UCLA well aware of Stony Brook
Cinderella has punched her ticket to the College World Series and will be wearing a Stony Brook uniform.
After defeating LSU in Baton Rouge in the NCAA Super Regionals, the Seawolves advanced to the first College World Series in school history on Sunday, and in the process, gained the attention of a nation.
That includes John Savage's UCLA Bruins, who can even identify where the school is on a map, maybe.
"It's in New York," said UCLA outfielder Jeff Gelalich.
When asked if the rest of his teammates knew that?
"I hope so," he said. "I think most guys do."
For Gelalich's teammates who don't know, Stony Brook is located on Long Island, 50 miles east of Manhattan.
It's a good thing the Bruins don't have to travel there to visit the Seawolves. However, they will see them in Omaha as UCLA (47-14) opens College World Series play on Friday at 2 p.m. PT. As a No. 2 national seed, the Bruins will be favored to get past Stony Brook (52-13), but the underdog Seawolves are certain to be favored by non-UCLA supporters.
"Everybody's heard about them and the run that they've made," Gelalich said. "I think everybody out there is rooting for them."
Savage was one of many to watch the Seawolves’ series clincher against LSU and he didn't see Cinderella but rather a team that belongs in Omaha.
"They've won over 50 games and they've proven they belong. There is no doubt about that, no question about that," Savage said. "It's one of the top programs right now in the country and I don't think anybody questions that. There's a lot of good players, a lot of good teams, they come from everywhere. It's baseball and these guys are on a serious run. They're one of the four teams in our bracket, so we need to deal with them."
Although the Bruins are far from being a Cinderella themselves, after clinching a berth in the College World Series by defeating TCU in the Super Regionals, UCLA is in a spot few thought they would be in this season.
Last season, the Bruins failed to make it back-to-back trips to Omaha despite having two of the top three picks in the 2011 MLB Draft at the top of their rotation. The expectations this season were for the Bruins to take a step back.
Immediately after losing in the regionals to UC Irvine in 2011, the Bruins held their end-of-the-season meeting, where Savage believes chemistry was built and subsequently transferred to this season.
"We sat down and said 'Hey we need to find a different way of doing this.' We gave the ball to Gerrit (Cole) and Trevor (Bauer) the last three years and kind of sat back and let those guys work," Savage said. "We knew that the whole world would be doubting us saying that 'Oh, you guys are going to go away without those two guys.' There just seemed to be an edge to them."
The Bruins have gotten it done with pitching from the top of the rotation through the end of the bullpen. However, the staff, which has a 3.13 ERA, isn't as overpowering as it was in past years. Strikeouts are down with the pitchers pitching to contact and relying on the defense to make plays behind them.
Offense was an issue in 2011, with the Bruins only able to muster 4.4 runs per game. As a team, they hit just .263 — much of it a result of the BBCOR-certified bats that went into play last season.
With a year with the new bats under their belts, production changed in 2012. Runs are up to 6.3 per game and the Bruins are hitting .309 as a team.
"You got to hit, that's the bottom line," Savage said. "The new bat was a major jolt (last year), who's kidding who? It was a major jolt to everyone in the country. Games were much, much tighter last year.
"We did not handle that very well. We clearly didn't swing the bats as good as we did in 2010. Now we've just found that level approach."
A new approach of getting the job done has landed the Bruins in a familiar spot for the second time in three years — the College World Series.
In their last trip to Omaha, the Bruins were bridesmaids, losing to South Carolina in the championship series in 2010. They will travel with a bit of redemption to Omaha, but similar to their last visit, they just want to focus on what got them there.
"We didn't make a big deal about it two years ago and that worked for us," Savage said. "It's baseball, you got to go out there and be yourself and be the team that got you there. It's not as easy as people think but, I think it's a single mindset. I really believe that with more experience and having gone to Omaha (before) you can use that."