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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John Savage, UCLA knock down championship doors


OMAHA, Neb. — Before the season started, the UCLA baseball team walked into one of the national championship rooms on campus and gazed up and down the walls: 108 NCAA titles, but none credited to them.

That changed Tuesday night, the Bruins capping a perfect run through the postseason with an 8-0 stomping of Mississippi State. There had been grumbles all week long about UCLA’s lack of hitting, myriad suggestions that the walls needed to move in or the bats fixed or the balls changed.

No more. The Bruins owned the night, one closed with a dogpile as fireworks lit up behind the left field bleachers. Players eight-clapped to the adoring fans that had traveled to Omaha for them, mugging for pictures as they stretched the celebrations out as long as possible.

“We’ve been close,” coach John Savage said. “We’ve been knocking on the door. We knocked on the door in ’10, we knocked on the door in ’12. We knocked it down in ’13.” Continue reading

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UCLA dominates Bulldogs, wins first-ever baseball title

OMAHA, Neb. — John Savage and his UCLA team have a few well-worn phrases.

Among them: execution, pass the baton, Bruin baseball. After three trips to Omaha in four years, they can add “championship” to the vocabulary.

There is utility in cliche. UCLA raised its first-ever national championship trophy Tuesday night after an 8-0 win over Mississippi State, embodying all those phrases on a run marked by stunning consistency.

In all five of their victories at TD Ameritrade Park, the Bruins (49-17) allowed no more than a single run. Along they way, they laid down 12 bunts, tying a CWS record set by Santa Clara in 1962. It was small ball at its finest, the prize at the end perhaps silencing protests that UCLA had lucked its way to wins.

“Anybody that questions us now, I don’t think knows the game,” Savage said. Continue reading

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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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UCLA earns second-ever CWS title series berth

For the second time in school history, UCLA will battle for an NCAA baseball championship.

With a 4-1 win over No. 1 seed North Carolina Friday night, the Bruins maintained their spotless postseason record and earned a spot in a best-of-three championship series against Mississippi State starting Monday. Neither team has ever won a baseball title.

In their most unlikely run into Omaha, UCLA — which last played for a title in 2010 — relied on pitching and defense to beat three top-five national seeds in the last two weeks.

Friday’s victory offered more of the same. The Bruins rode a stellar start from sophomore Grant Watson, who allowed just four hits in six scoreless innings. The lefty hadn’t pitched since throwing seven scoreless innings against San Diego on June 2, but coach John Savage said he didn’t hesitate to use Watson instead of ace Adam Plutko on four day’s rest.

“I think he showed the whole country he was ready to pitch on a big stage,” Savage said. Continue reading

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Small-ball formula has Bruins one win away from title series

Over the past few weeks, watching UCLA baseball has produced a sense of near-inevitability.

The Bruins’ stellar pitching will keep any game close. They’ll rarely make mistakes. And more often than not, they’ll do just enough to win.

The size of the stage hasn’t changed that. Through two games in the College World Series, they are batting 2-for-27 with runners on base. They have notched one RBI in Omaha. Yet they have scored four runs, beating both LSU and North Carolina State, 2-1.

One more, and they’ll be back in a best-of-three championship series for the second time in four years.

“It’s more mentality for us,” said third baseman Kevin Kramer, who singled in the fifth with bases loaded to score the Bruins’ first run last night. “Like coach says, taking advantage of opportunities. We’re not going to put up any gaudy numbers.” Continue reading

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