record for conference wins this spring and clinched its third Pac-12 title in five years. It enters the field of 64 with the nation’s lowest ERA (2.16).
This is the fifth time in six seasons that the Bruins are starting the postseason at home, and the third time they have earned a top-eight national seed since 2010. Should they advance to host an NCAA Super Regional, they could very well face USC. The Trojans are playing in the Lake Elsinore Regional, in a four-team field that includes Virginia, UC Santa Barbara and San Diego State.
» 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
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.
Shortly after John Savage raised his first championship trophy as a head coach, he thanked some of the many people who helped him along the way:
I couldn’t do it without my wife Lisa. She’s a coach’s wife. She grew up with Coach (Chris) Ault, who’s a Hall of Fame coach at the University of Nevada. My four kids. I spend a lot of time away from them. They know I’m dedicated to my job. I love them so much. This is for my dad, who passed away in August 2010. He didn’t see us win a national championship.
This is for Jack Gifford, who also passed away, who’s a UCLA famous alumni. This is for my dad, this is for Jack, this is for my entire family. …
I would never be here without Coach (Mike) Gillespie and Coach (Gary) Powers, who I started with at Nevada. I owe everything to them.
For more on Savage’s path to UCLA and an eventual national title, here’s my feature from earlier this month.