OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — UCLA used what’s becoming its tried-and-true formula to start the College World Series with a victory.
Hey, whatever works.
Adam Plutko and two relievers limited LSU to five hits, and UCLA turned both of the Tigers’ errors into runs in a tense 2-1 victory Sunday night.
“That was a grind,” Bruins coach John Savage said. “You’re talking about a crowd that was certainly in the favor of LSU, and we anticipated that. And I think at the end of the day it was our type of game.”
The Bruins (45-17) once again squeezed all they could out of their offensively challenged lineup and move on to play North Carolina State on Tuesday. The No. 4 Tigers (57-10) became the third of the three remaining national seeds to lose at the CWS and will meet No. 1 North Carolina in an elimination game.
The Bruins came to Omaha batting just .251, but they got their leadoff man on base in the fourth through ninth innings — including on an error, hit batsman and a strike-three wild pitch.
They bided their time as Plutko held the Tigers in check, and they ended up winning for the 16th time in 18 one-run games.
“I think we’ve been kind of flying under the radar all year long,” Plutko said. “We always talk about how we want to play our game. We don’t play the opponent, we play our game. Finally, we just we were lucky enough to break them down a bit.”
LSU scored its only run on Mason Katz’s fourth-inning homer. The Tigers, one of the best fielding teams in the nation during the regular season, made mistakes that allowed the Bruins to tie the game in the sixth and take the lead in the eighth.
Plutko (9-3) allowed four hits in seven innings for the win. David Berg worked out of trouble in the ninth to earn his 22nd save.
Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year Aaron Nola (12-1) gave up five singles in eight innings, and both runs against him were unearned.
“It was a tough, tough loss, that’s for sure,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “I’m certainly glad it’s a double-elimination tournament. That would be a tough one to end the season on.”
LSU made it interesting until the end. Mason Katz reached on shortstop Pat Valaika’s throwing error in the ninth but was erased on a double play, with second baseman JaCoby Jones’ throw to first narrowly beating Raph Rhymes.
Christian Ibarra walked, and pinch hitter Tyler Moore hammered a ball up the middle that knocked down Berg to put runners on first and second. Berg faked as if he made a wild pickoff throw into center field, but pinch runner Jared Foster didn’t take the bait and stayed put after diving back to second base.
Berg ran the count to 3-0 on Jones before inducing a fly ball to right to end the game.
Mainieri said he put a hit-and-run play on after Katz reached base and Rhymes failed to get a bunt down on the first two pitches. Rhymes’ hard grounder barely stayed to the inside of the third-base line, and Ibarra was able to scoop it.
“It was bad luck,” Mainieri said. “He hit it so hard that they got the force out before Mason could get there and turned the double play. I gambled, and we came up snake eyes.”
Plutko turned in a second straight strong start in the CWS. He gave up one run on four hits in seven innings against LSU after allowing one run on five hits in seven innings to earn a win over Stony Brook last year.
James Kaprielian relieved Plutko to start the eighth, and the side-arming Berg worked what undoubtedly was the most anxious of his 47 appearances this season.
Both runs against Nola, the Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year, were unearned. He’s now pitched 24 NCAA tournament innings without allowing an earned run.
“It was real frustrating, letting that leadoff guy get on,” Nola said. “But it’s happened to me before through the year. I battled as hard as I could until the last pitch. Unfortunately, we booted a couple balls around. You’ve got to forget about that, and we’re going to come out Tuesday and compete.”
LSU led 1-0 in the fourth when Katz drove Plutko’s 89-mph high fastball into the left-field bullpen for his 16th homer of the season and the first in four CWS games.
The Bruins got the run back in the sixth after Brian Carroll bunted for a single and took second on catcher Ty Ross’s wild throw to first. Carroll moved to third on a groundout and scored on Valaika’s sacrifice fly.
Pinch hitter Ty Moore, batting .208, singled to left on Nola’s first pitch of the eighth inning. Christoph Bono pinch ran and moved up on a sacrifice. He scored the go-ahead run when Eric Filia’s grounder to shortstop bounced off national freshman of the year Alex Bregman for his fourth error in six NCAA tournament games.
“We’ve been fortunate,” Savage said. “But good teams create their own breaks a lot of times.”
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