LOS ANGELES—Adam Plutko was made for pitching under the Friday night lights.
UCLA coach John Savage has said a number of times over the last two years that he was impressed by how effective Plutko was as the Sunday starter as a freshman last year, because Plutko is a flyball pitcher and the ball carries better during the day. Once the damp coastal air rolls into Jackie Robinson Stadium at night, fly balls tend to fall harmlessly into outfielders' gloves. So a move into the Friday starter job as a sophomore has suited him; he carried a 9-3, 2.79 mark into regionals.
On Friday, facing a Creighton team that lacks offensive punch, Plutko could be particularly aggressive, attacking the zone with his fastball. The result was a dominant two-hit, complete-game shutout, leading UCLA to a 3-0 win in its postseason opener.
"Coach and I talked before the game, and we really wanted to attack them and make them prove that they could hit my fastball," said Plutko, a sophomore righthander. "So we just attacked them and went right at them, and it was working."
Plutko retired the first nine hitters of the game, seven of them on flyballs (six of which did not leave the infield). He got 14 flyball outs in the game, excelling by elevating his 86-90 mph fastball.
"He was throwing the ball up effectively," Creighton cleanup man Anthony Bemboom said. "As a hitter, it looks good coming out of his hand. We knew he was going to pitch up, we just didn't make the adjustments that we needed to, to get to him."
Plutko mixed in his slider and changeup here and there, most notably when Creighton advanced its lone runner to second base in the sixth inning. But the fastball was the key.
"Not many college guys can pitch with their fastball, and it's fun to be a part of that because we like throwing the fastball, we like establishing that," Savage said. "People say you can't throw fastballs in certain counts, which we don't agree with. It was as good an outing as he's had all year."
The Bruins needed that kind of performance from their ace, because they were facing a very good lefthander in Creighton's Ty Blach. UCLA has a lefthanded-leaning lineup, so this figured to be a challenging matchup for the No. 2 national seed.
But lefties Cody Keefer, Jeff Gelalich, Cody Regis, Kevin Kramer and Beau Amaral all singled in the first two innings, leading to all three of UCLA's runs. Amaral finished with three hits in the game, but he was the only Bruin to get a hit after the second inning, as Blach settled into a groove.
Still, UCLA had given Plutko all the support he would need.
"We've been facing lefties all year. We have so many lefties in our lineup that anytime our opponent has a chance to throw a lefty at us, they do it," Amaral said. "So we're feeling a lot more comfortable against lefthanded pitching than we did in the past because we've faced so many of them."
Amaral also made a pair of nice catches in center field after Creighton put the leadoff man aboard in the seventh. With a flyball pitcher on the mound, it certainly helps to have an experienced, athletic outfield, and UCLA does.
It all added up to an outing that Plutko called the best of his career. He did it with a heavy heart after attending his great-grandmother's funeral Thursday, and he did it in front of a number of out-of-town family members in town for the service.
"It's kind of been a whirlwind of a weekend," Plutko said, "but (Friday) was a lot of fun."
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