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|GAME AT A
Point: TCU had started chipping away at UCLA’s early lead, getting back within three runs in the top of the fifth. After Horned Frogs reliever Kaleb Merck struck out the side in the bottom of the fifth, stranding runners on the corners, TCU seemed to have some momentum. But that’s when UCLA starter Trevor Bauer took over, holding the Frogs hitless over the next three innings. His 1-2-3 sixth seemed to take the wind out of TCU’s sails.
OMAHA—It was a slow, hot, grueling slog. But UCLA didn’t seem to notice.
With temperatures in the mid-90s and a heat index in triple digits, just 10,907 fans showed up for the winner-take-all bracket championship game between the Bruins and Texas Christian—the lowest announced attendance at a College World Series game since 1991.
The Bruins weren’t affected by the heat or the dead atmosphere. They simply grinded out a tedious, clinical 10-3 win over three hours, 40 minutes to earn their first-ever trip to the CWS Finals.
“It was definitely hot out there, and then those long innings, they had a lot of really good at-bats, and it seemed like every inning they had runners on,” said TCU senior catcher Bryan Holaday, who homered twice in defeat. “It definitely wears you out a little bit being out in the heat like, and constantly working hard trying to get everything under control. And it does wear you out.”
UCLA seized control in the first inning and never let go. TCU starter Kyle Winkler lasted just nine pitches, as Horned Frogs coach Jim Schlossnagle pulled him after the third batter of the game, Blair Dunlap, hit a three-run homer to left. The Bruins (51-15) sent 10 men to the plate and scored five runs in the frame.
“I don’t think he had it from the get-go,” TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said of Winkler, who lasted just 2 2/3 innings in his last start against UCLA on Monday. That had been his shortest outing of the season until Saturday, when he failed to record an out. “He hit the leadoff hitter, didn’t throw a strike, and . . . then tried to find his breaking ball since he didn’t have any command of his fastball. And they hit it out. So he just didn’t have much command of anything.”
The five-run first was more than enough support for UCLA sophomore righty Trevor Bauer, who dominated for the second straight Saturday here at the CWS. Bauer racked up 13 strikeouts over eight overpowering innings. He allowed just four hits, his fewest since his season debut against Bethune-Cookman, when he also struck out 13. Saturday was Bauer’s eighth double-digit strikeout game of the season, and his third in his last four starts.
Even in the punishing heat, Bauer did not deviate from his routine. He wore a long-sleeved shirt underneath his jersey and leggings under his pants, like usual. And he seemed to get stronger as his 135-pitch outing progressed: He did not allow a hit after the fifth inning and struck out the final four batters he faced.
UCLA coach John Savage said he was planning to pull Bauer after seven innings—he had thrown 121 pitches and the Bruins led by seven runs—but the righty talked his way back out for the eighth inning.
“He said, ‘Leave me in—I feel strong,’ and it turned out to be hist best inning,” Savage said. “The eighth inning was really an unreal inning; the guy was on top of his game.”
Bauer said the heat actually did affect him early, and he labored a bit in the first two innings, though he allowed just one run—on Holaday’s first-inning homer.
“It was a struggle in the first couple innings,” Bauer said. “They came out and obviously they had the home run the first inning and some guys all over the bases on me. I had thrown a lot of pitches in the first couple innings, so it was kind of a struggle. I just wanted to go out there and go pitch-to-pitch, get my team as deep as I could. I think just staying with that mentality is what really helped as the game went along. I kind of found my mechanics and got in the groove and went from there.”
The Horned Frogs (54-14) kept fighting, of course, and managed to cut UCLA’s lead to 6-3 on Holaday’s second homer of the day in the fifth. But the Bruins were relentless on offense, banging out 15 hits, and they tacked on two more runs in each of the sixth and seventh innings to break TCU’s back.
“It was good to get back on our feet a little bit,” Savage said. “(Matt) Purke did a great job yesterday, and we kind of got back into Bruin baseball today.”
It’s a testament to the maturity and toughness of this UCLA team that it bounced back after a flat performance Friday, when Savage said it felt like his team was “swimming upstream” all game against Purke and the Frogs. Saturday was striking in its contrast.
“It was like Coach Savage said yesterday, they felt like they were playing uphill,” Schlossnagle said. “We were playing uphill, upstream all day. When we got to 6-3, I felt if we could keep it there . . . I thought we had a chance.
“But Bauer was just too good.”