UCLA continued its stay on the easy path by again doing things the hard way.
The Bruins are now one win away from advancing to the national championship series of the College World Series for the first time since 2010. They did so by winning another tight game, taking a 2-1 win over North Carolina State on Tuesday night.
With another nerve-wracking one-run victory that saw UCLA junior starter Nick Vander Tuig chewing a paper cup in the dugout during a particularly tricky situation in the eighth inning, the Bruins improved to 17-2 in one-run games and continued on in the winner’s side of their bracket.
“Our guys know our strength, and sometimes it’s walking a tightrope,” said coach John Savage.
Scuffling at the plate to start the game, UCLA (46-17) finally got to NC State with two runs in the top of the fifth to take the lead for good.
Senior second baseman Cody Regis began the Bruins’ rally with a full-count, one out walk. After a single by junior left fielder Brenton Allen and another walk, sophomore third baseman Kevin Kramer lifted a single to center to tie the game.
Following a pop out, Allen scored the go-ahead run on a wild pitch to give UCLA a 2-1 advantage.
“It’s more of a mentality with us. We try to grind out runs, and like Coach says, take advantage of opportunities,” Kramer said of the Bruins’ offensive approach.
Despite a shaky third inning in which NC State (50-15) scored a run and had a player thrown out at the plate, Vander Tuig was overall steady in seven-plus innings. He worked five perfect frames and left the game after surrendering a leadoff single in the eighth.
Sophomore closer David Berg came on and hit the first batter he faced to put runners at first and second with no outs.
Berg battled back, however, getting a force out at third on an attempted sacrifice bunt. NC State shortstop Trea Turner thought he’d put his team in front on the very next pitch, raising his right hand in the air out of the box after hitting the ball deep to left.
But the spacious ballpark kept Turner’s fly ball in play and redshirt freshman left fielder Christoph Bono made a running catch at the warning track for the second out of the inning. Berg got the next batter to strike out swinging to escape the threat.
“I knew he got a good swing on it. … My heart sunk a little bit,” Berg said. “Luckily Christoph went out and a made a great play for me, and I was able to get out of that inning.”
Things still weren’t settled for the Bruins, however.
Berg allowed a one-out single in the bottom of the ninth to bring the winning run to the plate, but again recovered, slamming the door on the Wolfpack with back-to-back strikeouts to end the game. With his 23rd save of the season, Berg tied the all-time NCAA season saves record.
UCLA will face the winner of Thursday night’s game between North Carolina and North Carolina State on Friday. After yet another win the hard way, Savage said he was pleased the Bruins continue to do things their way.
“You can talk about pitching and defense all you want, but these guys are executing things,” the coach said. “We’re winning a lot of different ways. And right now we’re winning our way.”