2013 RECORD: 49-17 overall
Finished third in the Pac-12 Conference at 21-9, behind Oregon State and Oregon
Won the Los Angeles Regional
Beat Cal State Fullerton two games to none in the Super Regional
Beat Mississippi State two games to none in the College World Series to win first NCAA championship in program history
CURRENT 2014 RANKINGS:
#9 by NCBWA
#10 by ESPN/USA Today Coaches’ Poll
#12 by Baseball America
#15 by Collegiate Baseball
CURRENT 2014 RECORD: 3-1
I, being a lifelong baseball person with extensive experience in the sport, count myself as one of a great many who can say that they waited their whole lives for UCLA’s baseball program to win a national championship.
That 8-0 win in the final game at TD Ameritrade Park in Omaha, NE, and the final moment as the Bruins did the traditional dog pile near the pitcher’s mound was truly a special sight for Bruin Nation to see.
What particularly impressed me about that title run was the way that John Savage’s team triumphed, as if they were to get into a time machine and go back 100 years, they would have fit in perfectly due to their extreme “Small Ball” approach, combined with outstanding pitching and defense.
As an illustration, no Bruin hit over .300 or smacked more than six home runs, but they won all ten of their postseason games, sweeping through the regionals, the super-regionals, and the College World Series to claim the school’s 109th NCAA crown.
And beating higher-ranked powers like Cal State Fullerton, LSU, and top-ranked North Carolina along the way as while I wouldn’t consider them a reincarnation of the 1969 “Miracle” New York Mets, who overcame being a longtime doormat to beat the heavily favored Baltimore Orioles in the World Series, it would be no surprise to me if fans did.
Now that the confetti has been cleaned up and the rings have been given out, I know everyone’s asking what these Bruins will do for an encore; I was asking that at the celebration that was held a week after the championship was won.
In other words, how much of a chance does UCLA have of keeping the title banner in Westwood?
For starters, if fans are expecting an upgrade in the Bruins’ hitting prowess, they will be sorely disappointed as not only is this team heavy on pitching and defense again (details in a bit), but Savage – who is now in his tenth year in Westwood – will have to do without three of his best hitters.
Eric Filia, the outfielder who played such a key role in UCLA’s title run as he went 4-for-6 in the last game against Mississippi State, is sitting out this season due to injury, while infielder Kevin Williams is out until mid-March and Kevin Kramer, who as slated to play shortstop this year after spending 2013 at third base, is forced to do designated hitter duty due to a shoulder issue.
Fortunately for the Bruins, they are off to a great start with the bat in this very young season as six players, led by Trent Chatterton at .389, are batting over .333.
If one or two of those hitters can keep up that pace and finish at .300, that would bode well for this team.
As well as help take the pressure off the pitching staff, who did an incredible job as they had no margin for error due to the lack of run support most of the time.
Since aces Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig are now pitching in the minors, Plutko in the Cleveland Indians’ system and Vander Tuig for the San Francisco Giants’ chain, people need to step up.
And UCLA has those guys as Grant Watson, James Kaprelian, and Cody Poteet, who all have experience, will anchor the rotation.
David Berg is clearly the ace in the UCLA hole, however, as the closer will try and follow up a 2013 for the ages with his 7-0 record, his NCAA-leading 0.88 earned run average and his record 24 saves, earning Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year honors in the process.
The junior sidearmer reminded me of former Los Angeles Dodgers relief stud Eric Gagne, as like the bespectacled Canadian games were pretty much over whenever Berg appeared on the mound.
Considering all of these factors, most pundits have the Bruins, like last year, finishing third in the conference as they lamented their lack of hitting and particularly power.
But while I’m not proclaiming a repeat of last season’s glory, I would definitely not vote against them making another tile run as this Bruin squad was the epitome of the tried-and-true notion of pitching and defense beating good hitting and winning championships.
It will certainly be interesting to see how far UCLA, who has been in three of the last four College World Series, can go on the diamond this year, and whether the stars will align for them again.