The UCLA baseball team is right where it wants to be, sitting one win shy of the College World Series finals after beating NC State in the winners bracket tonight.
The Bruins and Wolfpack both won their respective openers to get to today’s game, but only one could come out on top and remain unbeaten in Omaha. The importance of the contest can’t be understated, as the loser will be relegated to winning three straight games to make the championship series.
But thanks to a stellar outing from starter Nick Vander Tuig and some timely offensive production, UCLA was able to edge NCSU and improve to 2-0 in the tournament. With the win, the Bruins join Mississippi State as the favorites to advance to the finals, and will be off until Friday night.
Despite giving up an early lead, Vander Tuig (13-4) was absolutely dominant for the Bruins, pitching 7.0 innings of 1-run baseball. The junior righty allowed just four hits with no walks and six Ks, showing again why the San Francisco Giants snatched him up in the sixth round of the MLB Draft.
After giving up a lead-off single in the eighth, Vander Tuig took the bench and All-American closer David Berg came on to go to work. Things got a little hairy when a potential 3-run homer was chased to the warning track by left fielder Christoph Bono, but nothing came of it in the end. Other than that, it was smooth sailing to the finish for Berg’s 23rd save, tying the sophomore for the most in a single season in NCAA history.
It was another hallmark performance for the UCLA pitching staff, which has now gotten CWS wins from Vander Tuig and Adam Plutko, in spite of limited contributions from the offense.
Against the Wolfpack, the Bruins tallied a total of five hits, two of which came during the fifth inning when UCLA broke through for the decisive 2-1 lead. Five walks issued by NCSU, one of which got things going for the rally, also helped the cause. Sophomore 3B Kevin Kramer led the way offensively, going 1-for-3 with a walk and the only RBI of the game for the Bruins. It was far from perfect for UCLA, but at this point in the season, a win’s a win anyway you can get it.
And so the trend of nerve-racking, down-to-the-wire victories continues for UCLA. The Bruins don’t hit well, and they don’t fill out a highlight reel, but they do get the job done. The pundits may continue to detract from UCLA’s style under head coach John Savage, but the Bruins themselves just keep winning.
UCLA gets to enjoy a two day rest before its next game on Friday against the winner of NC State vs. No. 1 UNC. The Pack already took out the top-seeded Tar Heels once in Omaha, but the stakes in an elimination game are completely different. Whichever squad survives will have to beat the Bruins twice to advance to the finals, a tall task with Grant Watson and Plutko ready to take the mound.
There’s still a lot of baseball to be played, but one thing is for certain—UCLA is three wins away from its first ever College World Series championship. If the Bruins can keep forcing teams to play their slowed down style, there’s no reason to believe national title No. 109 couldn’t come to Westwood next week.