After regional, super regional, and CWS opening round play, the beast that is Omaha chose the final two teams that would battle for the NCAA title and status as the premier team in college baseball. Those two teams are the UCLA Bruins and the Mississippi State Bulldogs, who kicked off the best of three games championship series on Monday night.
Both teams entered the game with the ultimate goal of bringing home the first NCAA baseball title in their schools’ histories. With a 3-1 victory in game one, the Bruins were able to move closer to that realized goal and will look to finalize that realization on Tuesday with a two-game sweep of the Bulldogs.
Coming into the series, the Bruins would have to be able to keep up with the potent Mississippi State offense by capitalizing on mistakes (which they have consistently and effectively done throughout postseason play), producing strong pitching performances, and mustering up as much offensive firepower as possible.
The Bruins did exactly that on Monday evening, striking early in the first inning. Although Bulldogs starter Trevor Fitts struck out Brian Carroll and Kevin Kramer to start the game, Eric Filia would follow with a double and would come around to score on an RBI double by Pat Valaika, giving UCLA an early 1-0 lead.
UCLA would score once again in the fourth, a two-run effort that began on a Brenton Allen single to left field and would later be cemented by a costly defensive miscue by the Mississippi State defense.
With Allen on first, Carroll laid down a sacrifice that would be fielded by Bulldogs catcher Nick Ammirati; however, Ammirati’s throw would run wild, allowing Carroll to reach base and advancing Allen to third (Carroll would go on to steal second).
Filia would approach the plate with two outs, ripping a single to right that would score both Allen and Carroll, giving the Bruins a 3-0 lead and making the Bulldogs pay for Ammirati’s errant throw.
All the while, UCLA ace Adam Plutko would cruise early, retiring the first 10 batters he faced in the game. However, the Bulldogs would break up Plutko’s rhythm with a single by Alex Detz in the bottom of the fifth.
Despite getting Hunter Renfroe to strike out swinging, Plutko would surrender a single to Brett Pirtle and plunk Wes Rea with a pitch to load the bases. Plutko would then walk C.T. Bradford with the bases loaded to put the Bulldogs on the board, trailing by just two runs heading into the fifth.
However, the bats would cool off following the fourth, as Plutko would continue to breeze through the game before being pulled in the seventh inning. In all, Plutko turned in another strong postseason outing, going six innings of one run ball and surrendering just four hits, while striking out two and walking one in typical Plutko-like fashion.
While Plutko was strong, the Bulldogs’ Chad Girodo was masterful in a relief appearance, entering the game in the second to take over for Fitts.
Girodo worked 7 2/3 innings, surrendering two runs (both unearned) and striking out nine, while walking just two. Girodo registered three 1-2-3 innings in the effort, but it wouldn’t be enough to overcome the Bruins on Monday night.
With one out and a runner on first in the bottom of the eighth, David Berg made his 100th career appearance for the Bruins, coming into the game to finish off the inning and help close out the first game of the series.
Berg would do just that, getting Pirtle to ground into the inning-ending double play.
The star closer would return in the ninth, getting Rea to ground out to third for the first out. Following a Bradford single that skirted just below the glove of Valaika, Sam Frost would bloop a single into shallow left to put two runners aboard. Berg would get Ammirati to fly out to left for the second out and follow by getting Henderson to ground back to the mound, securing the third out and game one of the championship series for the Bruins.
With the save Berg would break the single-season record for saves, recording his 24th save of a 2013 season that has been clutch for the UCLA closer.
The Bruins did exactly what they had to do on Monday, executing the perfect pitches and plays, taking advantage of mistakes and prime opportunities, and playing their heart out.
UCLA will look to game two on Tuesday night against Mississippi State, as they look to close out the 2013 College World Series with their first NCAA title in school history, capping a college baseball season that has showcased its fair share of surprises, upsets, and lasting memories.