Why They'll Win: Miss. St. vs. UCLA
|MISSISSIPPI STATE BULLDOGS||UCLA BRUINS|
Minutes after clinching a spot in the CWS championship series Friday, Mississippi State head coach John Cohen was referencing the Rob Reiner rockumentary This is Spinal Tap while telling reporters that he led his team aimlessly through the tunnels of TD Ameritrade Park trying to find his team’s clubhouse.
“The day started with me leading our team through the bowels of Ameritrade and going all the way to the end and not being able to find the door to our dugout,” Cohen said with a chuckle. “So I thought I was reliving Spinal Tap there and wondering what kind of day we were going to have.
"Rock and roll, right?”
Rock and roll, indeed.
That type of looseness has served the Bulldogs well so far in Omaha. They have been defensively sound and offensively loud in a series marked by a distinct lack of timely hitting. In Friday’s win against Oregon State, Mississippi State had four players turn in multiple-hit performances (Alex Detz, Brett Pirtle C.T. Bradford and Wes Rea) and turned in three double plays. The Bulldogs now have 80 twin-killings this season, second in the nation.
And then there’s Hunter Renfroe.
Renfroe hit a 3-1 pitch over the left-field wall for his 16th homer of the year and just the third of this year’s CWS. The HR extended a 10-game hitting streak Renfroe will take into Monday’s title-series opener.
Rae, who nearly had a home run himself Friday, has reached base in 10 consecutive games and has a hit in five in a row. Shortstop Adam Frazier has reached base safely in 21 consecutive games and he now leads the nation with 106 hits this season.
And if you think there’s an easy out anywhere in the lineup, think again. The Bulldogs did not strike out at all Friday. It was the first time a team played an entire game without a K in the CWS since 2001.
After the offense does its job, one of the best bullpens in the country helps make sure that work holds up. Closer Jonathan Holder’s 21 saves this season are a school record.
The Bulldogs haven’t experienced disappointment in this tournament. What’s more, they don’t hope things will work out late in the game, they seem to know it.
“Our kids just believe something good's going to happen," Cohen said.
-- Mark Spoor, NCAA.com
Good pitching and good defense have been part of the formula to win a baseball championship -- at any level -- for decades. In an era of college baseball that features fewer home runs than ever before, pitching and defense mean everything. UCLA has both and will win its first baseball championship this week.
The last and only time UCLA made the CWS Finals in 2010, the Bruins had a three-headed monster at the top of their rotation in Rob Rasmussen (11-3, 2.72), Trevor Bauer (12-3, 3.02) and Gerrit Cole (11-4, 3.37). The only problem was, the rotation wasn’t set up how they wanted thanks to a loss against TCU.
They don’t have that problem this time around, and while the names have changed with starters Nick Vander Tuig (13-4, 2.31), Adam Plutko (9-3, 2.29) and Grant Watson (9-3, 3.01), they have been just as filthy. The Bruins are the only team to not lose in the postseason -- a perfect 8-0. Incredibly, they’ve used just six pitchers to do it and have posted a 1.36 ERA. Their three starters have combined to go 7-0. The only other win came from stud closer David Berg, who has added five postseason saves to tie the all-time single-season saves record with 23
When UCLA gets a lead of even 2-0, it seems like 10-0. That’s what having a guy like Berg at the backend of your bullpen can do. He’s pitched in the Bruins’ past 15 NCAA tournament games -- if they have a lead in the eighth inning, he’s coming in.
So what if the offense doesn’t have a .300 hitter? Pat Gallagher leads the way at .283 and as a team the Bruins have hit just .248 this season. It’s even worse in Omaha -- .182. But they claw and scrap for runs like no one has ever seen. If you make an error, the Bruins make you pay. Just because the numbers are bad, doesn’t mean they aren’t clutch.
And when you're playing in TD Ametridade Park Omaha -- you aren't going to win with the home run. You need to manufacture runs. And they do.
“We've got good offensive players,” UCLA head coach John Savage said. “They're just as good as any part of our game. And we do feel that way. I know that if you look at the scores, you probably won't write it up that way, but there's a lot of faith and trust in our players.”
The Bruins have played defense, too, this postseason in posting a .983 fielding percentage. They make you make mistakes, not the other way around. UCLA will add championship No. 109 to the trophy case in Westwood because of it.
-- Douglas Kroll, NCAA.com