'We would never be here without him'
UCLA closer and former walk-on Berg earns record-tying save
OMAHA, Neb. -- In the three days since winning the NCBWA Stopper of the Year Award, UCLA sophomore David Berg has proven -- twice -- he is incredibly worthy of the honor.
Berg, a right-handed submariner, shut down NC State’s comeback bid in the last two innings en route to the Bruins’ 2-1 victory in the College World Series on Tuesday -- two days after tossing a scoreless inning of relief in a 2-1 win against LSU.
After entering the game in the eighth with a runner on base, Berg tossed two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and striking out three batters to earn his 23rd save of the year, tying an NCAA single-season record.
It wasn’t easy, though. Berg hit the first batter he faced to put two runners on with no outs, but fielded a Logan Ratledge bunt and got a force out at third base. NC State’s Trea Turner drove a deep fly ball to the warning track in left center, but defensive substitute Christoph Bono ran it down and Jake Fincher ended the threat by striking out.
“I knew [Turner] got a good swing off on it,” Berg said. “I wasn't quite sure how well he hit it. I kind of watched it. My heart sunk a little bit. I knew it was a bad pitch and he's a good hitter. Those combinations, not very many good things happen. Luckily, Christoph went out and made a great play for me and I was able to get out of that inning.”
In the ninth inning, the Wolfpack singled a runner on base, but Berg went on to strike out the final two batters, Grant Clyde and Brett Williams, on six pitches.
“As hitters, we knew if we went into the eighth or ninth down a couple of runs with David Berg in the pen, it's making life a lot tougher than what it would be,” Clyde said.
The closer’s consistency has helped the Bruins compile a 38-0 record when leading after seven innings and a 17-2 mark in one-run games.
“Obviously, Berg's Berg and he's a stud,” Turner said. “He didn't miss many spots either … threw a couple of balls. His stuff was about unhittable because it sinks so much. They both did a great job and they came out on top.”
Berg, a former walk-on who was named Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, has pitched in each of the Bruins’ seven NCAA postseason games, posting a 1-0 record, 1.74 ERA and five saves in 10.1 innings. It was the third time in UCLA’s last four games he has entered the game before the ninth inning.
“He has thrown some two- or three-inning saves we don't really like to do that,” UCLA head coach John Savage said. “But with a couple of days off we went to him a little earlier. We tried to sneak another out or two without using him and hit the first pitch for a base hit in the eighth. What can you say? I mean, we would never be here without him. So we're going to go down with him.”
Berg has appeared in 14 consecutive NCAA tournament games for the Bruins.
“He's starting to become a pretty experienced guy for how young he is,” Savage said. “He can handle big moments. And I think [Tuesday] was as big a moment as you're going to see in Omaha.”