With an elite pitching staff and a questionable offense, UCLA drew comparisons to their 2011 team that was eliminated in the Regionals, but this year's squad made sure they would differ in one major way -- they won their Regional opener. Thanks to another outstanding postseason performance by Adam Plutko, the Bruins defeated San Diego St. 5-3 in front of a blue-clad crowd at Jackie Robinson Stadium to move into the winner's bracket at the Los Angeles Regional.
Plutko picked up the win to improve to a perfect 5-0 in five postseason starts. Amazingly, despite going seven innings and allowed just two runs, one earned, the junior's postseason ERA went up, but it was plenty good enough for the Bruins as he struck out four and walked just one. Zack Weiss followed him up with a scoreless eight inning before David Berg added to his school record for saves in a season with his 19th of the campaign.
The Bruins didn't just excel on the mound, though. They totaled 12 hits, led by Pat Gallagher's 3-for-4, two RBI performance, while Eric Filia and Shane Zeile each added multi-hit games of their own. But it was a complete team performance for the Bruins, who got a hit from eight of their nine starters to give their pitching staff the support that sometimes eluded them in the regular season.
San Diego St. was actually first on the board thanks to a run in the second inning. Plutko didn't have anyone to blame for the run but himself after he walked the leadoff man and bobbled the sacrifice bunt that followed to put two men on with none out. A sacrifice bunt moved the runners up 90 feet before a fielder's choice plated the game's opening run.
After a dismal opening two innings at the plate, some of the Bruins in the crowd could be forgiven for thinking the worst. Maybe the inconsistent UCLA offense wouldn't show and that one Aztecs run would stand up? But the Bruins' offense picked up from the third inning on.
Gallagher got the Bruins going with a double on the first pitch of the third and Brenton Allen followed it up by ripping a single to right. Kevin Kramer then put together a wonderful at-bat to make sure Gallagher and Allen's work wouldn't go to waste, working the count full before roping a sacrifice to left that tied the game at 1-1.
UCLA took their first lead of the game the following inning and it started with a Pat Valaika leadoff single. A single by Zeile and a walk by Cody Regis then loaded the bases with one out, brining Gallagher up. The junior quickly found himself in a two-strike out, but after fouling off a handful of pitches got one he could handle and laced it into right. Valaika and Zeile came around to score and Gallagher had himself two RBI for his great at-bat. Allen then added to the Bruins' lead with a sacrifice fly and UCLA found themselves ahead 4-1.
Plutko ran into trouble in the fifth when he surrendered a leadoff homer that cut the Bruins' lead to two and two men reached later in the inning to bring the go-ahead run to the plate, but the junior got out of the inning with UCLA's 4-2 lead intact.
Twice the Bruins had men thrown out at the plate when trying to extend their lead, but they finally did score another in the seventh when they made a leadoff walk count. Brett Urabe drew the base on balls and took second on a sacrifice bunt before Filia's two-out jamshot fell in centerfield to score Urabe and give the Bruins a three-run lead again.
Weiss relieved Plutko in the eighth and had no trouble getting through his inning, but Berg did run into problems in the ninth. He allowed two doubles, scoring a run for San Diego St. and bringing the tying run to the plate, but Berg closed out the game with his third strikeout of the frame to send the Bruins to the winner's bracket.
UCLA will play Cal Poly on Saturday at 6 p.m. PT for a spot in the Regional championship. The winner will have the inside track on a spot in the Super Regionals, needing a win on Sunday or Monday, if necessary, to advance, while the loser will have to win three straight games to come away LA Regional winners.