To some people, this just didn’t seem like the UCLA baseball’s year. The players struggled with offense on many nights and on the occasions that their bats made contact, their pitching often slumped.
They made it to the College World Series in Omaha, Neb. last year, but with a crew of proven junior veterans who were everyday names in the lineup. With many of those top players gone, to miss the College World Series for a year didn’t seem out of the question in 2013.
But all it takes is a few wins at the right time and the playoff atmosphere to get a team going – and with that, the blue and gold is getting ready to touch down in Omaha next weekend.
After a tough win on Friday night, offense and defense came together in sync. Three first-inning runs laid the groundwork that UCLA’s defense, junior starter Nick Vander Tuig and his relievers – freshman James Kaprielian, junior Zack Weiss and the always reliable sophomore closer David Berg – needed to shut down the Fullerton offense.
“The three runs in the first were huge. Anytime you get a few runs in the first it’s a lot easier to pitch, especially with our defense,” Vander Tuig said. “It’s easy to just throw strikes and make pitches and let the defense work for you.”
All year long, the Bruins (44-17, 21-9 Pac-12) struggled to tame the Titans. While they only played twice, the historic So Cal rivalry worked all in favor of Fullerton (51-10) this year, as they unabashedly went 2-0, once at Jackie Robinson Stadium and once in Fullerton.
Traveling to the No. 5 Titans home ballpark for Super Regionals looked to be a tall order for the Bruins. Even coach John Savage said that most of the country probably expected Fullerton to take the series.
But UCLA baseball has a tradition behind it that did not shrink in the face of a higher ranked team.
“This weekend they were about right in everything they did. They had their guys standing in the right spot,” said Fullerton’s coach Rick Vanderhook, who is the former UCLA hitting coach. “The Bruins were better than us this weekend and we will see them next year, either here or the next weekend.”
Savage acknowledged that it took his team time to come together this year, but with the lights of Omaha ahead of them, the timing looks to have been just fine. “We just formed; we bonded and became a team a couple weeks ago. Whenever you get to Fullerton and win two games, to beat I think the best team in the country says a lot about the character,” Savage said. “Their disciple and their habits you name it, we did it. I think we earned it.”