Special Moment Was “Bruin” For UCLA

June 26, 2013
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This seemingly simple word was central to a common mantra from UCLA baseball head coach John Savage and his players during the various media sessions at the 2013 College World Series. Their sound bites may not have always been overly exciting, but they were grounded in fundamental concepts (for baseball & life): pitching, defense, situational hitting, role players, practice, hard work, focused improvement, and rising to the occasion.

photo of UCLA’s Nick Vander Tuig by Pete LaFleur/CB360  

It was a 2013 College World Series where a lot happened (12 games, extended over an 11-day span). But, for many, it was a CWS where a lot did not happen … namely runs, home runs (you know, like in the “old days”).

At the end of the (11) day(s), UCLA clearly was a deserving NCAA champion. The Bruins won all 10 of their NCAA Tournament games: first in their home regional (5-3 vs. San Diego State, 6-4 vs. Cal Poly, and 6-0 vs. San Diego); then, in an impressive two games at national 5-seed Cal State Fullerton (5-3, 3-0); and finally during a 5-0 run at Omaha’s TD Ameritrade Stadium. The Bruins opened bracket play at the CWS with a pair of tense 2-1 wins (vs. national 4-seed LSU and surging NC State), followed by a 4-1 victory over North Carolina, the top-seeded team in all the land. The Championship Series vs. Mississippi State included yet another close score, with the Bruins winning 3-1, but UCLA closed out the title by leaving no doubt in the decisive second game, winning 8-0.

As the only 2012 CWS team that returned to Omaha in 2013, UCLA likely benefitted from the previous year’s experience as one of those final eight teams. Three of the 2012 CWS teams (Stony Brook, Kent State and ’12 champion Arizona) failed to even make the 2013 NCAA Tournament field, while Florida and Arkansas bowed out in the regional round, followed by Florida State and South Carolina in the super regionals.

We are in the process of compiling an assortment of CWS general wrapup notes (along with other reflections on the 2013 season), but here’s a look at some of the factors behind UCLA’s 2013 NCAA title-winning fortnight (roughly, rounding up!) in Omaha. We also have a nice collection of video interviews from the final few days in Omaha, to be posted soon (driving back to Colorado, but will check back later in the week–PL).

. . .  

NCAA TITLE #109 (or #1?) – Baseball became the 19th different varsity program as UCLA to win an NCAA team title, extending UCLA’s total to 109 NCAA titles over the years (most by any Division I athletic department) … UCLA’s 109 NCAA team titles now include 72 in men’s sports (10 different programs) & 37 in women’s sports (8 programs) … UCLA’s 72 NCAA men’s titles include: 19–volleyball, 16–tennis, 11–basketball, 8–water polo, 8–outdoor track & field, 4–soccer, 2–golf, 2–gymnastics, .1–swimming & diving 1–baseball … UCLA’s 37 NCAA women’s titles: 11–softball, 7–water polo, 6–gymnastics, 4–volleyball, 3–golf, 3–outdoor track & field, 2–indoor track & field, 1–tennis … UCLA women’s soccer, led by new coach Amanda Cromwell (formerly at UCF), clearly now the most prominent Bruins program without an NCAA title.

PITCHERS (NEAR) PERFECT – UCLA’s pitching staff allowed one run in each of its first four games at the 2013 College World Series, followed by the shutout in the Championship Series game-2 win over Mississippi State t0 do deliver the NCAA title … the Bruins pitchers – led by 34 of 45 innings pitched by starters Adam Plutko, Nick Vander Tuig and Grant Watson – posted a 0.80 staff ERA at the CWS, while limiting the opposition to .175 batting (28 hits) and compiling a 3-1 K-to-walk ratio (27/9).

WORKING OUT OF TROUBLE – Despite allowing an average of nine baserunners per game at the 2013 CWS, the UCLA pitchers left baserunners stranded (or erased them) at an impressive rate throughout the five games … the opposition offenses (LSU, NC State, North Carolina, and Mississippi State) put 46 runners on base via hits (28), walks (9), hit batters (6) or errors (3), but only four came around to score – a lowly conversion ratio of one run every 11.5 baserunners (37 were left on base, four erased on double plays and one thrown out trying to score from second base on a single) … the UCLA opponents combined to hit 1-for-30 with runners in scoring position during the 2013 CWS, with the lone hit coming from NC State’s Trea Turner (RBI single in the 3rd, vs. Nick Vander Tuig) … opponents hit .129 overall with runners on-base vs. the Bruins (8-for-62), meaning that slightly more than half of those chances involved a runner on first but none in scoring position.

SITUATIONALLY SPEAKING: More situational/analysis stats for the UCLA pitchers during the 2013 College World Series
• 10-of-45 opposing leadoff batters (22.2%) reached vs. UCLA, but only two scored – NC State’s Bryan Adametz (hit-by-pitch in the 3rd) and UNC’s Cody Stubbs (single in the 9th)
• When UCLA pitchers retired the leadoff batter, they went on to not allow a run in that inning 33 of 35 times (94.3%)
• The Bruins closed out innings at a high rate, allowing only .104 opp. batting with 2-outs (5-for-48)
• As expected, the predominantly righthanded-pitching UCLA staff held the opposing RH hitters to a .141 batting avg. (10-for-71) at the CWS

STRONG AT THE START – UCLA did not allow any runs in the 1st or 2nd innings throughout the 2013 CWS (LSU scored in bottom of the 4th, NC State b-3rd, UNC t-9th, Mississippi State b-4th) … over the course of its five CWS games, the UCLA pitchers held the opposing hitters to a .118 batting avg. in the 1st-2nd innings (4-for-34; one double), with only one walk and eight strikeouts spanning those 10 total innings.

