UCLA is heading back to the College World Series (Photo Credit: Scott Wu)
Omaha better get ready for the Bruins because they are on their way back. After nearly a century in which they advanced to the College World Series just twice, UCLA is heading to the ultimate destination in college baseball for the second time in three years after beating TCU, 4-1, on Saturday to win the Los Angeles Super Regional.
The goal for every team in the country is to make it to Omaha and in game number 60 on the season, UCLA picked up win their 47th win of the year to send them there. The Bruins came out firing before a packed house of 2,135 fans at Jackie Robinson Stadium and grabbed control of the game from the start. They scored in the second inning to take a lead that they would never relinquish. UCLA cruised from there on out and when David Berg got the 27th out of the game, the crowd erupted and the Bruins poured out of the dugout to dogpile in the middle of the field as the second of eight Omaha-bound teams.
Fresh off of a dominating eight innings of one-run ball last weekend, Nick Vander Tuig took the mound looking to prove it wasn't a fluke. He did just that, limiting the Horned Frogs to one run on five hits in six-plus innings and striking out five while walking just one to earn the win. Berg then worked the final three innings masterfully, allowing just two hits en route to his first career save.
The offense did their part with eight hits in the ballgame, getting production from top to bottom. Trevor Brown led the way with two hits and a run, while Pat Valaika went 1-for-1 with two walks and a RBI, but it was a true team offensive effort. Seven Bruins picked up hits in the ballgame, four different Bruins picked up runs and three drove runs in as UCLA put on a clinic to make it known that they weren't just going to Omaha, but they were going to be one of the favorites there.
A quick first inning gave way to the second and that's when UCLA, the designated visiting team, got the bats going. Brown drove an 0-1 pitch down the right field line, where it dropped then skipped into the corner for a one-out triple. Valaika then followed with a simple fly ball to right, allowing Brown to tag and score to put the Bruins in front.
An inning later, the Bruins added to their lead with some textbook small ball. Single by Kevin Kramer and Beau Amaral put men on the corners with one out for Tyler Heineman, who executed a perfect squeeze. Kramer came scampering in to score from third and the Bruins had doubled their advantage.
The one time that TCU was able to get on the scoreboard came in the bottom half of that inning when Brance Rivera belted a leadoff home run to cut the UCLA lead to 2-1. Vander Tuig responded well, though, sitting down the next three Frogs in order to limit the damage.
After a one-out triple to dead center by Valaika, TCU pulled their starter Preston Morrison. It took just 3.1 innings for UCLA to chase the Frogs' ace, but the excitement from that died quickly because the next two men struck out to leave Valaika at third.
TCU took a lot of momentum from that escape and came out in the bottom of the fourth fired up, but Vander Tuig made sure they couldn't build a thing. He struck out two in a 1-2-3 fourth inning and made sure the momentum would stay in the Bruins' dugout.
A one-out double in the fifth inning gave the Frogs' hope that they might be able to tie things up, but Vander Tuig came up with some big pitches to escape the jam. First, he induced a groundout on a full count, then he got a fly ball to center to end yet another inning without a run across for TCU.
Despite badly outplaying the Frogs, the Bruins were only up 2-1 heading to the sixth, but that is when the UCLA offense got going again. Gelalich roped a hard grounder that kicked off the glove of the diving first baseman and into the outfield, allowing Gelalich to race around for a stand up double. Brown followed that up with a single to left and after Valaika walked, the Bruins had the bases loaded with just one out. That's when TCU handed UCLA a gift, giving away a passed ball that allowed Gelalich to score. After two strikeouts ended the inning, that passed ball looked even bigger, handing UCLA a run they wouldn't have otherwise had and pushing the Bruins' lead to 3-1.
TCU helped UCLA out again in the seventh, allowing Amaral to reach on an error with one out and after Heinemen singled, the Bruins had men at the corners. That allowed Cody Keefer to simply drive a fly ball to center to get the job done. Amaral tagged and scored and UCLA had themselves a 4-1 lead.
After Vander Tuig walked the leadoff man in the seventh, John Savage went to the bullpen. Vander Tuig exited to a hearty applause from the Bruin faithful and on came Berg. The incredible freshman was pitching in his 47th game of the year, the second-most in NCAA history, and looked as good as he ever has. He sat the Frogs down 1-2-3 in the seventh then had no problem getting through the eighth.
Berg got the call again in the ninth and took the mound looking nothing lik a freshman, but a seasoned veteran immune to the excitement in the stands from the fans who could smell the Bruins' imminent trip to Omaha. A leadoff single didn't rattle him either. He struck out the next batter and followed that up with a groundout. With the entire stadium on its feet, Berg then got one more groundout. Kevin Williams gathered it and threw to first and soon as the ball settled into the glove of Brown, Jackie Robinson Stadium exploded.
UCLA now heads to College World Series on a roll with 16 wins in their last 17 games and a perfect 5-0 in the postseason, in which they have outscored their opposition 33-9. Look out, Omaha, here come the Bruins.