UCLA averaged three runs per game at the College World Series and Mississippi St. surrendered three runs per game. Odds were, the Bruins would score three runs when the teams met in Game 1 of the College World Series Finals, but would the pitching and defense make that enough to win?
Thanks to Adam Plutko, James Kaprielian, Zack Weiss and David Berg as well as some phenomenal defense -- just like UCLA drew it up -- the Bruins took down the Bulldogs 3-1 on Monday night to move within one game of their first ever baseball national championship.
It was more of the same for UCLA, who has allowed just one run in each of their four College World Series games so far, all wins to improve to 9-0 in the postseason. Plutko earned the win with six innings of one-run ball to improve to 7-0 in the postseason for his career, while David Berg picked up his 24th save to set a new NCAA single-season record.
The pitchers needed help, though, and they got it from Eric Filia. The sophomore went 2-for-3 with two RBI and had a few outstanding plays in right field, including a phenomenal catch against the wall to start the fifth inning. It was just one of many great plays for the UCLA defense, which lived up to its lofty standards by turning two double plays in a nearly flawless game with the gloves.
UCLA struck early and, unsurprisingly, it came with the help of a Bulldogs mistake. A strikeout wild pitch allowed Kevin Kramer to reach with one-out before Filia doubled him over to third. From there, Pat Valaika's single scored Kramer easily and UCLA was out to 1-0 lead.
The Bruins would leave two men on base in the first, which would be a recurring theme on the night. They left two more on in the second and two more in the third, but after so many missed opportunities, they finally made one count in the fourth thanks to Filia.
Brenton Allen got UCLA going with a one-out single and Brian Carroll followed with a great bunt single to put two men on base. It looked like that would just lead to yet another inning ended with men on base, one that would be especially disappointing when both moved into scoring position, but with two outs, Filia came through with a clutch hit. He sat on a 3-2 pitch and roped it to right field for a clean single to score Allen and Carroll easily. All of a suddent, the light-hitting Bruins had themselves a 3-0 lead and their ace on the mound.
Through three innings, Plutko was unhittable. He had sat the Bulldogs down in order in each frame and was never tested by Mississippi St., but that changed in the fourth. A one-out single ended his bid for a perfect game and another single followed. Plutko then hit the next batter with a two-strike pitch to load the bases. The pressure was on and C.T. Bradford didn't help, fouling off several pitches to work the count full before Plutko issued ball four, walking the Bulldogs' first run in. The junior was in trouble and when Trey Porter crushed a 0-1 pitch to right, it looked like Mississippi St. had finally gotten to Plutko, but the ball was right at Filia, who snared the liner for the third out of the inning to strand the bases loaded.
Plutko made things tougher on himself in the fifth with an error and he compounded that with a balk to put a man in scoring position, but he got out of that jam. A one-out single in the sixth kept Plutko under pressure, but once again, he got out of that frame.
John Savage wouldn't give Plutko the chance to get out of his next spat of trouble, though. A leadoff single in the seventh ended his day and in came James Kaprielian. The freshman has been unflappable all season, but the nerves shone through when he walked the first man he faced to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. The spotlight was on Kaprielian, but that's when he found his comfort zone. He induced a sweet 4-6-3 double play to get the first two outs of the inning, then a simple groundout ended the frame with UCLA still up 3-1.
UCLA likes to go from Kaprielian in the seventh to Zack Weiss in the eighth and Berg in the ninth, but if Weiss runs into trouble, Savage is always quick to go to Berg for a multiple-inning save. When Weiss hit a man with one-out in the eighth, that was the trouble that leads to Berg and true to form, Savage went to his closer. It proved to be a masterstroke, too, because Berg was able to induce an inning-ending double play with his second pitch and UCLA was within three outs of the win.
But this Bruins team has never made things easy and this game wouldn't be an exception. Consecutive one-out singles brought the winning run to the plate and brought the very pro-Mississippi St. crowd to their feet. Facing the bottom two men in the Bulldogs' order, Berg was desperate to get the next two outs and avoid the top of the MSU lineup and that's exactly what he got. First it was a fly out, then a simple comebacker which Berg snared, flipped to first and moved the Bruins one win away from the national title.