Bruins look to add to national championship stash at CWS
UCLA and South Carolina battle for their first College World Series title
The best-of-3 series starts Monday in the final CWS at Rosenblatt Stadium
The Bruins' formidable starting rotation gives them a decent advantage
OMAHA, Neb. -- Bill it as the Bruins and the Bridesmaids.
Neither UCLA nor South Carolina has ever won a College World Series title, so Rosenblatt Stadium's last game will feature a first-time national champion.
In fact, UCLA had never won a game here before this year, going 0-2 in its two previous appearances (in 1969 and 1997). Since 1956, only three teams -- Cal State Fullerton (1979), Georgia (1990) and Oregon State (2006) -- have won the championship without previously winning a game here. UCLA is bidding to join them - as well as 16 other Bruins sports that have combined to win 106 national titles.
"It's the athletic department with the most national championships in the country," said UCLA coach John Savage. "We know that baseball has never gotten to that pinnacle of college baseball, and now that we're in position, we look to be ready for that opportunity."
South Carolina has finished runner-up three times - most recently in 2002 after, like this year, coming through the losers' bracket. That was the last year of the single-game final format.
"Back when we were in this position before we had finished on an early evening on a Friday," said South Carolina coach Ray Tanner. "It was a short turnaround and it wasn't best-of-three. Is that going to make it easier for us? Absolutely not. But I think it's the way it should be."
Here's what to expect for the championship series:
Jay Brown, Sr., RHP (3-0, 4.44 ERA, 34 SO/21 BB in 50.2 IP): With the team's top two starters unavailable because of recent appearances, he could get the ball for the opener because he's an experienced fifth-year senior and was the most capable from a group of pitchers who served as the team's third starter. He throws in the 87-90 mph range and has average secondary pitches. He rarely pitches deep into games, so getting six innings out of him would be huge. The leash will likely be short.
Blake Cooper, Sr., RHP (12-2, 2.86 ERA, 116 SO/38 BB in 129 IP): He was average at best his first three seasons, but put it together this year after dedicating himself to an exhaustive offseason conditioning program. A four-pitch mix that includes an 88-92 mph fastball and competitive drive are the secrets to his success. He's already made two starts here, but is expected to be ready again -- likely Tuesday -- on short rest. Arizona selected him in the 12th round of this year's draft.
Sam Dyson Jr., RHP (6-5, 4.28 ERA, 101 SO/24 BB in 103 IP): He's a power pitcher with huge arm strength -- his fastball sits 92-96, but he can crank it up when needed -- and hard breaking pitches to go with it. He allowed five hits and two runs over 6.2 innings in Saturday's 4-3 win over Clemson and probably won't be available unless there is a Game 3 or a backs-to-the-wall emergency in Game 2. Toronto took him in the fourth round of the draft.
The pitching staff was so taxed coming through the losers' bracket that standout relief is again essential if the Gamecocks are to win the series. LHP Michael Roth, who had never pitched more than 3.1 innings, received a surprise start Friday and went the distance in a 5-1 win over Clemson. What else can he contribute? Most of their success has come from situational relief, with pitching coach Mark Calvi running Roth, LHPs Steven Neff and Tyler Webb and RHPs Matt Price, John Taylor and Jose Mata out there as needed. Price, a freshman, is the workhorse at the back end, having saved 10 games.
It isn't as dominant as some of the teams Tanner has brought to Omaha, but it is productive nonetheless. CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (.375, 13 HR, 60 RBI) is the Gamecocks' leader in almost every way. It was his single that saved South Carolina when it was one strike away from going home against Oklahoma before rallying for a 3-2 win. RF Whit Merrifield (.325, 13, 40), a ninth-round draft pick by Kansas City, also supplies power, along with 1B Christian Walker (.323, 9, 51) and 3B Adrian Morales (.281, 9, 56). Freshman LF Evan Marzilli (.378, 3, 11) moved into the starting role as he gained experience and proved adept at finding ways to get on base.
Gerrit Cole, Soph., RHP (11-3, 3.26 ERA, 151 SO/51 BB in 116 IP): A power pitcher -- he has touched 99 mph -- who pounds the strike zone and has a good changeup but doesn't need it much at this level, given his fastball and slider. In UCLA's second game here, a 6-3 win over TCU, he took a one-hitter into the seventh inning and struck out 13 in eight innings. He chose college over the pros in 2008 after the Yankees made him a first-round draft pick and has only enhanced his status since.
Rob Rasmussen, Jr., LHP (11-3, 2.87 ERA, 123 SO/31 BB in 103.1 IP): He would be the ace on most other staffs, but his 89-92 mph fastball seems almost pedestrian compared to Cole and Trevor Bauer. His advantage is being left-handed and he posseses a good 12-6 curveball, along with an effective slider and changeup. He was the losing pitcher in UCLA's only defeat at the CWS, allowing six hits and three runs in 4.1 innings in a 6-2 loss to TCU. Florida selected him in the second round of this year's draft.
Trevor Bauer, Soph., RHP (12-3, 3.02 ERA, 165 SO/41 BB in 131.1 IP): A unique individual who left high school early -- thus, wasn't eligible for the draft -- to get to college. He observes a very exhaustive workout regimen to build arm strength and resiliency. He seemed no worse for the wear after throwing 135 pitches in 95-degree heat -- striking out 13 -- in Saturday's 10-3 win over TCU. He throws eight different pitches, but a 90-94 mph fastball and outstanding curveball are mostly responsible for him leading the nation in strikeouts.
There's plenty of depth here, although it hasn't been needed much. RHP Garett Claypool may be the best No. 4 starter in the nation and can fill a long relief role in this situation. RHP Erik Goeddel is the setup man for RHP Dan Klein, a power closer with 10 saves this season. He was selected in the third round by Baltimore.
The Bruins have been without 2B Tyler Rahmatulla, who injured his wrist in the postgame celebration after the Super Regionals, but haven't missed a beat. The lineup is pesky more than powerful -- no one has more than nine homers -- with CF Beau Amaral (.360, 4 HR, 31 RBI) and SS Niko Gallego (.274, 3, 32) getting things started at the top of the order and 3B Dean Espy (.357, 9, 52), 2B Cody Regis (.322, 9, 47), DH Blair Dunlap (.319, 6, 28), RF Brett Krill (.286, 7, 38) and C Steve Rodriguez (.249, 8, 37) there to drive them in.
Cole and Bauer (along with TCU's Matt Purke) have been a cut above the rest of the pitching here, giving UCLA a formidable starting rotation. If that's not enough, the Bruins' offense has produced more runs than anyone else in Omaha. UCLA in three games.