June 24, 2013

   Game 1 Notes

Berg's Transformation

Bruins Take Game 1


By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

sean@collegebaseballinsider.com @collbaseball

(photos by Craig Jackson)


OMAHA, Neb. – Through four games at the College World Series, UCLA hasn’t tinkered with its tried-and-true recipe. Mix tremendous starting pitching with equal parts brilliant defense and situational hitting. Repeat.


The result Monday night in Game 1 of the Championship Series with Mississippi State was “kind of a Bruin game” as UCLA coach John Savage called it, code for another tight win that could have gone either way.


Adam Plutko turned in another solid outing, and the opportunistic Bruins continued their trend of building a slim lead and making it stand in a 3-1 win over the Bulldogs before a crowd of 25,690 at TD Ameritrade Park. The Bruins (48-17) moved within one win of the program’s first national championship. The Bulldogs (51-19) will need a win Tuesday night to force a winner-take-all game in the best-of-three series. 


“We dodged some bullets, there’s no doubt about it,” Savage said.


Plutko (10-3), throwing for the second time in Omaha, allowed four hits and one earned run and struck out two in six-plus innings. For the fourth straight game at the CWS, a Bruins starter went deep into the game and yielded only four hits – in 26 innings, UCLA starters have allowed 16 hits and three earned runs.


Not to be outdone, Bruins closer David Berg, appearing in his 50th game for the second straight season (an NCAA record), tossed 1.2 scoreless innings for his nation’s best 24th save, which set an NCAA Division-I record. But it didn’t come easy as C.T. Bradford and pinch-hitter Sam Frost singled to put runners on first and second with one out. But Berg got a popout and come-backer to end the game.


“The last 24 saves don’t mean a thing, the only one that matters is the next one,” Berg said, later adding, “A record without going out and winning this thing really wouldn’t be worth it.”


UCLA scored a run in the first despite three strikeouts from Bulldogs starter Trevor Fitts (0-1) – the second of which bounced in front of the plate and off catcher Nick Ammirati for a wild pitch to put Kevin Kramer on first.


After Eric Filia’s double down the left-field line put runners at second and third, Pat Valaika stroked a single to center for a 1-0 lead. Fitts minimized the damage by striking out Pat Gallagher and getting a nice diving play from first baseman Wes Rea, who flipped to Fitts covering first to end the frame.


“We know our pitching is phenomenal, and we just really try to build the momentum,” Filia said. “But we’re really big on passing the baton…and trying to get momentum through the lineup.”


In the third, 9-hole hitter Brenton Allen singled with one out off reliever Chad Girodo and moved all the way to third when Brian Carroll’s sacrifice – which appeared might roll foul – was fielded but thrown up the line by Ammirati. Kramer struck out, before Carroll stole second base, and on a full count, Filia (2 for 3) singled Allen and Carroll in to give the Bruins a 3-0 lead.


“He really threw his plus-pitch, which was his slider, and I was really focusing on that pitch,” said Filia, who went 2 for 3.


The Bulldogs (51-19) scratched back in the fourth as Plutko, who had retired nine straight to open the game, labored through the inning – he entered the frame with 33 pitches and added 31 in the inning.


Alex Detz singled with one out, and after striking out Hunter Renfroe for the second time, Plutko surrendered a single to Brett Pirtle (2 for 4) and hit Rea to load the bases. He then walked Bradford to score Detz, but escaped the inning when Trey Porter laced a shot to right, where Filia was there to make the grab and keep the score 3-1.


“The biggest blow in the entire ballgame is bases loaded and our guy gets the pitch he wants and just absolutely hammers a line drive into right field and he’s out,” Bulldogs coach John Cohen said. “That’s how the game works sometimes. You get the pitch you want. You do everything the right way, and it doesn’t happen for you.”


Countered Savage: “We pitched out of some problems. I thought Adam was fairly sharp. He competed. I thought he was sharp early, ran into trouble in the fourth inning. I thought that was a good “1” – that could have been more.”


UCLA, per usual, relied on its pitching and defense from there.


Filia made a tremendous running and leaping grab before hitting the wall in right to rob Ammirati of extra bases to open the fifth inning.


“Once he hit it, I just put my head down, saw the warning track and knew that I had 3½ steps to the fence and jumped up at the perfect time,” Filia said.


The seventh inning got off to a promising start for Mississippi State as Porter singled to end Plutko’s night, and Ammirati walked against reliever James Kaprielian. Demarcus Henderson failed in two attempts to get a sacrifice down before hitting a hard grounder up the middle, where Bruins second baseman Cody Regis backhanded and glove-flipped to shortstop Valaika to start a 4-6-3 double play.


After Zack Weiss hit Renfroe with one out in the eighth, Berg entered and induced another 4-6-3 double play, this one coming off the bat of Pirtle. Before Berg ran into a bit of trouble in the ninth, Kramer opened the inning with a nice, hard-charging play on Rea’s bouncer to third.


Girodo was fantastic for the Bulldogs, allowing three hits and two unearned runs and striking out nine in 7.2 innings. But Mississippi State finds itself needing two wins in two nights against a hot team that is making all its breaks.


“You know, it’s frustrating: You feel like you put yourselves in a great chance to win a game over and over again,” Cohen said. “And they hit balls in spots of the field that found grass, and we hit balls that found gloves.”