UCLA Hitting High Gear at CWS
The Bruins are one win away from the CWS' championship round following their 6-3 victory over TCU Monday night at Rosenblatt Stadium. The last Pac-10 team to open 2-0 in its bracket was Oregon State in 2007. In case anyone needs a reminder, the Beavers went undefeated through the CWS, posting a 5-0 record, and won their second consecutive NCAA title.
While UCLA is in search of its first championship, the Bruins can both relax and prepare with three days off until their next game.
"Whenever you get into the College World Series, you win the first two games, you have to be happy where you're at," UCLA coach John Savage said.
"But when I say we haven't done anything, there's no disrespect. We certainly beat good Florida and TCU teams. But this team is on a mission. This team feels pretty good about themselves. We want to compete. That's what this team is based off of. And when I say we haven't done anything, I mean we still have a lot of baseball to be played."
No. 6 national seed UCLA (50-14), which notched its first 50-win season in school history, plays on Friday against the winner of Wednesday's elimination game between Florida State and TCU, which beat the Seminoles in its Saturday opener, while FSU eliminated No. 3 national seed Florida on Monday.
Clemson and Oklahoma are each unbeaten after one game in the opposite bracket and meet Tuesday night. No. 1 national seed Arizona State squares off against South Carolina in an elimination game Tuesday afternoon.
For a team known for its pitching -- UCLA has struck out a national-best 652 hitters in 582 innings -- the Bruins' offense has found life in Omaha, Neb. UCLA scored runs in 11 of its first 12 innings against UF and TCU.
Beau Amaral recorded his third consecutive three-hit game for UCLA, going 3-for-3 with two runs scored against TCU. He is 6-for-7 with three runs scored in the CWS and has a trio of three-hit games in the NCAA Tournament.
Talk about perfect timing. UCLA is hitting a CWS-best .361 (26-for-72). The Bruins are also 45-0 when scoring five or more runs in a game.
"We used the middle of the field," Savage explained.
"When we do that, we're a tough team to pitch against. We don't have a bunch of home-run hitters. We don't have a bunch of guys that are knocking down the fence. But we have a bunch of guys who are gritty and certainly offensive enough that if you leave some pitches over the plate, they can do some damage."
UCLA points to its series defeat against ASU in early May as a turning point. The Bruins are 18-3 since they were swept in three games and outscored 23-5 by the Sun Devils.
"I think we learned a lot from them," said pitcher Gerrit Cole, who fanned 13 and carried a one-hitter into the seventh inning against TCU.
"They came out and, in some circumstances, we beat ourselves. But for the most part, I can't remember them not playing perfect baseball. They were unbelievable the way they took the field and the way they really played nine on one, really smothered you at the plate. And I think we took a lot of those elements that they have, the foundation of their team and we kind of incorporated them into our team.
"I think it really allowed us to step up our game to a whole another level. We knew were were on a roll. But we also knew at the same time that we could be a lot better."
UCLA is showing just how much better at the CWS. Just ask the Horned Frogs, who are not counting themselves out by any stretch.
"I am sure UCLA is certainly sitting pretty, but I like the guys that we have left to pitch," TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle said.
"The one thing we talked about out there in right field (following game) is the crazy thing about this tournament is you can lose two games and still win a national championship. You just can't lose any more between now and the championship series. We've used our mulligan. Now we have to play with our backs against the wall in the corner, and we're a much better club when we're in that scenario."