Watch out, Omaha, UCLA is coming back yet again. After advancing to the College World Series just twice in the first 60 years of the event, the Bruins are heading to the mecca of college baseball for the third time in four years thanks to a 3-0 win over Cal St. Fullerton that wrapped up a sweep of the Titans in the Fullerton Super Regional.
Before a crowd of more than 3,000, most of whom donned blue and orange, UCLA made the 61st game of their season their best yet. They silenced the Fullerton crowd early and turned them away at every opportunity, taking regional bragging for the next year with them out of the dugout and to the mound, where they dogpiled to the soundtrack of a small Bruin section behind their dugout celebrating a trip to Omaha that has become routine, albeit as sweet as ever.
Fittingly, the Bruins punched their ticket to Omaha with a shutout, using four different pitchers to stymie the Titans as pitching ruled again for the Blue and Gold. Nick Vander Tuig tossed 6.1 innings of eight-hit ball to start things off before James Kaprielian and Zack Weiss each retired two batters. That set the stage for David Berg, who looked no worse for the wear a day after throwing three innings, to get four outs and pick up his 21st save of the season.
UCLA jumped out to an early lead with some help from Fullerton. Two two-out errors sandwiched a Pat Valaika single to load the bases, but while the Titans just handed the Bruins an opportunity, UCLA had to take advantage and take advantage they did. Pat Gallagher did the job first, continuing his hot hitting by jumping all over a 0-1 pitch and lacing it to center for a two-RBI single. Shane Zeile followed that up with a single of his own, scoring another run and the Bruins had themselves a 3-0 lead.
Vander Tuig wasn't at his absolute best on Saturday, but he was at his best in the biggest moments, coming up with key pitches time and time again. He retired the leadoff man in the first five innings and retired all eight Titans he faced with men in scoring position.
Fullerton's first chance came when they picked up a two-out single and an error following, but Vander Tuig induced a fly out to end the frame. Zeile helped Vander Tuig out the following inning by throwing out a man attempting to steal, but the right-hander took things into his own hands the following inning when he got consecutive outs with two men on to strand two men in scoring position.
Each inning brought another challenge, be it a single in the fifth or a leadoff double in the sixth, but none fazed Vander Tuig and each time he got out of it. That was huge because after notching three in the first, UCLA managed just three hits the rest of the way so pitching was going to have to win the game.
Vander Tuig finally found a challenge he couldn't wriggle his way out of, or wasn't given a chance to. He was given the hook with one out and one man on in the seventh and made his way to the dugout with a standing ovation. Kaprielian entered and looked like a freshman to begin with, walking the first man he saw, but he buckled down from there. A groundout was good for the second out of the inning and a fly out ended the frame, moving the Bruins within six outs of Omaha.
Like Vander Tuig and Kaprielian before him, Weiss ran into some trouble. He allowed two two-out singles and John Savage turned to his Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, who looked the part in needing just two pitches to get an inning-ending groundout.
Berg made his way back out to the mound with the Titans' fans doing their best to inject some life into their team, but the submariner quieted them quickly with a groundout to start the frame. An easy chopper in front of the plate followed and while a two-out single put a bit of a scare in the Bruins, Berg never flinched. He worked the next batter into a 2-2 count and with the UCLA faithful on their feet, induced a ground ball to Valaika. The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year gathered, set his feet and threw across the diamond to first. Gallagher squeezed the ball at first and with out No. 27 of the game, No. 57 of the Super Regional and No. 147 of the postseason, UCLA was College World Series bound for the third time in four years.