94 years in the making.
Even the Boston Red Sox, at 86 years, had a shorter wait!
But this UCLA baseball program can finally join their counterparts in basketball, volleyball, softball, and even football (1954 – not an NCAA title, however) and the other sports in Westwood that have combined for 108 NCAA titles as these Bruins won their first national championship on Tuesday night, putting an exclamation point on their College World Series run in their 8-0 win over Mississippi State, sweeping the best-of-three Finals.
The triumph was the school’s 109th NCAA title, which leads the nation, and it is the 130th national championship overall for UCLA’s athletic department.
Except for the relative handful of UCLA fans among the 27,127 in the stands at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE, the place grew more and more quiet as the game unfolded due to the Mississippi State fans outnumbering the Bruin fans by roughly 400 to one.
The game was essentially over by the sixth inning as John Savage’s team complemented their stout pitching and defense with a burst of something that was widely seen to be lacking in their arsenal:
Offense, as everyone in the UCLA starting lineup got at least one hit, ending up with 12 in the game, including two doubles.
Eric Filia’s five RBIs, one of them coming on a squeeze play in the third inning, was the highlight in the Bruin attack. He went two-for-three, with Kevin Kramer and Cody Regis each adding two hits of their own.
Nick VanderTuig, like Adam Plutko – who was voted the series’ Most Outstanding Player – and the rest of the UCLA pitchers, was his usual brilliant self in shutting out the Bulldogs over eight innings, scattering five hits while striking out six.
Meanwhile, although Mississippi State picked the worst time to have a bad night, committing three errors, their 51-20 record and second-place finish is the best not only in their program’s history, but the best finish for any of the Bulldogs’ sports teams ever.
By the time the Bruins commenced with the obligatory dog pile after closer David Berg got the final out on a ground ball to first, TD Ameritrade felt like a library save for the UCLA contingent, which I’m sure pleased the team on top of everything else.
ESPN’s announcers stated that UCLA, in finishing the season at 49-17, won this title coming through the front door, and the factors support that:
1. The Bruins’ earned run average was a miniscule 0.80, the fourth lowest for a College World Series team ever, with the pitching staff giving up a grand total of four runs in Omaha!
2. They were the first team to allow one run or fewer in each College World Series game, outscoring the opposition 19-4.
3. Mississippi State’s two stud sluggers, Hunter Renfroe and Wes Rea, went a combined 0-for-13 over the two games as UCLA’s pitching staff completely shut them down like they did everyone else.
4. The Bruins made an art of the sacrifice, their 12 tying Santa Clara for the most in College World Series history.
5. UCLA went a perfect 10-0 in the post season, becoming only the third team to accomplish that after South Carolina in 2011 and Arizona in 2012, beating such favored powerhouses as 3rd-ranked Cal State Fullerton in the Super Regionals, #4-seed LSU and top seed North Carolina along the way.
“This championship means everything,” Savage said during the post-game press conference, showing signs of breaking down.
“This is for all of the Bruins…all of the guys who were here before I was and set the tone,” the triumphant Bruin head coach continued. “I’m just so proud of the program and our coaches and players and everybody involved. We’re a family and we did it together.”
One question remains concerning these newly crowned kings of college baseball:
Can UCLA win it again in 2014, or will they be a one-hit wonder like previous title-holder Arizona was this year?
Plutko, VanderTuig, shortstop Pat Valaika, and several others will most likely sign professional contracts and be playing with their new minor league teams within a couple of weeks, but with the Bruins’ philosophy of tough pitching and small ball, combined with the fact that guys like Filia, Kramer, Berg, and #3 starter Grant Watson – who did very well against North Carolina in Omaha – will be returning…
Though it’s always difficult to win a national championship in any sport, and even harder to repeat, I think that despite the fact that the Bruins will have a big target on their back, their chances of returning to Omaha next season are rather good.
In the meantime, as a proud UCLA alum and a dedicated member of Bruin Nation, I’m going to immensely enjoy this title, as well as this video clip of the Bruins making history, which I hope you’ll enjoy, too: