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Memphis Flashback: Missed Opportunities For John Savage’s UCLA Baseball Program

<em>Playing small ball wasn't enough. Photo Credit: Brad Williams (UCLA Athletics)</em>
Playing small ball wasn't enough. Photo Credit: Brad Williams (UCLA Athletics)

UCLA baseball team deserves all the credit for an unforgettable year. By all accounts the program under John Savage stepped up to whole another level this past season. They broke all kinds of records during the regular season and tournament run, and in the process reignited interest in the game among the Bruin family.

That said this morning I am feeling the same way I feel today after Ben Howland's Ben Ball warriors underachieved against Memphis Tigers from few years ago. I understand and appreciate Savage's post game comments:

"I'm so proud of our players and our program and the strides we've made," sixth-year UCLA head coach John Savage said. "I told the players that they've reached the pinnacle in college baseball. They've experienced the rigors of the Regionals and Super Regionals and the bracket in playing for the national championship.

"Every player in our locker room now knows what it feels like. We can sit there and be very proud of our entire program. The bar has been raised, and we look to be back as soon as possible. This team can say they're the best team in UCLA history, which has a long and rich tradition. I'm proud of every single person who has been a part of this program."

However, it isn't easy coming back to this stage just like that. When UCLA lost to Memphis in the Final-4 few years ago we were extremely proud (deservedly so) for the kind of run our Ben Ball warriors put together. Yet while keeping in the mind the big picture, at the time some of us failed to appreciate the opportunity missed by Ben Howland in the tactical and strategic miscues made during that game. 

Now that we looking back at it I am not sure if it is possible for Howland again to have NBA stars like DC, RW, KL, LRMAM with role-players such as PAA, LMR, JS, and JK regularly on his roster. Perhaps he will strike gold again. We will see.  Similarly, right now I am not sure if the Bruins or any other college team can put together a pitching staff of three aces with a dynamite closer every season.  In other words, just like Howland's Ben Ball Warriors, John Savage's Bruins had a golden opportunity to do something really special this week and we didn't get it done. It hurts to think about it that way but it's reality.

I love the job John Savage has done for our program. I appreciate the way he has built it after decades of malaise and chronic underachievement under the previous coach. However, from what I saw last two days, I didn't see a baseball team which played best when the best was needed.

I didn't see the competitive greatness from our offense which was riddled with mental errors, base running mistakes through the championship series. It hurts to type that after such a wonderful season. It doesn't take away anything from the aggregate accomplishment of this season. Still I am sharing with you exactly how I feel about our offense from last two nights. They were excruciatingly disappointing.

Rob Rasmussen, one of the three brilliant Bruin starters who stepped up HUGE on Tuesday night said the following:

"In the locker room, obviously, it's hard to hold your emotions in," Rasmussen said. "To get so close and to fall short hurts. But I think maybe later tonight or tomorrow, as it all kind of sinks in, and as we look back on it, we're all going to be proud of what we did. We were under .500 last year at 27-29. We really were, like coach said, the best team that this school has ever seen.

"We set the bar for this program, really."

Well, I hope that means the team will come back with a vengeance next season and will make another run in next year's post-season. All of the accomplishments from this season are not going to mean much, if the Bruins put together a subpar 30 win season next year and weakly exit out of the Regionals. The expectations are going to be high from here on out and I hope the baseball program is up for meeting them. Of course goes without saying, all this has to be accompanied by a legitimate commitment from the UCLA athletic department, in making sure they are providing reasonable resources necessary for the program to maintain its elite level of performance.

We also offer sincere congratulations to Garnet and Black Attack and all USC fans across the country for winning the national championship. While I am being hard on the Bruin hitters, I cannot take away from the act that USC played brilliantly and stepped up when it mattered. Winning 6 straight games after dropping the first one in Omaha was nothing short of amazing and they truly deserve to be champions in the very last College World Series at Rosenblatt Stadium. So congrats to them. That was an USC championship without any kind of asterisk.

Oh and since we are talking about an SEC blog, thanks so much again to Kyle from Dawg Sports and PodKatt and his crew from And The Valley Shook, for hanging out with us in recent weeks during our run in the tourney. They made it even more fun (even though the results from last two nights really hurts). The interaction we have had with those guys along with folks from Roll Bama Roll and Rocky Top Talk, further underscores the need for UCLA to schedule more games with the programs from SEC. They just make following college sports lot more fun (even when it hurts).

Perhaps the Bruins will learn something from Gamecocks and will use it motivate themselves to make more memorable runs in the coming seasons. Hope we are not going to look back at this CWS and not end up lamenting it like Ben Howland's missed opportunity against Memphis years from now like we do today.