LOS ANGELES—Creighton earned a lot of admirers over the last two weeks for its resilience and heart. The Bluejays also won over observers by simply playing very well in the Los Angeles Regional, knocking out San Diego and New Mexico to reach the championship round.
But Creighton ran into a buzzsaw Sunday night.
UCLA steamrolled its way through the regional, completing a 3-0 run with an overpowering 13-5 win Sunday against the Bluejays. The Bruins won their second regional in three years and will host Texas Christian or Mississippi in a super regional next week. If they play like they did this weekend, they'll be a very difficult out in supers, and in Omaha.
"I think we are playing pretty good baseball," Bruins second baseman Trevor Brown said. "This is the time of year we want to be playing our best baseball. We pitched pretty well, we swung the bats pretty good and ended on a pretty good note."
Regional MVP Jeff Gelalich led the UCLA offense, going 3-for-3 with three runs, two homers and four RBIs. His first homer came in the bottom of the first inning after the Bluejays had jumped on UCLA starter Zack Weiss for two runs in the top of the frame. Gelalich's two-run shot into the hitting structure behind the right-field fence tied the game at 2-2 and seemed to help the Bruins find their groove.
"I think the momentum definitely shifted in their favor a little bit after the bottom half of that first inning," said Creighton cleanup man Anthony Bemboom, who led the Bluejays by going 5-for-5 in the finale.
The Bruins took control of the game with five runs in the third, highlighted by Brown's two-run single. Weiss battled through early adversity to turn in five solid innings before handing off to the reliable UCLA bullpen, and the Bruins sucked any lingering suspense out of the game with six runs over the fifth and sixth innings, making it a 10-run game.
"We knew going into tonight's game we'd have to play almost a perfect game to have an opportunity," Creighton coach Ed Servais said. "I was impressed how our team responded early in that game, we just didn't have enough pitching to hang with them. And then the game got away from us in the middle innings."
UCLA's dominant starting pitching headlined its first two wins, and its offensive outburst was the lead story Sunday. But the Bruins played well in all facets in all three games, as Servais pointed out.
"Don't forget how well they play defensively as well, because that will be a key for them next week as they try to win a super regional and get to Omaha," Servais said. "They pitch differently than a lot of college teams. They pitch up in the zone a lot more—you don't see that—and they come inside more than most teams do. I like their athleticism. They're well balanced, they've got lefthanded hitters and righthanded hitters, they've obviously got some bullpen guys who can shorten the game a little bit. If the games are held here, UCLA's got a great chance to advance. I'm very impressed with how they go about their business."
That feeling was certainly mutual, as UCLA coach John Savage was effusive in his praise for the Bluejays in his opening remarks to media.
"You're talking about a completely first-class operation," Savage said of the Bluejays. "You're talking about guys doing things right before the game, in between pitches, on pitches, never give up. From where they were to where they ended is a credit to how they go about it. That is the first time I have personally played them, and I just can't say enough about Creighton. First class. I'm telling you, I've seen a lot of programs, and from how they go about it, from stretching to infield/outfield to games—I'm telling you, I'm not making this up, this is first class.
"I'm just so impressed. I was going to say that win or lose, because they made a huge impression on our program, and they really made our program better this weekend."
Maybe that sounds over the top, but every coach who faces Creighton seems to come away with the same impression. Earlier Sunday, in fact, New Mexico coach Ray Birmingham said, "I think the world of Ed Servais . . . He's one of the good guys in baseball."
In the last month, Servais got his Bluejays to buy into his message—that "there is more to the game than just the scoreboard." He got them to come together as a group, empowering a team that went 22-28 in the regular season (6-14 in the Missouri Valley Conference) to run through the MVC tournament and reach a regional final.
And when Servais didn't like how one of his players reacted to a disappointing at-bat in the ninth inning Sunday, he got animated in the postgame huddle. Standards don't change at Creighton just because the season is over.
"I'm very concerned with how we carry ourselves," Servais explained. "And I think the people that played us this week, they understand that there's a certain way that Creighton plays."
Servais has worked hard to shape the Bluejay Way.
Savage has dedicated himself to building a similar culture at UCLA. As former Bruin Gerrit Cole put it heading into last season: "We have a mission statement around here: 'Establish the Bruin Way to play the game.' That was our goal—put that bar up there so everybody knows where to reach."
The bar has been raised—UCLA is a program that knows how to win regionals, which is something Creighton is still learning how to do, as Servais acknowledged Sunday.
But the Bruins certainly are not taking anything for granted, especially after falling in the regional final last year, when Cole and Trevor Bauer were juniors.
"I'm very proud of our players," Savage said. "This is a very difficult road, with our schedule and our Pac-12 conference, with this regional—to be where we are today, I just can't say enough about how proud I am of our players and our program. We finished the regional tonight the way we wanted. I'm just proud for our players and happy for them."
Comments will be monitored prior to being added to the site. Comments that include profanity or personal attacks or other inappropriate comments or material will be rejected. Additionally, entries that are unsigned or contain "signatures" by someone other than the actual author will be removed.
We have chosen to open up commenting to everyone, so comment away! We want to hear from each and every one of you! Leave a comment.
About This Blog
Syndicate This Blog
Search This Blog