Los Angeles TimesTwo years ago, UCLA’s Rob Rasmussen trudged away from his first postseason game with a “bitter feeling,” toting a loss to Cal State Fullerton with him.
On Sunday, Rasmussen’s emotions were on the other end of the spectrum against the Titans.
He pumped his fist after a strike to end the seventh inning. He all but hopped, skipped and jumped after breezing through the eighth. He flung his glove high in the air after a lazy fly-ball out finished off an 8-1 victory over Fullerton at Jackie Robinson Stadium that sent the Bruins to the College World Series.
UCLA was one out from being eliminated Saturday before rallying to win, 11-7. Sunday’s game lacked that drama, as the Bruins coasted into their first College World Series since 1997 on a two-hitter by Rasmussen. UCLA will play Florida in the first game on either Saturday or Sunday.
“This exorcises some demons,” Rasmussen said. “I wanted this really bad because of what they did two years ago. I came out and tried to attack them.”
The Bruins (48-14) have never won a World Series game in two trips to Omaha. But then they had never got past Fullerton in postseason before either, losing three times.
“My first postseason experience was getting eliminated by Fullerton,” Rasmussen said this week. “That definitely motivates you.”
There was a lot of Fullerton baggage for the Bruins, “we needed to do this as a program,” Coach John Savage said.
The victory was only the fifth victory in 24 games against the Titans since Savage became UCLA’s coach in 2005.
Fullerton also eliminated UCLA on the way to the national title in 1979.
But Rasmussen said, “playing Fullerton this year doesn’t feel like it did the past couple years, with the ‘we’re not going to get over this hill’ thoughts.”
Rasmussen (11-2) did his part Sunday. He retired 15 consecutive batters before walking Richie Pedroza to start the ninth inning. He then finished off the first complete game of his UCLA career. Rasmussen struck out nine and walked only one.
“He had that chip on his shoulder,” Fullerton’s Christian Colon said. “He wanted to make sure our offense was quiet.”
The Bruins backed him with some timely hits and received some breaks.
Fullerton (46-18) was without Gary Brown (broken finger) and second baseman Corey Jones (shoulder). Titans center fielder Joey Siddons misplayed a line drive by Tyler Rahmatulla, an error that let in two runs to break a 1-1 tie in third inning.
But the Bruins earned runs as well, with Beau Amaral driving in three, two on an eighth-inning home run.