UCLA fit the new bill in college baseball

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UCLA celebrates after its College World Series victory. The Bruins relied on pitching, defense and a grinding offense to win their first baseball title.  CHRIS MACHIAN/THE OMAHA WORLD-HERALD
CHRIS MACHIAN/THE OMAHA WORLD-HERALD
UCLA celebrates after its College World Series victory. The Bruins relied on pitching, defense and a grinding offense to win their first baseball title.

OMAHA, Neb. — Not only is UCLA the national champion, the Bruins also serve as a model for how to build a winner in this new era of college baseball.

The Bruins ended the year with nary a .300 hitter, but could they pitch and play defense.

“We play a lot of tight games,” star closer David Berg said. “We aren’t explosive offensively, but we win a lot of games because we do execute.”

They did all season, but never more than at the College World Series, where their grinding offense and lockdown pitching and defense both frustrated and fascinated opponents.

Some coaches have lamented the drop-off in offense since new bat standards went into effect in 2011.

There also has been grumbling about how unfriendly the cavernous TD Ameritrade Park is to home-run hitters.

Bruins coach John Savage said before the finals that those coaches need to stop complaining and start adjusting.

They might want to follow Savage’s lead.

A pitching coach before he was a head coach, Savage always has adhered to the pitching-and-defense mantra. As for offense, his philosophy asks his team to capitalize on every opportunity and scratch out runs any which way it can.

It was a style well-suited to 2013, when college baseball’s offensive numbers were at or near the level of the wooden bat days pre-1974.

This College World Series was Exhibit A for the game’s new age. The combined batting average for the 14 games was .237.

There were just three home runs hit.

The Bruins (49-17) batted .227 and had no homers. That was the lowest batting average by a national champion in the metal-bat era, and they were the first team since 1966 to win a title with no home runs.

The Bruins batted .250 for the season, worst in the Pac-12 and near the bottom in Division I, but they usually were able to generate enough runs.

The Bruins won 11 in a row to finish the season, including all 10 of their games in the NCAA tournament.

They had one of the most challenging routes to get to Omaha, sweeping San Diego State, Cal Poly and San Diego in regionals before going to Cal State Fullerton and sweeping two games from the No. 5 national seed Titans in super regionals.

“I think that’s why you call us champions,” Savage said.

He said he knew when his team beat Fullerton that it would be one to be reckoned with in Omaha.

“To make the run we did, I think it’s one of the best runs clearly in the history of UCLA baseball and, really, for a single season on the West Coast.”


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