The UCLA Baseball team is the NCAA “College World Series”, (CWS), national champions. To the Bruin Nation, the sound of national champion is sometimes taken for granted. It has been a long time coming as the UCLA Bruins sweep a very tough Mississippi State team, two games to none in the three game CWS. UCLA’s 108 national championship count just increased to 109 as their baseball team adds their first championship to the heritage.
UCLA started the regular season with a chip on their shoulder. Under Head Coach John Savage, the Bruins had made it to the CWS two of the last three years, but were only able to smell a championship, but not taste one. One the Bruins top hitters Eric Filia told the coaches when he first arrived at UCLA that he was coming to win a national championship. The scent of a championship was not enough for Filia and his Bruin teammates. The 2013 Bruins were on a mission to do what no other UCLA Baseball teams have been able to do.
Gary Adams, UCLA’s previous head coach has tasted the sweet nectar that comes with winning a national championship. Adams won two national championship titles at UC Irvine before becoming the Bruins’ skipper in 1975. Adams even shared an office with the legendary UCLA basketball Coach Wooden who had just retired in 1975 winning his tenth national title in twelve years.
Coach Adams was not able to lead the Bruins to a national championship, but he produced some very good teams. Adams mantra was to train his players not only for college baseball but to put a great deal of emphasis on their aspirations at the Major League level. Coach Adams allowed his players to practice with wooden bats when aluminum bats were the way college baseball was played. Adams had no problem with giving his players the confidence to try to steal bases and allowed pitchers and catchers to call their own games.
During Adams 30 year reign as the Bruins coach, UCLA has produced 37 major league players like the Dodgers’ homerun king Eric Karros, Los Angeles Angels’ World Series MVP Troy Glaus, All-Star Jeff Conine and Chance Utley whose five homeruns help the Philadelphia Phillies contend for the 2009 World Series title. Obviously, the most notable UCLA baseball player of all time is the great Jackie Robinson. Each time the UCLA players line up on Jackie Robinson field they should know that greatness and the ability to overcome is their heritage.
The Bruins had a good 2013 regular season, but they had to hang tough, stay focused and learn from defeat. The Bruins would lose two important, “see where you are”, games against Cal State Fullerton a perennial winning program. They would see them again when it would really count. During the regular season the Bruins also had to overcome numerous back to back losses to Arizona State, Oregon State, Oregon /Long Beach State and Stanford. The back to back losses to Stanford were a part of a three game series at Stanford. .
In the third game of the three game series against Stanford the Bruins turned around the stranglehold Stanford had on them after losing to the Stanford Cardinal 2-1 and 7-3 in the first two games. This recovery win against Stanford set the focus back on the goal for the season, a national championship. The Bruins tightened up their game. The Bruins caught fire!
The game of college baseball changed when the NCAA made a decision to remove aluminum bats from the game in 2010. Wooden bates were re-implemented to replace the aluminum bats. Over the last three years since 2010, overall hitting and homeruns have diminished drastically and the proof of it has not been more evident then the low home run and hitting numbers in the College World Series finals.
The trend of low scoring has now made a significant impact on the overall excitement and popularity of the college baseball game. With the wooden bats, baseball scouts can evaluate better how players may hit in the big leagues. When the Easton aluminum bats were in play the scouts would have to wait until players played in summer games where the Easton wooden bats were used.
The NCAA is now considering making changes because the power in college baseball has been diminished. Former home run hitters with aluminum bats are now back in the pack on power hitting. The pendulum has gone too far. College baseball’s power homerun hitters like Brenton Allen of UCLA have suffered as their homerun and power hits numbers have declined.
Changes are coming to college baseball either via changing the baseball, revisiting the bats or bringing the fences closer. The fans love power, they really love the homerun.
