UCLA's game plan is to pitch great, play flawless defense, hit well enough to take advantage of other teams' mistakes and turn the ball over to David Berg in the ninth inning, which is exactly what they did in their College World Series opener against LSU, but with the tying run in scoring position and the winning run on base in the ninth, the Bruins plan looked like it might go up in flames.
Then Berg, in a full count, worked his magic. He induced a fly ball to right field and when Eric Filia squeezed it, UCLA had themselves a 2-1 win over Omaha favorites LSU.
The win doesn't just move UCLA into the winner's bracket, where they will face NC State on Tuesday, but it also gives them College World Series wins in three of the last four years after not winning a single game in Omaha prior to 2010.
Adam Plutko earned the win with another outstanding start that pushes him to a perfect 6-0 with a 0.99 ERA in the postseason. The junior allowed just one run on four hits in seven innings to keep the College World Series' top-ranked offense in check before handing the ball over to the bullpen. James Kaprielian looked nothing like a freshman in a 1-2-3 eighth and Berg picked up his school record 22nd save of the season with a nervy, but effective enough ninth.
UCLA put men on base in three of the first four innings, but LSU's Aaron Nola looked every bit the dominant pitcher he is, keeping the Bruins from mounting too much of a threat and he was rewarded in the bottom half of the fourth. Mason Katz, the Tigers' home run leader, jumped on a fastball and hit it out to left for the first home run of the College World Series and a 1-0 LSU lead.
Plutko made sure that the Tigers couldn't add to the lead by retiring the next five batters in order and the Bruins were still hanging around. They kept lurking, waiting for a LSU mistake to pounce on and in the sixth they got it.
Brian Carroll bunted for a hit to leadoff the sixth to get the Bruins going, but an error on the play also allowed him to take second. From there, it was simple fundamental baseball, with Kevin Kramer hitting a grounder to the right side so Carroll could advance then Filia lifting a fly ball to left, which allowed Carroll to tag and score for the tying run.
LSU put two men on base in an inning for the first time in the bottom of the sixth with a one-out single and two-out walk, but Plutko rose to the occasion. He got Raph Rhymes to lift a 2-2 fastball harmlessly to centerfield and the Bruins got out of the inning.
Kevin Williams was hit by a pitch to start the seventh and proceded to steal two bases, but the Bruins left him there. That looked like it would be the last chance UCLA would have to get Plutko the win, but they got one more and, once again, they took advantage of a LSU error to make their opportunity count.
Pinch hitter Ty Moore led off the eighth by smacking the first pitch he saw to left for a single and Christoph Bono came in to pinch run. Carroll then bunted him over to second, but Kramer flied out and Filia hit what looked like an inning-ending grounder to shortstop. Alex Bregman booted the groundball, though, and Bono, who was running hard on contact, was able to come around to score the go-ahead run to silence the vocal and sizable LSU contingent at TD Ameritrade Park.
The run put Plutko in line for the win and Kaprielian did his part to make sure that he would get it with an easy six-pitch eighth inning. That brought on Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Berg, just like UCLA drew it up.
The Bruins didn't draw up the leadoff man getting on, though. And while Cody Regis started a gorgeous 5-4-3 double play to get UCLA within one out of victory, things didn't get easier for Berg. He walked the next man and that was followed by a single, bringing up the red hot JaCoby Jones. It got worse when Berg three three straight balls to Jones too, but a strike and a foul ball ran the count full. With the tying run taking off from second and the winning run going from first, Berg got the pitch he needed and Jones flied out to seal the UCLA victory.