Rob Rasmussen saved his best start of his career for the biggest game of his career (Photo Credit: Official Site)
Yesterday, they stared elimination down. With just one out separating UCLA from the end of their season on Saturday the Bruins battled back thanks to a Tyler Rahmatulla home run and some 10th inning heroics. On Sunday, in game three of the Super Regional versus Cal St. Fullerton with the winner moving on to the College World Series, UCLA left the drama behind with a comfortable 8-1 victory. The win over Fullerton, the team that has had the program's number for decades, send the Bruins to Omaha for their first College World Series appearance since 1997 and only the third in school history.
Prior to yesterday's contest, UCLA was 1-7 versus Cal St. Fullerton in the postseason and had been eliminated all three times that the two teams faced off. The program's 3-7 current record versus the Titans isn't much to write home about either, but the 2010 Bruins went 2-1 versus the Southern California power, which is good enough to keep their season going. Taking down the Titans is just another school first or record that this year's UCLA team has set and when they open their College World Series account versus Florida on Saturday or Sunday, they will look for more history with the program's first College World Series win.
One player made sure to point out the Bruins' history versus the Titans. Rob Rasmussen was a freshman in 2008 when Fullerton knocked the Bruins out of the Regionals and he made no bones about wanting another crack at them. The left-hander got his wish and he made it count on Sunday night in the biggest start of his career. Rasmussen surrendered a run in the first inning, but that's all he would surrender. Before walking the lead off man in the ninth inning, the junior had retired 15 straight Titans. By the time he got the final out and tossed his glove into the air, Rasmussen has thrown a complete game two-hitter, having allowed just one run and striking out nine.
As has been the case all postseason, Beau Amaral led the charge for the Bruin offense. The freshman went 3-4 with three runs and three RBI, including a three-run home run to bump his postseason batting average to .417. Niko Gallego went 2-4 with a run and RBI, while Steve Rodriguez had a hit and scored twice. Tyler Rahmatulla chipped in with a 2-4, one RBI game and Cody Regis with 2-4 with a RBI as part of a 12 hit team effort.
With head football coach Rick Neuheisel and UCLA hall of famer Eric Karros in the crowd, along with the buzz of an anxious crowd, it was clear from the start that this was a big game and the Bruin fans had reason to worry early because Rasmussen's first inning looked nothing like his next eight. A lead off single got the Titan first going and then Rasmussen hit a batter to put two on. A fly ball to center allowed the runner at second to tag and take third so a ground out to second scored the game's first run.
Neither team threatened much again until UCLA grabbed their bats in the third. A one out single by Gallego to center got the Bruins going and then the junior stole both second and third for his fourth and fifth stolen bases of the Super Regional. In between the stolen bags, Steve Rodriguez walked to put men on first and third. Amaral came to the plate and fell behind in the count, but hit an 0-2 pitch into right field for a RBI single to tie the game at 1-1. Rahmatulla followed with a hard liner to the warning track in dead center, but the Fullerton center fielder settled underneath it. Then, the center fielder inexplicably dropped the ball, seeing it hit his glove then fall to the ground. Both Rodriguez and Amaral were running on contact and hustled all the way around to score for a 3-1 UCLA lead.
In search of some insurance runs, UCLA finally got them in the sixth thanks to singles up the middle. With two outs, Regis singled up the middle and Chris Giovinazzo did the same. Of course, Jeff Gelalich had to roll one up the middle too and on his, Regis came around to score. Gallego got in on the fun too with a single up the middle that scored Giovinazzo, stretching the Bruins' lead to 5-1.
UCLA added to their lead in the seventh when Amaral singled to start the inning, took second on Blair Dunlap's sacrifice bunt and scored when Rahmatulla was able to yank a single into left for another run.
If there was any doubt in the ballgame, it went away in the eighth. Rodriguez doubled to right center with two outs, then Amaral turned on a 1-0 pitch and hit a hard liner that sent the Bruin faithful into a frenzy as it easily sailed over the fence in right field.
With a 8-1 lead, Rasmussen had no pressure, but runs three through eight were all unnecessary with the way that the southpaw was pitching. A lead off walk in the ninth ended Rasmussen's streak of 15 straight retired, but it didn't matter much. With two outs, Rasmussen got a fly ball to right field that Gelalich settled under and as soon as it hit his glove, Rasmussen's glove was in the air. The UCLA dugout emptied as the players poured on to the field for a dog pile on the infield, the Bruin fans roared with approval and UCLA's demons had been exorcised.
After the dog pile and hugs, the Bruin players and coaches lined up to shake hands with the Titan before returning to the third base side. There, they gathered, tipped their hats to the fans and led an eight clap that the throng of fans in blue in gold that had stuck around. Next up is a trip to Omaha where UCLA hopes to repeat their celebration and add another school record to their resume.