By Peter Wardell
LOS ANGELES—UCLA has yet to lose a game this postseason. As a matter of fact, the Bruins have lost just once in the past month.
With a 4-1 victory over Texas Christian on Saturday night in front of a packed crowd at Jackie Robinson Stadium, UCLA clinched its spot in the College World Series, marking the program’s second trip to Omaha in three years.
Over the past month, the Bruins have become one of the toughest teams to beat in the country due to their consistent ability to manufacture runs. Saturday night was no different, as timely hitting, solid baserunning and a little luck made the difference.
“Our game plan is to just grind pitchers down,” said sophomore shortstop Pat Valaika. “We see a lot of pitches. We work really hard to pass the baton and get the next guy to the plate. It worked tonight and it’s been working all season.”
After setting down the UCLA lineup on just five pitches in the first inning, TCU freshman righthander Preston Morrison gave up a one-out triple to junior first baseman Trevor Brown in the top of the second. On the next pitch, Valaika lofted a deep sacrifice fly into right field to score the run.
It was the second RBI of the weekend for Valaika, who drove in the go-ahead run Friday night with a well-placed groundout to the right side, scoring the runner from third. Productive at-bats like that have been a hallmark of UCLA's season.
The Bruins extended their lead one inning later with more solid hitting and creativity. After a pair of singles by freshman third baseman Kevin Kramer and junior center fielder Beau Amaral put runners on the corners, coach John Savage called for a safety squeeze that was perfectly executed by junior catcher Tyler Heineman.
The resilient Horned Frogs closed the gap in the bottom of the third with a solo home run off the bat of senior right fielder Brance Rivera, but that was all the offense that the Horned Frogs could muster.
Coming off a career performance last weekend in the Los Angeles Regional, UCLA sophomore righthander Nick Vander Tuig turned in another solid outing, allowing just one run on five hits over six innings, striking out five and walking one. Despite inconsistent command for much of the game, Vander Tuig battled for the Bruins, allowing multiple baserunners in an inning just once throughout the entire game.
“We didn’t string enough hits, and they certainly didn’t give us anything,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said.
The Bruins tacked on two more insurance runs in the sixth and seventh innings. A wild pitch by TCU sophomore reliever Andrew Mitchell with the bases loaded scored UCLA junior outfielder Jeff Gelalich, and one inning later, a sacrifice fly off the bat of junior outfielder Cody Keefer scored Amaral, whose aggressive baserunning on a Heineman single got him to third base with one out.
Righthander David Berg pitched the final three frames for the Bruins, allowing just two hits while striking out three. Between the two games, TCU hitters were held 2-for-17 against the freshman sidearmer, including seven strikeouts and seven groundouts.
With Saturday’s loss, TCU was eliminated from postseason play—by the same team that knocked the Frogs out of the 2010 College World Series. After sharing the Mountain West Conference regular-season title, the Horned Frogs went on to win the College Station Regional last weekend with four straight victories after dropping their first game.
Schlossnagle was understandably disappointed with the loss but was clearly proud of his players and the state of the program.
”This senior class has hosted three regionals, been to three super regionals, been to the College World Series and played within a game of the Championship Series," Schlossnagle said. "They’ve elevated our program.”
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