LIMITED ADVANCEMENT – The UCLA pitchers allowed only two extra-base hits throughout the entire 2013 CWS, spanning 45 innings … both of those hits came from LSU vs. Adam Plutko, on the opening weekend (an early double by Mark Laird and Mason Katz’s solo home run).

DYNAMIC DUO – UCLA’s pair of junior RHPs both went 2-0 at the 2013 CWS, with Adam Plutko beating LSU (2-1, opposite Tigers ace Aaron Nolan) and then defeating Mississippi State in the first title series game, while Nick Vander Tuig posted the winners-bracket win over NC State and the title-clinching victory over Mississippi State … Plutko posted a 1.38 ERA at the CWS, in 13 innings (2 runs, 8 hits/.167 opp. avg., 3 walks, hit batter, balk, 4 strikeouts and a fielding error) … Vander Tuig’s lowly 0.60 ERA at the CWS spanned 15 innings (2R–9H/.170–BB–HB–wild pitch–12K), capped by eight shutout innings in the final game vs. Miississippi State (5H–BB–6K).

CUPBOARD NOT BARE – While UCLA is likely to lose Adam Plutko and NickVander Tuig to the professional ranks, the team‘s third starter at the 2013 CWS, sophomore LHP Grant Watson, is set to return for 2014 … Watson (6IP–4H–BB–3K) picked up the win over North Carolina that sent the Bruins on to the CWS Championship Series … Weiss finished with a 3.01 ERA for the 2013 season (Vander Tuig led the starters at 2.16, while Plutko ended at 2.25) … talented freshman RHP Cody Poteet, UCLA’s #4 starter in 2013, also is due to return in 2014 (he did not pitch at the CWS) … two key relievers from UCLA’s 2013 CWS staff also are due to return: hard-throwing fr. RH setup man James Kaprielian (3 GP in Omaha, 3IP–BB–3K) and sophomore RH closer David Berg (5 GP at the 2013 CWS, 6.2IP–R–6H–3BB–5K), whose three saves in Omaha gave him an NCAA record 24 for the season … UCLA used six total pitchers at the 2013 CWS, with the other being yet another junior RHP (Zack Weiss) who could join Plutko and Vander Tuig in moving on to professional baseball (Vander Tuig was a a 6th-round pick of the S.F. Giants, Weiss also was tabbed in the 6th, b7 the Cincinnati Reds, and Plutko was an 11th-round selection of the Cleveland Indians).

WHATEVER IT TAKES – The UCLA offense hit only .227 at the 2013 College World Series (34 hits) but still managed to manufacture 19 runs, thanks to 22 free passes (16 walks plus six hit batters) while dropping down 12 sacrifice bunts, launching three sac. flies and executing 5-of-6 stolen-base attempts … when runners were on base, the Bruins batters hit .286, nearly 60 points higher than their overall CWS average … and in prime RBI chances, with a runner on third & fewer than two outs, UCLA produced the RBI 8 of 12 times (67%).

YOU NEVER KNOW – During a World Series in which he did a little bit of everything (including a running catch against the fence in gm-1 vs. Mississippi State), UCLA so. rightfielder/3-hole hitter Eric Filia even executed a suicide squeeze bunt for the first time all season, giving the Bruins a 2-0 lead on Mississippi State in the third inning of the title-clinching game (Pat Valaika followed moments later with an RBI single) … Filia led UCLA at the 2013 CWS with a .333 batting avg. (5-for-15; 2B) and eight RBI, also reaching twice on free passes (BB–HB), stealing a base and executing a pair of sacrifice bunts to go along with two sac. flies … Filia played a huge role in UCLA’s 8-run output that helped clinched the NCAA title, driving in five of those runs while batting 2-for-3 along with the safety squeeze and one of his sac. flies (one night earlier in the 3-1 win over the ‘Dogs, he went 2-for-3 with two other RBI and a double).

A CASE FOR THE DEFENSE – The final stats for the 2013 College World Series showed that the teams hit a combined .237 with a 2.54 combined ERA and a .975 fielding pct., but errors proved costly for several teams as the 27 total errors in the 14 games led to 16 of the 86 runs (19%) being unearned … UCLA certainly was the exception when it came to costly defense, as the Bruins did not allow an unearned run at the 2013 CWS while the UCLA position players had a lofty .989 fielding pct. in Omaha (the lone errors were by SS Pat Valaika in gm-1 vs. LSU & 1B Pat Gallagher in finale vs. Mississippi State; RHP Adam Plutko had the team’s third E the previous night) … by contrast, the runner-up Bulldogs totaled seven errors at the CWS, leading to five of 20 runs by the opposition being unearned.

DANCING TO HIS OWN BEAT – A couple of us in the pressbox at TD Ameritrade Park nicknamed UCLA senior second baseman Cody Regis the “Dancing Bear” on the second day of the 2013 CWS, after the veteran  infielder turned a huge 9th-inning double play to help close out the 2-1 win over national 4-seed LSU … Regis (listed at 6-2/235, not a prototypical second baseman’s frame) took the feed from third baseman Kevin Kennedy and combined quick footwork with deft execution to complete the 5–4–3 DP … eight days later, Regis – a prep shortstop who has played mostly third base during his UCLA career – was part of another big late-inning double play, this time starting a 4-6-3 sequence to help close out the 3-1 win over Mississippi State (the “big-league” play saw Regis slide to his right for a sweeping, glove-to-glove scoop over to shortstop Pat Valaika) … Regis endured the disappointment of not being drafted as a junior in 2012 or this year, but he closed his career by playing error-free on 26 fielding chances at the CWS … at the plate, Regis went 2-for-4, scored twice and drove in another run in his final collegiate game (his hit-and-run single three days earlier gave UCLA an early lead in the win over UNC that sent the Bruins to the title series).

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