UCLA Baseball: Bruins Top Cal State Fullerton, 5-3, In Super Regional Opener


Eric Filia up to bat vs. Oregon State, Credit: Jeff Poirier

The UCLA baseball team kicked off Super Regional play in about the best way possible on Friday, knocking off Cal State Fullerton to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series. The win improved the Bruins to 43-17 on the year, and more importantly, put them just one win away from a return trip to Omaha. If UCLA can at least split the next two games at Goodwin Field, it’ll be the program’s third CWS appearance in four years.

It was enormous for UCLA to steal Game 1 on the road from the No. 5 national seed, but it was even bigger because of who it was against. In a surprising shift of the starting rotation, Cal State Fullerton sent ace Justin Garza to the mound tonight, who boasts an unblemished record of 12-0 this season.

In a piece written just this morning, I pegged the Garza game (which most expected to be tomorrow) as a long shot for the Bruins to pull out. But as I recap today’s huge win, I will gladly eat my words. UCLA was able to get to Garza early, tacking on two runs by the fourth inning, proving that the freshman is human after all.

Overall, Garza went a solid 7.0 innings, allowing just three runs on five hits with six strikeouts. However, he left the game trailing 3-1 and was eventually left with no decision.

Trailing by two in the eighth inning, the Titans battled back to tie it up on a rare blown save from UCLA closer David Berg. After both teams went scoreless in the ninth, UCLA reclaimed the lead in the top of the tenth, and Berg shut CSF down to get the 5-3 win.

UCLA starter Adam Plutko was phenomenal, giving up one unearned run on six hits in 7.0 innings of work. It was unfortunate to see him tagged with the ND after such a strong showing, but he has to be happy that his team still came out on top.

Offensively, the Bruins were led by LF Eric Filia, a sophomore from Huntington Beach who went 4-for-5 with four singles, an RBI and a run scored. Shortstop Pat Valaika also got in on the action, tallying two key RBIs, one by way of a fielder’s choice and the other a sacrifice fly. All things considered, it wasn’t a great offensive outing for UCLA, but it was just enough to win when the score went final.

UCLA will look to close out the series tomorrow when Nick Vander Tuig takes the bump. The junior right hander had a rough outing versus Cal Poly in the Regional round, so he’ll be looking to make amends against the Titans. CSF will likely send Thomas Eshelman out to start in the must-win Game 2. Eshelman (12-2) really isn’t all that far behind Garza, and has only given up two walks in 107.2 innings pitched. It’ll be another battle for the Bruins, but seeing how they played today, it wouldn’t shock me to see them come out and seize the day tomorrow.

Should we see a Game 3 on Sunday, the probable starters would be Grant Watson for UCLA and Grahamm Wiest for CSF. As great as that match up would be, I’d greatly prefer to take care of business and complete the Super Regional sweep on Saturday.

Let’s go Bruins! Earn that trip to Omaha!