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|GAME AT A
Point: Florida led 2-1 in the second, and starter Alex Panteliodis retired UCLA in order in the top of the frame. The Gators got Josh Adams to third with one out after a fielder’s choice, stolen base and errant throw. But Bruins starter Trevor Bauer struck out Jonathan Pigott, and after a walk to Nolan Fontana, he struck out Matt den Dekker to end the inning. UCLA scored three in the third and never trailed again.
OMAHA—UCLA’s baseball tradition includes the likes of Jackie Robinson, Chris Chambliss, Chase Utley and scores of major league alumni in between.
Now it also includes, for the first time in the program’s long history, a College World Series victory. It took nearly four hours, but the Bruins got their first victory Saturday night against Florida, rapping 18 hits and getting 13 strikeouts on the mound to beat the Gators 11-3.
Both teams entered the NCAA tournament as national seeds. The third-seeded Gators and sixth-seeded Bruins are the only two national seeds to meet in a first-round game and both teams seemed to have some first-inning, first-time-in-Rosenblatt Stadium jitters.
It was the Bruins who settled down, though, largely a function of sophomore righthander Trevor Bauer finding his groove. He seemed rattled in the first inning, when he gave up a leadoff walk, a pair of singles and a balk, all of which led to two runs. He struggled through the second inning as well, getting out of it with a strikeout of senior Matt den Dekker on a 94 mph fastball.
Between innings, Bauer spoke with Bruins head coach John Savage, who as a pitching coach has mentored the likes of Seth Etherton, Mark Prior and Anthony Reyes. Savage picked up a mechanical adjustment for Bauer to make with his front side in his delivery to help him better command his fastball. Bauer was able to implement it, and the Gators barely touched him the rest of the way.
In his final five innings, Bauer struck out eight while giving up three hits and one run, a solo homer to Josh Adams in the fourth.
“He’s the best thrower/pitcher I’ve ever seen,” Savage said. “What I mean by that is, he loves to throw, and he has a real ability to get better as he goes along. We have a lot of trust in him, a lot of faith in him. He’s got 20 wins in two years here and he has a lot of history of getting better as he goes along.”
Bauer recounted his final 2009 start at Arizona State, when he beat the Sun Devils 10-4 in a complete game. He threw 147 pitches and said he was throwing 90-92 mph in the last inning of that one. He hit 94 Saturday night in his seventh and final inning, when he struck out Gators slugger Preston Tucker.
“It’s my life story—I always struggle in the first,” Bauer said with a smile. “I have a joke with my teammates: ‘If I just get to the 100-pitch mark, I’ll be fine.’ I feel looser the more I throw, I get a better feel for the mound and I’m able to make more adjustments.
“The way I long toss and the way I have conditioned my whole body, I’m able to maintain my stuff. The more you throw the more you make mistakes and the more experience you get at adjusting to correct your mistakes.”
While Bauer made the adjustments, Florida did not, and the Gators were sloppy on the mound and in the field. The Gators made one error, hit four batters, committed both a balk and a passed ball and generally played poorly. UCLA took advantage with a pesky offense that produced 18 hits, 15 of them singles. That was despite the absence from the lineup of usual three-hole hitter Tyler Rahmatulla, who is out for the CWS with a broken wrist.
UCLA got the leadoff hitter on base in six different innings against five different Gators pitchers, including starter Alex Panteliodis (11-3). While the sophomore lefty dominated Miami in the super regional, he was off with his fastball command against the Bruins, hitting the first two batters he faced after plunking just three hitters all season.
“We pecked away at them,” Savage said. “We didn’t have a home run all night, but it was a typical game offensively for us in terms of we used the middle (of the) field. We had a bunch of singles; we had some stolen bases (three). We kept coming—we had two outs, nobody on (and) we scored a run. And I think we wore their starting pitcher down a little bit, and then we got to their bullpen.”
The top two hitters in the lineup, both sons of ex-big leaguers, led the way. Junior shortstop Niko Gallego had four hits and an HBP in six trips and stole a base, scoring twice. Freshman center fielder Beau Amaral went 3-for-4 with a walk, HBP, steal and run scored. Every Bruins starter reached base and all but DH Blair Dunlap had a hit.
“One thing we’ve been doing all year long is being able to throw first-pitch strikes,” Florida coach Kevin O’Sullivan said. “We’ve been able to change speeds to our breaking ball and changeup for strikes at will. For whatever reason, tonight we weren’t able to do it.”
As a result, Florida falls into an elimination game Monday at 4:30 p.m. Eastern time against in-state rival Florida State. The two teams played four midweek games this season, with the Seminoles winning three of them. UCLA plays TCU later Monday night and still has ace sophomore Gerrit Cole waiting to start, and to perhaps add to the Bruins’ new Omaha tradition.