UCLA looks to bounce back from 2014′s ninth-place Pac-12 finish

UCLA closer David Berg pitches against Cal State Fullerton in the 2013 NCAA Super Regional. Berg returned for his senior season in 2015, turning down a 17th-round draft selection by the Texas Rangers. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

UCLA closer David Berg pitches against Cal State Fullerton in the 2013 NCAA Super Regional. Berg returned for his senior season in 2015, turning down a 17th-round draft selection by the Texas Rangers. (Keith Birmingham/Staff)

UCLA baseball placed ninth in the Pac-12 last season, an injury-riddled down year that marked its first finish outside the conference’s top three since 2005 — head coach John Savage’s debut season.

Two years removed from their first NCAA title, the Bruins enter 2015 with a mix of experience and young talent as they set their sights on another trip to Omaha. Most notable is the pitching staff, which features Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year candidate James Kaprielian and star closer David Berg. The season starts at 6 p.m. today, with a weekend series against Hofstra.

A few notes that didn’t make the season preview, which ran in today’s paper and also touches on the potential effects of the sport’s new flat-seam ball:

– Asked if he learned anything in particular from last season’s ninth-place finish, Savage said: “Confidence is very fragile. This is a very humbling game. You’re really only as good as your last game. That’s how I look at it. Maybe when I get away and look at the big picture, it’s a little different. But you’re competitive. You don’t like taking the losses that we took last year. You want to fight. You want to compete.” Continue reading

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David Berg returns to UCLA, but will No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken join him?

UCLA ended the week on a great note.

Closer David Berg, named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year and a first-team All-American in 2013, elected to return to the Bruins for his senior season — turning down a chance to go pro after being selected by the Texas Rangers in the 17th round.

Shortly after his announcement, even bigger news dropped: the Houston Astros failed to sign a pair of high schoolers in No. 1 overall pick Brady Aiken and fifth-round selection Jacob Nix. Both pitchers originally signed with UCLA in November, but could elect to enroll at a junior college or join an independent league, making themselves available to reenter the draft next year.

If they decide to go to UCLA, they will need to stay at least three years before going pro.

Regardless, Berg’s decision is a tremendous boon to a team that is coming off a 25-30-1 season, its worst mark since head coach John Savage first arrived on campus in 2005. Continue reading

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Relief pitchers David Berg, Jake Ehret become final Bruins taken in MLB draft

A pair of relief pitchers capped the MLB draft for UCLA on Saturday, becoming the third and fourth Bruins taken this year.

Star closer David Berg went to the Texas Rangers in the 17th round as the 516th overall pick, 91 selections after teammate Jake Ehret was drafted in the 14th round by the Cincinnati Reds. Lightly recruited out of Bishop Amat High, Berg made 101 appearances in his first two seasons at UCLA — setting an NCAA single-season record with 24 saves during the team’s 2013 national championship run. He also became the first reliever to win Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year.

Limited by strained bicep for part of his junior season, Berg still finished with a 1.50 ERA and 11 saves. Ehret had a 2.25 ERA in 20 innings as a righty setup man.

UCLA signee Griffin Canning, another right-handed pitcher, was drafted in the 38th round by the Colorado Rockies.

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Three UCLA players named to All-Pac-12 baseball team

An injury-riddled UCLA baseball team just finished with its worst record in nearly a decade, but the Pac-12 still recognized some of the team’s top talent.

Three Bruins earned spots on the 32-man All-Pac-12 team, including closer David Berg, who became the fifth UCLA player to make three all-conference teams. He joins Dennis Delany (1976-78), Garrett Atkins (1998-2000), Trevor Bauer (2009-11), and Adam Plutko (2011-13).

Berg struggled with injuries this spring after making 101 appearances through his first two seasons at UCLA, but still recorded a 1.50 ERA and 11 saves through 31 outings.

Also honored on the all-conference squad were starting pitcher James Kaprielian and catcher Shane Zeile. Kaprielian was 14th in the country with 108 strikeouts, while Zeile led the team by batting .324 with 70 hits and 28 RBI.

After losing several key players before the season even started, UCLA lost 10 straight games in May and finished 25-30-1 overall and placed ninth (12-18) in the Pac-12. It was the team’s worst record since 2005, when head coach John Savage debuted with a 15-41 (4-20) campaign.

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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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