Riding a combination of excellent pitching and defense, UCLA has scraped together three straight wins in the College World Series, and the Bruins are now on the doorstep of their first national championship in baseball.
The only thing standing in their way is a Mississippi State Bulldogs team that has had its own impressive, and unlikely, run through the first week of the tournament. The Bruins will take on Mississippi State starting tonight in a best-of-three series to determine who will win the national championship.
Thanks to the ease with which the Bruins swept through their first three games, UCLA will be able to start Adam Plutko (9-3, 2.29), the typical Friday night starter, on his usual one week's rest. Mississippi State will use Trevor Fitts (0-0, 2.86), a sophomore who has started just six games this season.
The Bruins have allowed just three runs in the College World Series thus far, thanks to dominant starting pitching from Plutko, Nick Vander Tuig, and Grant Watson. UCLA's offense, though, has been unimpressive, tallying just eight runs through the first three games.
Still, there's an argument being made that this UCLA team is tailor-made for TD Ameritrade Park, which is in many ways a pitcher's park. The Bulldogs have had a bit more offensive punch, scoring 14 runs through the first three games, but have also struggled more on the mound, giving up nine.
This appearance in the finals of the College World Series marks the second trip to the finals in four years for UCLA. The Bruins faced South Carolina in 2010 and lost both games.
The Bruins are in the midst of an unprecedented run for the program, having made it to the College World Series in three of the last four years.
It's a credit to head coach John Savage, who has rebuilt and reformed the program since taking over for the underachieving Gary Adams in 2005. After losing 19 games in a row at one point his first season, and going 15-41 overall, Savage has made the playoffs in seven of his last eight seasons, and won the Pac-12 twice.
With two more wins this week, Savage can cement his legacy at UCLA, providing the finishing touch for his reconstruction of the Bruins' baseball program.