LOS ANGELES — UCLA earned a second-straight berth the NCAA Super Regionals playing baseball the best way the Bruins knew how: the Bruin Way.
On Sunday night, facing a scrappy third-seeded San Diego team that had played its way out of the losers’ bracket, the Bruins simply dominated right from the opening pitch. Top-seeded UCLA allowed just one hit in a 6-0 shutout of the Toreros at Jackie Robinson Stadium in the Los Angeles Regional Championship game to advance in the playoffs and further solidify its status one of the nation’s truly elite programs.
“I thought we played Bruin baseball the entire weekend,” said coach John Savage. “We pitched, we played solid defense, and we had enough quality at-bats throughout the entire weekend.”
There were no comeback theatrics, pitch-tipping scandals or lucky bounces for UCLA (42-17) in the final game. Grant Watson (8-3) had one of the finest outings of any pitcher all weekend, going seven innings and giving up just a single hit while blanking five.
A four-run first inning provided the majority of the Bruins’ offense, allowing them to cruise the rest of the game.
“It’s a lot easier to play when you’re up four,” said shortstop Pat Valaika. “Grant threw the ball extremely well today. I think we only faced 29 batters total. It was good tempo. It felt like we were always hitting and never on defense.”
“They’re a juggernaut here at Jackie Robinson stadium,” said San Diego head coach Rich Hill. Pat Gallagher was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, hitting .556 with two runs and four RBI on the weekend and four other players were named to the all-tournament team.
But while it was a team effort, the body of work by Savage in the postseason can’t be ignored. Savage’s teams are 25-14 in six postseason appearances, including two College World Series trips, and his 25 postseason wins are one shy of UCLA’s all-time record.
UCLA will stay local next weekend, traveling down to Orange County to face Cal State Fullerton at Goodwin Field. Game times will be announced by the NCAA Monday night.
Old school vs. new school
Max Homick threw just 16 pitches in San Diego’s elimination game win over Cal Poly. Hill decided to take a gamble with his pitcher, who was already warm, and have him start the Championship game against UCLA just 55 minutes later.
“Real old school stuff,” Hill said following the win over the second-seeded Mustangs. “We love it, and that’s us.”
However, Homick couldn’t even get out of the first inning. He faced seven batters, giving up four earned runs. Michael Wagner came in with one out in the first and went the rest of the game, scattering two earned runs on four hits.
“Hindsight is 20-20,” Hill said. “We wanted to go a couple times around the lineup to get to Michael who was going to be fresh… We really felt we had to use both guys and if Max had sat down and then had to get warm again I don’t think he would have been that effective.”
Savage, Pat Valaika & Grant Watson during the postgame press
conference following UCLA’s 6-0 win over USD. twitter.com/UCLABaseball/s…
Cal Poly (40-19) isn’t a regular in the postseason, but head coach Larry Lee thinks they could be if they play the RPI game right. But playing the game isn’t that easy for many Big West schools.
“We’re fighting tradition in the Big West. (Cal State) Fullerton has had this thing going since the mid-70s and we’re trying to play catch up,” Lee said. “RPI worked this year – don’t ask me how – and we played quality non-conference schedules in the past and it seems like we’re always around 55-65 in the RPI.”
Wins at Kansas State and Notre Dame aided the Mustangs in the RPI significantly, but Cal Poly isn’t a program that typically has the ability to make regular road trips of that caliber.
“If we were located near a major airport and had enough money and we didn’t mind missing class time, you could possibly set up your schedule to have a high RPI but it’s unrealistic where we are,” Lee said. “When you win 40 games on the West Coast, that’s saying something. It’s very difficult to win ballgames out here because our midweek games are against strong opponents and it’s just tough to get a Regional berth out here because of RPI.”
Around the Big West
Cal State Fullerton is the last remaining Big West team after Cal Poly and UC Santa Barbara were eliminated. No. 2 seed Texas A&M avenged an opening round loss to the Gauchos in today’s elimination game in the Corvallis, Ore., Regional, topping Santa Barbara 5-4.
The top-seeded Titans’ three starting pitchers combined to allow only two earned runs all weekend with Thomas Eshelman recoding the win in Fullerton’s 6-1 victory over No. 2 Arizona State on Sunday at Goodwin Field.