Two years after he was fired by UCLA, Ben Howland is set to return to coaching. Multiple reports indicated today that the 57-year-old has reached an agreement with Mississippi State — a program that has not reached the NCAA Tournament since 2009.
ESPN was the first of multiple outlets to report the news today.
The architect of three straight Final Four runs in Westwood, Howland was nevertheless fired after missing the tournament in two of his last five seasons. His name emerged for other job openings last offseason, including Marquette and Oregon State, but nothing worked out.
“I wish I had taken one of the jobs I turned down last spring,” he told USA Today earlier this year. “I miss it so bad.”
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
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
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