Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
The UCLA baseball team did what no one expected of it this weekend, shutting down Cal State Fullerton at Goodwin Field to advance to the 2013 College World Series. Tonight’s 3-0 upset win clinched the Super Regional sweep for the Bruins, and assured them a trip to Omaha next week. After falling to the Titans twice in the regular season, UCLA was able to grind out two close wins when it counted most.
The Bruins survived the Titans in 10 innings on Friday before taking a three-run first inning lead the distance in Game 2. Starter Nick Vander Tuig got the win after throwing 6.1 innings of shutout baseball, giving up eight hits with no walks and four strikeouts. It must have been a vindicating victory for the junior, as he struggled in the LA Regional last weekend. Seeing himself pitch a lights-out game against a tough opponent will boost his confidence, and nothing is more important in the postseason.
Relievers James Kaprielian, Zack Weiss and David Berg combined to throw 2.3 scoreless innings, though four Titans did reach base over that span. In fact, all game long fans were kept on edge as CSF continued to get men on base each and every inning. But the Bruins didn’t slip up when the stakes were highest, and the Titans stranded 12 men—many of whom were stuck in scoring position. Couple Fullerton’s cold hitting with a few uncharacteristic errors, and it meant the end of an otherwise amazing season for the four-time national champions.
Now the attention turns to UCLA—a program on the rise still seeking its first ever College World Series title.
Competing on a national scale has become an expectation under head coach John Savage, and today he celebrates the program’s third CWS appearance in the last four seasons. But what the Bruins really need is to take the next step forward, and that means bringing home the bacon.
If we’re being honest here, UCLA was lucky to win tonight’s game. Not to take away from the performances of Vander Tuig and the bullpen, but the Bruins didn’t record a single earned run and went down in order too many times. As the saying goes, a win’s a win…but that kind of hitting will only get you so far. In order to get over the hump in Omaha, UCLA will need to get its offense off the ground. It’s the same thing that we’ve said all season. The pitching staff has the talent to win it all, but the offense needs to take some of the pressure off.
Against CSF, the Bruins did just that, claiming early leads in both games to silence the home crowd. The result was a surprising sweep and the Titans’ first series loss of the season. If UCLA can keep finding ways to generate runs, preferably by way of the old-fashioned base hit, this team has what it takes to finish the job.
UCLA will get back to practice this week before boarding the plane for Nebraska on Wednesday. If UCLA can carry this momentum from Fullerton into Omaha, the Bruins will be in good shape when play begins next Sunday against LSU. It’ll be the last chance for national title No. 109 this year, so the True Blue faithful should be out in full force.
Check back throughout the week for more UCLA baseball and College World Series coverage. Go Bruins!