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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