UCLA pitcher David Berg the next Brett Hundley?
FEB 12, 2014 1:33a ET
The junior pitcher has been an integral part of two UCLA College World Series teams. First as a setup man in 2012 and last year, closing out nearly every game in the Bruins' title run. The goofy right-handed sidearmer from Covina suddenly became one of the game's best pitchers as hitters -- even first-round pick-caliber hitters -- were baffled by his arm angle and movement on the ball. He had the second-best ERA in college baseball (0.92) and led the nation with 24 saves.
Should the Bruins repeat in Omaha, the pressure may be on Berg to stay in Westwood for his senior season.
"You're talking about his junior year, you're talking about two phenomenal years," said head coach John Savage. "When you do it out of nowhere as a freshman, people are caught of guard. People don't know who you are or what you do. When you do it to them again the second year I think it's even more impressive because the book is out -- they know who you are, they know what you're going to do to them."
Berg and the baseball team have gained significant notoriety since their NCAA title last summer, the first baseball title in the school's illustrious championship history. About to begin the road to their title defense, Berg is now one of the faces of the team and excited for the extra notoriety the team has received.
"Before, it was kind of an unseen sport since we're off campus and people definitely knew we had a baseball team and that we were pretty good but no one seemed to pay much attention to it," Berg said. "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."
But it's a different team and a different year. Star pitchers Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig are gone, as is setup man Zach Weiss. The pieces of the lockdown bullpen have shifted as sophomore James Kaprielian will now start on Friday and Tuesday starter Cody Poteet will start on Sunday.
The pitching staff will hopefully be the beneficiary of a slightly hotter offense this season. Last year, the Bruins hit just .250 as a team -- 259th out of 296 teams in the country. Injuries to key players in Eric Filia (out for season) and Kevin Kramer (will DH only to start the season) will be made up by improved play in sophomores Shane Zeile, Ty Moore, Brett Urabe and Christoph Bono.
"Everyone wants to talk about how good or bad our offense was last year, but one thing I'll remind them of was that they always did what was necessary to win games," Berg said. "That's really all we need out of them."
“Everyone wants to talk about how good or bad our offense was last year, but one thing I'll remind them of was that they always did what was necessary to win games.”
Savage is constantly reminded that it's a new season with a new team and while the expectations don't change -- Omaha or bust -- the roles do.
"Realizing that what you've accomplished is now in the rearview mirror," Savage said. "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."
Berg and the Bruins are once again making sure that the Road to Omaha goes through Westwood.