UCLA baseball had an unusual perspective for Saturday night’s Super Regional game against Texas Christian University.
As the designated away team, UCLA found themselves watching the game from the visiting team’s first base dugout.
However, the shift had no effect on the Bruins’ play, as the Super Regional hosts delivered another dominant performance in a 4-1 win to sweep the Horned Frogs and punch their tickets to the College World Series in Omaha.
Sophomore Nick Vander Tuig started the game for UCLA and pitched six innings, allowing five hits and only one run: a solo homer in the third inning to TCU’s right fielder Brance Rivera. The home run was the Horned Frogs’ only run of the night.
Vander Tuig overcame early nerves to earn his 10th win of the season.
“Coming into the game I was kind of nervous. … Later on I settled down and started making better pitches,” Vander Tuig said, pausing to consider his words about his feelings on reaching the College World Series.
“And going to Omaha, you dream about that when you come into college baseball, and it’s a great feeling to spend it with my teammates.”
Freshman David Berg finished what Vander Tuig started as he appeared in his 47th game of the season for UCLA, moving him into a tie for second place on the NCAA’s all-time list for single-season appearances.
“We just chipped away, this was a typical game for us. We made everything count and I’m very proud of Nick, he pitched extremely well again, back-to-back in the postseason,” coach John Savage said.
Berg faced and retired five consecutive batters through the seventh and eighth innings before TCU was able to get a hit off him, and closed out the game in the ninth inning as well.
Savage called the decision to leave Berg the toughest one he’s made all season.
“We would not be in this position without (junior closer) Scott Griggs, and I did feel bad. … I told him in the clubhouse that he is our closer, he’s going to be our closer in Omaha,” Savage said.
“I played the hot hand with Berg; they weren’t picking him up and I didn’t want to change.”
The first six batters in UCLA’s lineup reached base safely on the night as the Bruins consistently managed to manufacture runs while the Horned Frogs struggled from the third inning onwards.
Junior first baseman Trevor Brown got the Bruins going with a triple in the second inning that resulted in the Bruins’ first run thanks to a sacrifice fly by sophomore shortstop Pat Valaika.
“We’re not a power-hitting team. … We work really hard to pass the baton and get the next guy to the plate and wear people down,” Valaika said.
“It worked tonight and it’s been working all season.”
UCLA worked together for another small-ball run in the third inning, as freshman Kevin Kramer singled and advanced to third off a single by junior center fielder Beau Amaral.
Junior catcher Tyler Heineman’s sacrifice bunt was the catalyst for the Bruins’ second run.
The Bruins’ third and fourth runs were unearned, as junior right fielder Jeff Gelalich and Amaral scored in the sixth and seventh innings off of two TCU errors ““ both passed balls.
The combination of UCLA’s defense and TCU’s errors was too much for the Horned Frogs to overcome.
This will be the second time in three years that UCLA has reached the College World Series. They lost 4-3 to Irvine in the Regional round last year and were eliminated by South Carolina in the CWS in 2010.
Brown is one of the members of the junior class that played in the College World Series as freshmen.
He felt that there were similarities between this year’s team and the one from his freshman year.
“I feel like we had a really good chemistry and leadership my freshman year, and I feel like this team is very similar to that,” Brown said.
“We have great starting pitching and a great lineup, and I’m just really excited that this team has the opportunity to go to Omaha as well,” Brown said.
Savage also commented on the likenesses between this team and the 2010 squad.
“At the end of the day it’s a strong-minded team, it’s a team that gets along with each other,” Savage said.
“It’s a team that every time they step on the field, they think they can win, and that says a lot about their character.”