Great time to break out
UCLA's Valaika plates two vital runs after tough start to CWS
OMAHA, Neb. -- Before the seventh inning of Saturday’s game against North Carolina, to say that UCLA’s Pat Valaika was having a non-descript College World Series would be an understatement, a little like saying it was a bit warm Saturday at TD Ameritrade Park.
Through the Bruins’ first 24 innings in Omaha, Valaika was 0-for-9 with a walk.
But boy did business pick up for him in that seventh inning.
Valaika’s double down the left field line scored Eric Filla and Brian Carroll, giving the Bruins a huge pair of insurance runs to help secure a 4-1 victory and a spot in the CWS championship series against Mississippi State beginning Monday night.
“I was just trying to get a ball up and get those guys in,” Valaika said. “We were only up 2-0 and [North Carolina] is a great team and we needed a few more runs. I was fortunate enough to get a ball up and square it all up and it fell.”
At least outwardly, Valaika said his recent run of futility didn’t enter his mind as he stepped up in such a big spot.
“This time of year, individual stats don’t mean much,” he said. “The only thing that matters is the wins and losses at the end of the game, so… 0-for-9. It wasn’t really on my mind.”
That philosophy seems to be shared amongst the Bruin squad -- and its head coach John Savage.
“It was our style of baseball,” Savage said. “What can you say? It was pitching, solid defense, opportunistic offense.
“I thought we had better at-bats [Friday]. I really did. We had a few more walks... 0-2 to walk. We used the middle of the field better, and I think that we're capable offensively. I've said that all along. We've got good offensive players.”
Like he battled through that key at-bat Friday night, Valaika battles every day just to try to be the best baseball player in his own family. His older brother Chris is a third baseman for the Miami Marlins and his other brother Matt played a season in the St. Louis Cardinals minor league system in 2010.
What happened Friday night, however, just might give him bragging rights, at least for a little while.
“For a couple of days,” Pat Valaika said. “None of my older brothers ever went to the [College] World Series and I’ve been twice, so…”
But he says he will show his siblings just a bit of mercy -- for now.
“I won’t remind them of that now, but I’m sure I’ll bring it up when we’re all together.”
As far as the CWS championship series goes, Valaika, who was a member of the team the last time the Bruins made it this far in 2010, knows what’s important.
“[Getting here] feels amazing,” Valaika said. “It’s not our goal just to be in the championship series. We came here and we said all along that our goal wasn’t just to come to Omaha, it was to win the whole thing, so this was just another step.
"These first three games were tough. All these teams are a challenge. We just have to take it one day at a time.”
Savage agrees that success in Omaha is about respect.
“We're going to respect the opponent,” Savage said. “We're going to respect the next two days in terms of preparation, getting ourselves ready and do what we do. And we're a good practice team. And so we'll get after practice [Saturday] and Sunday and prepare for the national championship series.
"[Mississippi State has] got good offense and their pitching is very impressive,” he said. “I guess you could say that on paper they would be more offensive. But we take care of the baseball defensively, and we pitch and we know ourselves. So right now we're certainly going to respect Mississippi State and the job they've done."
However, Savage said if his team is to be successful next week, it all depends on his Bruins.
“At this stage it's really what you're doing as a team and how you're preparing and making sure you have a right mindset and right attitude in terms of what's coming up.”