Feb. 14, 2014


Bruins Brace for Best Shots

By Abbey Mastracco

Special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com


LOS ANGELES – Jackie Robinson Stadium has some fancy new additions this season. Nearly everywhere you look, you’re reminded of UCLA’s historic 2013 College World Series run as brand new signs, banners and photos adorn the facility. 


A shiny new trophy sits in the J.D. Morgan Center, the first and only baseball title for a school known for having the most NCAA Championships to its name. 


UCLA won the ultimate prize last season. So where do the Bruins go from there?


Right back to Omaha, they hope. But there’s a lot of work to be done first. 


“What you’ve accomplished is in the rearview mirror,” head coach John Savage said. “Different year, different team, brand new challenge…We have to continue to be who we are, we need to be good teammates, they need to embrace being a good practice team, they need to embrace competition because they are going to be taking everybody’s best punch. There’s no disguising that.”


It is a different team – gone are star pitchers Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig, and key pieces to one of the best bullpens in the country have been moved around. Certain bats are gone, but this year they’re projected to be a much better offensive team. The defense will still be solid – it’s a foundation of Bruins Baseball – but there is no denying that this team looks significantly different than the one that hoisted the trophy. 


But that team laid an important foundation. That team, the one that logged multiple College World Series appearances, was built into a contender by Savage and his staff, and to keep that status, it’s important to not look ahead. It’s only February, there’s no need to look at June right now.


“You’ve got to keep your head in the game,” said All-American closer David Berg (7-0, 0.92 ERA, 24 saves), the CollegeBaseballInsider.com/Louisville Slugger National Pitcher of the Year in 2013. “There’s no promise of Omaha at all. We have a lot of guys who have been there and been there a couple times even, but there’s no guarantees in this game. It’s exciting, but at the same time you can’t really look towards that because that’s the goal, it’s not just going to be given to us, you’ve got to go out there and work really hard and prepare the right way.”


Berg’s role has grown from bullpen arm to star stopper and now team captain. Along with the some of his veteran teammates, Berg and the captains have been tasked with trying to keep some of the younger players’ expectations tempered. But even he admits there is an excitement surrounding the team that didn’t exist around this time last year.


“Before, it was kind of an unseen sport since we’re off campus,” Berg said. “People definitely knew we had a baseball team and that we were pretty good, but no one seemed to pay much attention to it. But after everything that happened last year and the good TV exposure and all of the hype around it, it definitely created a lot more attention, a lot more people are excited and we’re excited to have a lot more of our students come out and check us out this year.”


The bar was set in 2010 when the Bruins reached the College World Series final, only to fall short against South Carolina. In 2012, it became Omaha or bust and after last year’s performance, the Bruins aren’t ready for any drop off. The same work that was put in last season, if not more, will still be expected in 2014.


“You know, we just have to try and go out there and repeat our success,” Berg said. “It’s a new team, a lot of new faces playing. I think we’ve just got to prepare the same way we did last year with the same intent and focus and trust the plan we have for us and go from there.”


(photo by Sean Ryan)