Coach Savage took over the reigns from Coach Gary Adams in 2005. Since 2010, Coach Savage and his staff have made fundamental training and teaching adjustments to the impact wooden bats has had on the college baseball game, and how it should be played. Coach Savage’s foresight has allowed his players individually and the team to take advantage of the results of the wooden bats by building teams that are made for the kind of baseball hitting, fielding and pitching that has catapulted the Bruins into contenders in college baseball.
This years’ 2013 UCLA Bruin team have fully bought into their coaches philosophies and the veteran Bruin players had smelled what a national championship smelled like and now they wanted to taste one.
The Bruins entered the NCAA Los Angeles regional, hot, defeating Cal Poly and beating San Diego State two games in the best of three series.
The Bruins would take on an old nemesis Cal State Fullerton in the Super NCAA regional shootout at the OK Corral beating Fullerton twice, 5-3 (10 innings) and 3-0 to move on to the “College World Series.”
The Bruins started the CWS smoking. The Bruins played hard, disciplined baseball. Many coaches and players speak about the many clichés; play harder, execute, pitch better etc . . . but as the CWS moved on it was becoming consistently evident that UCLA was delivering on the clichés.
UCLA’s execution of the fundamentals in every aspect of the game, offensively, defensively and pitching allowed the Bruins to get by winning very close low scoring games against LSU and North Carolina State who were powerhouses during the regular season and were each candidates who could win it all. UCLA beat LSU in game one 2-1, a big win! LSU has a powerhouse baseball program and is always in contention for a national championship.
Coach Savage’s discipline, and more importantly the faith he has instilled in his players that the fundamentals involved in pitching, managing throw counts, bunting, sacrifice hits and attention to details will get them to the promise land succeeded. Trying to power hit is not in vogue and the Bruins found another style of play to get where they wanted to go.
The Bruins execution of their game plan in the College World Series finals was superb and the commentators of game one of the three game series continuously praised UCLA on the their precision and style of play, Hope was still in the heart of Mississippi State because the Bruins had a two run lead and was not blowing them out.
The Bruins bunted when a bunt was needed, made sacrifice hits to advance runners, made double plays when they were there to make, as their pitchers pin pointed their pitches, adhering to their catcher and coach. The Bruins scored just enough to keep a great Mississippi State team, who also has never won a championship but thought they could now, locked in a box. The Bruins win game one 3-1.
The Bruins are full of great individual stories like Eric Falia’s freshmen declaration, ‘I am coming to win a championship’, or Gerrit Cole who put signing with the New York Yankees off to team up with another major league prospect Trevor Bauer to commit to UCLA. These stories all point to the moment the Bruins had positioned themselves, one game from a NCAA national championship, College World Series title.
The Bruins saved their best for last. Game two of the CWS final was a masterpiece for UCLA. Mississippi State made the Bruin domination greater because they fought to the end. They brought in their best closer, sophomore Jonathan Holder, early in the fifth inning to try to slow down the Bruins while the game was still in striking distance for Mississippi State 4-0.
To the credit of the Mississippi State fans they stuck with and cheered for their team as the UCLA Bruins displayed their complete attack, scoring points each inning leading to a champion size victory defeating Mississippi State, despite Holders best efforts.
Nick Vander Tuig, showed why he was a pitching horse that the Bruins rode all season and now was riding into a national championship. The Bruins had their own great young closer in sophomore David Berg. In the last two seasons, Berg is the only pitcher in NCAA baseball to have two, back to back, 50 appearance seasons. How prophetic it was to have Berg, close out Mississippi State with an 8-0, UCLA win and their first national championship.
Mississippi State has a great heritage of players who have gone on to play in the Major Leagues. Mississippi State has also smelled the national championship flavor coming in third in the College World Series, but despite their gallant, never give up attitude they ran into a team of destiny that executed their path to a championship better than anyone else.
For years people wondered when the Jackie Robinson story would be made for today’s audiences. It was a long time coming, but the inspirational story, a picture of our country at that time, “42”, came alive on the big screen in 2013. The UCLA Bruins baseball team felt the same way in 2013, it has been a long time coming, but now was championship time, it is the season. It is all in the details!