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UCLA baseball defeats North Carolina, advances to championship series

By Tyler Drohan

June 21, 2013 11:22 p.m.

On the biggest stage in collegiate baseball, it was a pair of former walk-ons who found themselves under the largest microscope for UCLA with a trip to the championship series of the College World Series at stake.

Sophomore starter Grant Watson, who hadn’t pitched in nearly three weeks, made things look easy against top-seeded North Carolina, working six shutout innings. Fellow former walk-on, sophomore closer David Berg, was supposed to have the easy part.

Berg, the Pac-12 pitcher of the year, came into the game with a four-run lead and three outs away from sending the school to its second-ever CWS Final. He immediately loaded the bases with no outs, eventually surrendering a run and loading the bases again with a walk to bring the winning run to the plate.

But Berg induced UNC designated hitter Landon Lassiter into a lineout to end the game, giving UCLA a 4-1 win Friday night to advance to the championship series for the second time in four years.

“He’s our guy. That’s who we’re going to go to. He’s one of the major reasons why we’re here,” said coach John Savage of Berg.

Instead of trotting out junior ace Adam Plutko on four days of rest, Savage turned the ball over to the well-rested Watson. Savage didn’t stress over the decision, saying after the game that he thought about it for less than five seconds.

“We know how good Grant is. … He was ready to pitch, and I think he showed the whole country he can pitch on a big stage,” Savage said.

Watson repaid his coach’s faith with an efficient performance, allowing just four hits while striking out three on just 69 pitches before exiting in the seventh.

“I was trying to go pitch to pitch, concentrating on hitting location since I know North Carolina has a bunch of great hitters,” Watson said.

After Watson allowed a lead-off single to open the seventh, freshman reliever James Kaprielian came on to maintain UCLA’s 2-0 lead posting a pair of strikeouts.

Junior shortstop Pat Valaika doubled the Bruins’ advantage in the bottom of the seventh, doubling down the left field line to bring in two runs, his first hit of the CWS.

UCLA’s lone senior and the only current player on 2010’s national runner-up team, second baseman Cody Regis, got the Bruins out in front early.

Regis poked a single through the right side of the infield in the bottom of the second inning to drive in the first run of the game with junior designated hitter Kevin Williams driving in another run with an RBI single in the sixth. Regis noted there isn’t much different between the team now and in 2010 when it lost to South Carolina in the CWS Final.

“We’re hot at the right time (and) we’re playing as a team,” Regis said.

UCLA (47-17) will continue its stay on the big stage when the Bruins take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs (51-18) in a best-of-three series beginning Monday.

“It’s about taking advantage of your opportunities and not giving them any opportunities,” Williams said. “Everything matters and every little thing is magnified.”

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