Berg breaks record
UCLA closer sets the NCAA single-season record for saves
OMAHA, Neb. -- In the days leading up to Monday’s opening game of the College World Series Finals, players and coaches on both sides said the series would come down to pitching.
Game 1 did, and it went to UCLA in record-setting fashion.
In his 100th appearance in the past two seasons and his 50th of this year, Bruin closer David Berg set the NCAA single-season record for saves in his team’s 3-1 victory against Mississippi State, a win that has UCLA one victory away from its first CWS title.
It’s the second part of that previous sentence that means more to Berg – at least right now.
“At this point it doesn't really matter,” Berg said of the record. “Records are meant to be broken, but titles are what matter. So if we all win a national championship, I'll enjoy that. But right now I don't think about it at all.”
Berg has appeared in 16 consecutive postseason appearances and every UCLA postseason game this year, a fact that makes coach John Savage’s job easier.
“When you're the visiting team and you're up a run or two in the eighth inning, you just cannot leave your All-American in the bullpen,” Savage said. “It's a rule. You can't do that.”
Savage’s All-American knows that Monday’s performance, record or not, still leaves some work to do.
“They're great hitters, they grind it out,” Berg said of Mississippi State. “They're not going away. They want to win this thing as bad as we do. And they're not going to give up. [I’ve got to] keep making good pitches and rely on my defense, and that's what I did [Monday].
In what was the biggest start of his baseball life, Bruin right-hander Adam Plutko experienced a little bit of everything.
There was his retiring of the Bulldogs’ first 10 batters, his plunking of 6-foot-5, 272-pound Wes Rea, the balk he was called for (the first of this year’s CWS) and the bases-loaded walk that led to just his third surrendered run of the postseason.
Most importantly, he experienced a win, the seventh postseason victory of his career against no losses.
“I felt good early,” Plutko said. “I was feeling confident, and first time through the lineup, I really wanted to attack them [to] see what they were all about.”
Then, things changed slightly.
“They started getting to me later in the game,” Plutko said. “They grind out at-bats just like we do.”
In six innings of work, Plutko gave up four hits, one run, one walk and struck out two. Perhaps most importantly, he handed Bulldog offensive star Hunter Renfroe an 0-for-3 night with two strikeouts.
“With Hunter, we wanted to pound it,” Plutko said. “We wanted to make him hit our pitches, and we just kept doing that and kept doing that and ultimately it paid off.”
Rea, the player Plutko hit in the fourth inning, said the Bulldogs had opportunities against Plutko, but just didn’t come through.
“[We] got some [chances] a little bit -- when he came out started struggling a little bit, but he just executed his game plan,” Rea said. “We weren't able to adjust back.”
Brett Pirtle, who had a pair of hits against Plutko, agreed with Rea’s assessment.
“He was elevating, and we were just doing so much at the plate,” Pirtle said. “He didn't have anything overpowering. He was leaving it up and we just did too much. We gave them easy outs and that's not really who we are.”
The CWS championship series continues at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday. With a national title on his team’s doorstep, Berg said after all is said and done, that’s all he’s thinking about.
“All that matters is the next one,” he said. “I just go out there, whether it be [Tuesday] or [Wednesday]. If I get the opportunity, I have to be able to do my job then.”