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|GAME AT A GLANCE|
|Turning Point: When Jeff Gelalich worked the count full and ripped a two-run single to right field in the first inning, it was clear that UCLA was in control—there were still two men aboard with no outs at that point, and the Bruins led 2-0. They went on to score five runs in the frame and never looked back.
The Hero: Adam Plutko turned in a typical Plutko performance—and considering he is 12-3, 2.48 on the season, typical Plutko is exactly what UCLA hoped to see. He allowed just one run on five hits over seven strong innings, and made big pitches whenever Stony Brook threatened to get back into the game. He escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam unscathed in the second, then escaped a second-and-third, no-outs predicament in the fifth.
You Might Have Missed: If you turned the game off after UCLA carried an 8-1 lead into the final third of the game, you missed “Everyday David” Berg turning in a, well, typical Berg performance in the final two innings. The side-winding Berg breezed through two scoreless frames to end the game, extending his scoreless innings streak to 14.1, including 10 shutout frames in the NCAA tournament. It was his 48th appearance of the season, third-most in NCAA history.
OMAHA—Stony Brook proved in the Coral Gables Regional and the Baton Rouge Super Regional that it is legitimately talented, resilient and capable of handling intense atmospheres. But handling UCLA is something else entirely.
The Bruins turned in the latest in a string of clinical, dominating postseason wins, blitzing the upstart Seawolves 9-1. Stony Brook hardly resembled the team that dissected Louisiana State last week—but UCLA looked exactly like UCLA.
“It was a typical Bruin win, really; nothing fancy,” UCLA coach John Savage said. “No big home runs or anything like that. It was just more kind of plate discipline, using the middle of the field. I think we walked eight or nine times, had nine hits, and we played catch and we threw strikes. When you do those things, usually good things happen.”
It was logical to wonder how much Stony Brook ace Tyler Johnson would have left in the tank after throwing 229 pitches over two starts in regionals, then throwing another 127 in a complete-game three-hitter last week against Louisiana State. Johnson collapsed from exhaustion into his teammates’ arms after that one.
On Friday, it was clear from the outset that Johnson lacked his best stuff or command. The first five UCLA hitters of the game all reached safely, highlighted by Jeff Gelalich’s two-run single into right field. Two more RBI singles and a perfect safety squeeze by Pat Valaika capped a five-run first, sucking all the life out of the red-clad Stony Brook supporters packing TD Ameritrade Park.
“We knew everybody was going to be rooting for these guys, and being able to take the crowd out of it early is a pretty big deal,” said UCLA leadoff man Beau Amaral, who singled to start the first and was on base four times in all.
Johnson exited after the first two batters of the third inning reached, and both wound up scoring on Kevin Williams’ two-run double to dead-center. Johnson was charged with seven earned runs; he had allowed five earned runs just once all season heading into the game. His four walks also tied a season high.
“I think at this point of the year, no one’s really 100 percent,” Johnson said. “We’ve got guys going out there with little bumps and bruises here and there. But the fact of the matter is, I just wasn’t on today . . . No excuse over the workload. I had a good five days’ rest, so as much as people may say it was overworking, it was just me being off today and a good UCLA team took advantage.”
That’s certainly true—the Bruins did a great job sticking to their offensive approach, working counts and using the middle of the field. But the fact is, UCLA had the much fresher starting pitcher in sophomore righthander Adam Plutko, who has thrown on regular rest all year and exceeded 105 pitches in an outing just once in the last four weeks.
“Adam has not thrown a lot of pitches in his starts this season, so he’s got a lot of gas in the tank,” Savage said. “His pitch count has been really low all season long. I told him, ‘You’ve got some left,’ and he did in the seventh.”
That was Plutko’s final inning, a 1-2-3 frame to cap a characteristically workmanlike performance. Plutko allowed a solo homer to Pat Cantwell in the third and pitched out of jams in the second and the fifth, but otherwise he was in complete control, elevating his fastball to rack up most of his seven strikeouts and seven flyball outs. He gave up just five hits and two walks.
“I thought Adam was himself throughout the game,” Savage said.
He didn’t throw any surprises at the Seawolves, but his predictability didn’t make him any easier to hit.
“I think what he did was just stuck with his routine,” said Stony Brook star outfielder Travis Jankowski, who went 0-for-4, just as slugger Willie Carmona did. “He pounded the strike zone and threw fastballs, for the most part. He tried to get us to chase, and that was his main pitch: fastball up in the zone, and we chased it. It was there all day.”
Very few pitchers in college baseball pitch off their fastballs as effectively as Plutko, whose style seems a perfect match for the graveyard that is TD Ameritrade Park.
“I think a lot of it has to do with deception in my delivery. I’m a flyball pitcher, and I don’t shy away from that,” Plutko said. “It’s a lot easier to get outs with the ball in the air than with the ball on the ground—a lot more things can happen that way. I think deception has a large key in that, but they’re good hitters. I don’t think they executed as well today.”
No, the Seawolves did not—but give UCLA credit for that.