UCLA finding ways to win despite lack of offense
JUN 19, 2013 10:48p ET
ESPN play-by-play announcers Mike Patrick and Orel Hershiser have fixated on the Bruins’ batting average, which has actually dropped two points in its first two games to .249 – both 2-1 wins, consistently in awe of what the UCLA has accomplished with an average hovering only halfway above the Mendoza line.
But that same offense that some said couldn’t hit water from a boat finds itself 3-0 in Omaha and into the College World Series final.
“Well, I mean, what can you say? Right now I guess that's who we are. It's Bruin baseball,” said coach John Savage. “Sometimes it's grueling. It's tough to watch, I'm sure, from outside the dugout.”
What has transpired outside the dugout and on the field is scattered hits, textbook bunting, sacrifice flies and strategic pinch hitting, running and defensive substitutions.
In the Tuesday night game against North Carolina State, the Bruins evened things up in the fifth inning when Kevin Kramer looped a bases-loaded single to center field to score Cody Regis from third.
It was the first and only RBI of the entire series for UCLA.
“Opportunistic, would be the right word,” Savage said. “We're a very capable offensive team. I know you look at .250 and the home runs and the run production and batting averages and so forth. But it's not all about that a lot of times.
“I mean, we scored eight runs against Fullerton. I don't know who has done that against Eshleman and Garza. Don't ask me how we did it all the time, but we did it. That's all that matters is putting pressure on people and grinding out at bats.”
UCLA (47-17) has done just enough offensively to stay in and win three of the most important games of the year and it’s become a point of pride and a Bruin brand.
“It's more of a mentality with us,” Kramer said. “We try to grind out runs, and like coach says, take advantage of opportunities. We're not going to put up any gaudy numbers. It's just more so a team effort.”
For all of the talk about the paltry Bruins offense, it plays into a much larger political issue in the sport. BBCOR bats, introduced in 2011, have been the cause of much of the overall decline in offense in college baseball.
That same year, TD Ameritrade Park opened up in downtown Omaha, replacing the beloved Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium. The deep dimensions – 408 dead center and 375 to the gaps – don't allow for a lot of offense. Arguments have been made to bring the fences in at TD Ameritrade.
The Wolfpack’s Trea Turner nearly hit one out of the park in the eighth against David Berg, which would have given the ‘Pack a 3-2 lead and likely the win, but Christoph Bono, one of the Bruins’ many role players, who came into the game as a defensive substitution, tracked it down at the warning track.
“I mean, that's about as good as I can hit a ball right now,” Turner said. “And that could have been the difference in the game.”
Instead, the difference in the ballgame was the ability to pitch and play defense. Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig are both 6-0 and 5-0 in the postseason, respectively, and are Nos. 1 and 2 on the UCLA all-time postseason wins list. David Berg has successfully saved three games and earlier this week was named NCBWA National Stopper of the Year.
As the old adage goes: Offense wins games, defense wins championships.
“The offense, it does get a little frustrating at times,” Kramer said. “But when you have great pitchers like this, we know that we can put up a couple of runs and play defense because we know these guys will take us a long way.”