Offense was the story heading into Sunday’s College World Series matchup between the Louisiana State University Tigers and the UCLA Bruins. LSU boasted the 15th best team batting average entering the contest. UCLA was just a few spots back at No. 253.
But despite the hype of LSU’s hitting, it was pitching and fielding that were the difference makers.
The Bruins got the 2-1 win, as junior pitcher Adam Plutko tamed the dangerous Tigers’ offense and the Bruins scored both their runs off of Tigers errors.
“It’s game one of the World Series, so there’s no celebration. But it could have – at the end it could have gone either way,” said coach John Savage.
“But we are a resilient bunch. And we played a lot of tight games all season long. And I think tonight was somewhat of a typical game for us.”
After three shutdown innings by Plutko, the Tigers pounced on his first mistake, as senior first baseman Mason Katz blasted his 16th home run of the year over the left field fence.
The Bruins offense wasn’t quite as explosive, but it proved to be more effective. UCLA, as it has done all season, scrapped its runs together, capitalizing on errors by LSU (57-10), who held the nation’s fifth best fielding percentage entering the game.
“We always talk about we want to play our game. And we don’t play the opponent, we play our game. … We just were lucky enough to break them down a bit. And I think that was the difference in the ballgame,” Plutko said.
After stranding runners in scoring position in the previous two innings, UCLA (45-17) finally capitalized on an opportunity in the sixth inning.
Junior center fielder Brian Carroll led off with a bunt single and made it to second base on a throwing error. After Carroll advanced to third, sophomore right fielder Eric Filia drove a fly ball to left field, deep enough to allow Carroll to tag and score easily.
“Opportunistic would be the word. That one inning we got an error. We got a ground ball. We got a sac fly. Nola threw five pitches that inning and we got a run,” Savage said.
The Bruins scored their second run in the eighth, when a routine groundball to LSU freshman shortstop Alex Bregman hit off his glove and rolled into centerfield. The miscue allowed redshirt freshman pinch runner Christoph Bono to score from second base and take the lead.
With just a one-run cushion in the ninth inning, sophomore closer David Berg – who was announced as a finalist for the National Pitcher of the Year Award earlier in the day – came in for the save. After allowing runners to reach first and second with two outs, Berg forced a flyout to right field to escape the jam and secure the win.
“I thought I made some good pitches and I did enough. Didn’t have to look pretty but it was good enough for tonight to get the job done,” Berg said.
UCLA now sets its sights on North Carolina State, who it will play on Tuesday.