OMAHA -- If UCLA’s baseball team ever wondered what playing in Starkville, Miss., was like, well, it knows now.
Mississippi State fans have colored this town maroon, and Monday evening they turned TD Ameritrade Park into their own (Bull)dog house.
It just didn’t do much good.
UCLA pulled within a win of its first NCAA baseball championship with a 3-1 victory over Mississippi State in front of 25,690, more than 90% of which seemed to favor the Bulldogs.
The Bruins did it with a very atypical performance: stranding runners by failing to execute and with pitching ace Adam Plutko struggling through the last three of his six innings.
But even subpar Plutko was good enough, because even though he wobbled substantially after starting with three perfect innings, he still gave up only one run and four hits as UCLA stretched its winning steak to 10 games.
The bullpen helped, as it usually does. And so did sophomore right fielder Eric Filia, who made a couple of nice defensive plays and had a big hand in all of UCLA’s runs.
Filia’s first-inning opposite-field double to left field set up UCLA’s first run and and his two-run single in the fourth gave the Bruins just enough to hold on.
Mississippi State (51-19) must win Tuesday evening to force a third and deciding game. If UCLA wins, the Bruins (48-17) will claim the school's 130th national championship since 1950.
UCLA needed to strike early and it did. Mississippi State gave sophomore right-hander Trevor Fitts the sixth start of his college career, and it lasted only 1-1/3 innings. Left-hander Chad Girodo came on after that, and it soon became apparent why he has nine victories out of the bullpen.
After the Bruins struck for their two fourth-inning runs, Girodo was masterful, retiring 14 of the next 15 batters without giving up a hit.
Plutko also dominated, but only the first time through the Bulldogs’ lineup.
After retiring Adam Frazier on a liner to left field leading off the fourth inning, Alex Detz broke up the no-hitter with a single up the middle. One out later, Brett Pirtle singled to right-center field. Plutko then plunked Wes Rea on the elbow with a 2-and-2 pitch to load the bases.
C.T. Bradford worked an eight-pitch walk, driving in Detz. Plutko got out of the jam when Filia hauled Trey Porter’s liner in right field.
Plutko also escaped trouble in the bottom of the fifth, an inning that started off with Filia making a running catch of a drive to the warning track by Nick Ammirati.
DeMarcus Henderson followed with a one-hop shot that Plutko couldn’t handle and was scored an error. Henderson went to second base on a balk, but was stranded there when second baseman Cody Regis pulled in a soft liner by Detz to end the inning.
Plutko started the seventh inning, but was greeted by a line-drive single to right field by Porter. Coach John Savage then turned to James Kaprielian, who walked Ammirati and then whiffed on a one-hop grounder by Henderson.
It was good for the Bruins that he did.
The ball was snatched back-handed by Regis, who flipped to shortstop Pat Valaika on the bag to start a rally-killing double play.
Savage went further into the bullpen in the eighth inning. Zack Weiss started the inning and got one out before hitting Hunter Renfroe with a pitch.
That brought record-setting closer David Berg into the game and that, as usual, was that.
The side-arming right-hander induced an inning-ending double play on his third pitch, then stranded the tying runs on base in the ninth inning for his NCAA-record-setting 24th save.
It was Berg's 50th pitching appearance this season, making him the first player to appear in that many games in two seasons. He also did it last season.
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