The last time the Bruins were in the College World Series in 2010, they had the three-headed monster in the weekend rotation of Gerrit Cole, Trevor Bauer and Rob Rasmussen. That team, you could say, did things with a little fancy flare. That team also competed for a national title.
Now, the Bruins don’t have a Cole or Bauer, but they have a very solid collection of pitchers, led by right-hander Adam Plutko. And like the ’10 campaign, they’re off to a fantastic start in Omaha after capturing a dominant 9-1 win over previously red-hot Stony Brook.
“That was a typical Bruins win,” UCLA coach John Savage said. “We did nothing fancy, no big homers, more kind of plate discipline, used the middle of the field, walked eight or nine times, and we played catch and threw some strikes.”
The Bruins couldn’t have handled Stony Brook in more impressive fashion. The Seawolves captured the nation’s hearts and attention the past couple of weeks with some impressive performances. They won the Coral Gable Regional before outplaying LSU throughout last weekend in the Baton Super Regional.
Besides going against a red-hot team on Friday, the Bruins had a Stony Brook-heavy crowd -- thanks to the locals -- going against them, too.
Recognizing the sizzling nature of the Seawolves, and the crowd, the Bruins were patient in the first inning and seized an uncharacteristic opportunity against usually solid Stony Brook starting pitcher Tyler Johnson.
The Bruins scored five runs -- all earned -- off Johnson in the first inning on an RBI double from outfielder Jeff Gelalich, RBI singles from first baseman Trevor Brown and Kevin Kramer, and a safety squeeze from shortstop Pat Valaika.
“He’s a ground ball machine, and he wanted us to chase. We just made an adjustment to see the ball up in the zone,” UCLA outfielder Beau Amaral said about Johnson. “We just kept getting the ball on the ground and pecking away from him.”
Amaral was one of the offensive leaders on the day, going 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI, while third baseman Kevin Kramer went 2-for-2 with two runs scored and second baseman Kevin Williams had a double and two RBIs.
Johnson had his worst start of the season against the Bruins. He previously only had allowed five runs in one start. But in this one, he allowed seven runs in 2 1/3 innings of work. That’s amazing to consider when looking back at Johnson’s herculean performance against LSU last weekend. However, fatigue might’ve been an issue. After all, Johnson had thrown 21 innings in the postseason entering his start against UCLA.
“I think at this point in the year, no one is really 100 percent. The fact of the matter is I wasn’t on today. There are going to be bumps and bruises, I just thought I only hit my spots every once in a while,” Johnson said. “There’s no excuses on workload. I had five days off.”
Johnson wasn’t the only Stony Brook star who had a rough opening day at the CWS. The Seawolves’ top three hitters in the lineup in Travis Jankowski, Pat Cantwell and William Carmona were very good at times the past two weekends. However, all three struggled immensely against UCLA starting pitcher Adam Plutko, going a combined 1-for-12.
Plutko doesn’t have the big-time velocity of some great UCLA pitchers of the past, but he certainly has established himself as one of the nation’s premier arms. Not only last season and for much of this season, but especially down the stretch this postseason.
Plutko, who relies heavily on his fastball, nearly threw a no-hitter against Creighton in the Los Angeles Regional two weekends ago. He threw a two-hitter in that contest. Then, against TCU last weekend, he allowed just two runs in seven innings.
He was outstanding against the Seawolves. In addition to escaping jams, he did a great job of moving his deceptive fastball around the zone, and going up in the zone to challenge the Stony Brook hitters late in counts. He finished the game with seven strikeouts and allowed just a run on five hits in seven innings of work. He threw 112 pitches, 71 of them for strikes.
“He just stuck with his routine and pounded the strike zone,” Jankowski said. “He threw fastballs for the most part and would elevate his fastball with two strikes. His main out pitch was the fastball out of the zone, and he was there all day.”
“He attacked the zone, throwing strikes very early [in the count],” Cantwell said. “We were behind the count for the most part all day. We had the scouting report on him point on, he was just better than us today. He beat us to his spots today.”
UCLA coach John Savage said after the win the Bruins had nothing to celebrate after just an opening win in Omaha. But it’s crystal clear what happened the last time UCLA won an opening game of the CWS-- it played for a national title.
The Bruins aren’t taking too much from this game. But it was a typical performance, one filled with key hits, clean defense and spot pitching. And the Bruins looked good doing it.
Perhaps fancy is overrated.
GAME IN REVIEW
Player of the Game: RHP Adam Plutko, UCLA -- Stony Brook entered the contest as one of the nation’s hottest hitting teams the past few weekends. However, he kept them in check all afternoon. He struck out seven and allowed just one run on five hits in seven innings.
Unsung hero: OF Beau Amaral -- Amaral has been the table setter for the Bruins so much this season. He once again enjoyed that role on Friday in the win. Amaral went 2-for-4 with a run scored and an RBI. He also induced a walk. Amaral has been an OK offensive player the past couple of seasons, but really has blossomed this season.
Game was over when: With UCLA right-handed pitcher Adam Plutko dealing in the first inning, it was obvious the right-hander was going to be on his game much of the afternoon. That was bad news for Stony Brook and right-handed Tyler Johnson, who got off to a slow start and allowed five runs in the first inning. The Bruins never looked back, as Johnson was lifted after throwing 69 pitches in just 2 1/3 innings.
What’s next: The Seawolves have the tough chore of heading to the loser’s bracket, where they’re likely to throw Brandon McNitt, who has a 3.79 ERA in 19 innings in the postseason. Meanwhile, the Bruins head to the winner bracket, where righty Nick Vander Tuig will get the start. Vander Tuig, too, has been great in the NCAA postseason with an 0.64 ERA in 14 innings.