Twice before UCLA had made it to the College World Series in Omaha. They decided to wait until the very last year that the event would take place at Rosenblatt Stadium to get their first win. After a nervous first few innings that saw both UCLA and Florida made uncharacteristic mistakes, the Bruins tightened things up to cruise past the Gators, 11-3. The win moves the Bruins to the winner's bracket in the double elimination format for a match-up with TCU on Monday at 6 pm PDT.
UCLA actually trailed after the first inning, 2-1. They grabbed a 4-2 lead by the third and in the last five innings, the Bruins outscored the Gators 6-0 to remove any doubt in the ballgame. In a match-up of the number three national seed (Florida) and the number six national seed (UCLA), it was the Bruins who were the better team in all aspects of the game. The Bruins pounded out 18 hits to the Gators' six. UCLA pitchers walked four to just two for Florida, but the Gator pitchers also plunked four hitters. UCLA also had two errors to the Gators' one, but shoddy catching let the Bruins plate a few.
Winning a College World Series game wasn't the only bit of UCLA history set on Saturday evening. When Trevor Bauer struck out the lead off man in the seventh inning, it marked not only his 11th strike out of the game, but more memorably, his 151st strike out of the season. That number bested the 150 strike outs by Pete Janicki in 1992 to set a new single-season school record for punch outs. The sophomore battled some early struggles, but from the third inning on, was dominant. By the time he took his seat on the bench, he had thrown seven innings and allowed just three runs on six hits to pick up his 11th win of the season. Erik Goeddel relieved him and struck out a pair in two relatively calm innings to finish things up.
At the plate, UCLA got a little from everyone. Nine different players picked up at least one hit to contribute to the 18 hit total. The offense was led by Niko Gallego, who was moved into the lead off spot due to the injury to Tyler Rahmatulla. Gallego had no problem as the table setter though, going 4-5 with a pair of runs scored and stolen base. Beau Amaral went 3-4 with a run and RBI in the contest, while Dean Espy went 3-6 with a couple RBI and a run scored. In the seven and nine spots of the order, UCLA got big production as Justin Uribe went 2-4 with two runs scored and Steve Rodriguez went 2-4 with two RBI and two runs.
As the designated visiting team, UCLA got the first crack with the bats and they made it count. Gallego and Amaral were each hit by pitches to start the game and a sacrifice bunt later, the Bruins had men at second and third. Espy took a cut at the first pitch he saw and chopped it over the head of the third baseman, allowed Gallego to score. Cody Regis followed with an attempted squeeze bunt and while he got the bunt down, it was to the pitcher, who tossed it home to get Amaral at the plate.
The UCLA lead lasted all of half an inning. A walk and single put two on with one out for the Gators, just as UCLA had in their half of the first inning. Then, Bauer was called for a balk, allowing each runner to move up 90 feet. Bauer put together a nice string of pitches to get a pop up and strike out, but just when it looked like he might get out of the inning unscathed, Florida got a single through the left side to score two.The Gators' 2-1 lead was almost a 3-1 lead, but with a man on second, Amaral went into deep left center field and dove to make a fabulous inning-ending, run saving catch.
In the third inning, the Bruins put the bat on the ball and got help from some shaky Gator defense. Singles by Gallego and Amaral started the frame and the two showed off some smart, aggressive base running when they pulled off a double steal without even drawing a throw. It looked like the Bruins would get a run on a ground out by Blair Dunlap, but the ball scooted through the legs of the Florida third baseman. Gallego came home to score on the error and Amaral took third, while Dunlap reached to put runners on the corners. A wild pitch took the pressure off of getting the go-ahead RBI single because Amaral got the trot home and Dunlap took second. With one out, Regis fell behind in the count 0-2 and after a ball, he fouled off consecutive pitches. After that, he got the pitch he was looking for and smacked it up the middle for a base hit, allowing Dunlap to score for a 4-2 UCLA advantage.
More Gator issues gave the Bruins another run in the fourth, but had it not been for sensational defense, it could have been much worse. Brett Krill started the inning with a line drive all the way to the warning track, but Florida center fielder Matt den Dekker got on his horse to chase it down and make a jaw dropping over the shoulder catch. Rodriguez followed by walking and after Gallego doubled to left center, Florida gave their starting pitcher the hook. When the new pitcher came in, he tossed a fast ball away that the Gator catcher got a glove to rather comfortably, but saw it skip away to the backstop, allowing Rodriguez to score.
Florida made their last stand in the bottom half of the fourth when they hit a 3-1 pith deep to left for a solo home run, but that's all the Gators would muster.
Leading 5-3, the Bruins got a single and hit by pitch to kick start their fifth inning. A sacrifice bunt moved them each up 90 feet, then Rodriguez squared one up right back up middle for a clean single, scoring two.
Espy got the UCLA sixth started with a infield single, then he added to his total game by stealing second. After a ground out moved him to third, another Gator wild pitch let him come across for another run and 8-3 UCLA lead.
Rodriguez kept his big day going with what was nearly a home run. Earlier in the game, Rodriguez roped one down the right field and cleared the outfield fence, but it hooked just foul. This time he kept it fair, but couldn't get it the two feet higher necessary to clear the fence. Even so, the ball off the wall went for a double and when Amaral singled to right, Rodriguez came home to score.
In the bottom half of the inning, Bauer set the school record for strike outs before calling it a day. He got a little more support in the eighth when Uribe doubled just down the right field line before scoring on a single by Krill.
A 10-3 lead just wasn't enough so Gallego led off the ninth inning before Dennis Holt came in to pinch run. Holt got to take second on a balk, then later in the frame, Espy picked up another RBI with a single that scored Holt.
When Goeddel retired the final batter of the game, the Bruins jogged on the field for the post-game handshake like it was any other game, but what they had accomplished was the school's first College World Series win. Just another school record to add to the resume, UCLA will now turn to Monday's contest with the chance to put themselves in the perfect position to win the bracket and advance to the Championship Series.