As it turned out, the UCLA Bruins, in the first game of the College World Series’ best-of-three-finals, were not only playing the Mississippi State Bulldogs.
They were playing the entire Bulldog nation – virtually half the state of Mississippi – as well over 90% of the 25,690 fans at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE were wearing the Bulldogs’ maroon and white, making the trip north from Starkville.
And being extremely loud as not only was it essentially a home game for MSU, it sounded very much like the Bruins and Bulldogs were playing football instead of baseball.
Except for some close calls in the middle and late innings, particularly the fourth, UCLA (48-17) remained unfazed, dodging the bullets and maintaining their focus in beating Mississippi State on Monday night, 3-1, leaving them one win away from their first national championship in baseball – and the school’s NCAA-leading 109th.
John Savage’s team used what has to this point proved to be their tried-and-true formula with their shutdown pitching – Adam Plutko giving up one run and four hits over six innings – and timely hitting, as the Bruins struck first with a Pat Valakia single that drove in Eric Filia in the first, who in turn singled in two runs in the fourth and made a dazzling catch in right field to rob MSU (51-29) catcher Rob Ammirati of extra bases in the fifth.
After reliever Zach Weiss hit Bulldog slugger Hunter Renfroe in the eighth, David Berg came on to get a five-out save, inducing pinch hitter James Robson to end the game by grounding out to him with the tying and winning runs on base.
The save was Berg’s 24th, which broke the NCAA record for most saves in a season.
Summing things up, Savage said, “It was kind of a Bruin game – a tight game, and at the end we were fortunate to come out with the win.”
These Bruins can make history on Tuesday night as Nick VanderTuig will take the mound; the national title being SO close.
They absolutely MUST be vigilant and most of all not let up, as Mississippi State – their fans as well as the players – will be desperate to prevent UCLA from getting into a celebratory dogpile as the place will be louder and more hostile than what it was on Monday.
If this Bruin team can overcome that, they will have a great chance to finish what they started as their post-season record is now 8-0.