First baseball title ends long wait for Bruin faithful


LOS ANGELES — Eric Karros stood in the middle of Jackie Robinson Stadium, just feet away from the national championship trophy. Once a player himself, the former Bruin and Dodger had waited years for this moment.

He gestured toward UCLA head coach John Savage, the man who had brought the Bruins to the mountaintop, guiding them through an undefeated postseason.

“I know a lot of schools will come courting, but gosh darn it, I hope you stay,” Karros said Thursday afternoon. The 800-some fans sitting in the stands likely thought the same.

The Los Angeles Times reported earlier this week that USC — which finished 20-36 — had interest in Savage, who won the 1998 title there as a pitching coach. Considering UCLA’s now-official powerhouse status, that’s somewhat akin to a teenage boy having interest in Kate Upton. Continue reading

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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 thanks family, late father, mentors

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.

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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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