OMAHA, Neb. — Throughout the 2013 season and into the postseason, UCLA's formula for success revolved around pitching, defense and opportunistic offense.
The Bruins used that formula Tuesday night against NC State, and tossed in a heaping helping of TD Ameritrade Park good fortune to hand the Wolfpack a 2-1 defeat and send the Pack into the losers bracket of the College World Series.
NC State (50-15) will return to action Thursday night for a rematch with rival North Carolina, which survived an elimination game with LSU, 4-2, on Tuesday afternoon, sending the Tigers home. The NC State-UNC winner will then have to defeat UCLA (46-17) twice to advance to the championship series.
At first glance, UCLA would appear to be the least likely team in Bracket 2 to be unbeaten at this point. The Bruins have scored four runs on 10 hits in two games in the CWS, with just one RBI hit in each game. They scored a run against LSU on an error and one against the Wolfpack on a wild pitch.
"Well, I mean, what can you say?" UCLA coach John Savage said. "Right now, I guess that's who we are. I mean, it's Bruin baseball. Sometimes it's grueling. It's tough to watch from outside the dugout, I'm sure. But our kids hung in there and persevered."
On the mound, UCLA, appearing in its third CWS in the last four years, has been excellent, allowing just 10 hits, striking out 17 and walking just two. Bruins pitchers were stout against the Wolfpack as well.
Junior righthander Nick Vander Tuig (13-4), a sixth-round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants, started and worked seven-plus innings, yielding just one run on four hits and striking out six without a walk.
The Wolfpack scored its lone run in the bottom of the third, but had a runner cut down at home plate in the inning on a ballpark bounce that went UCLA's way. Bryan Adametz led off and was hit by a pitch, and Jake Armstrong singled to left field to put runners on first and second. Logan Ratledge sacrificed the runners to second and third, and Trea Turner gave the Wolfpack a 1-0 lead with an RBI single to left.
Bruins left fielder Brenton Allen fielded Turner's single, but made a horrible throw home, airmailing the he ball all the way to the backstop, allowing Turner to advance to second. Armstrong, who took third on Turner's single, tried to score on the overthrow, which caromed cleanly off the back wall below the backstop, straight to catcher Shane Zeile, who made a perfect peg to Vander Tuig covering home plate for the second out of the inning.
The bad throw actually turned into a huge break for UCLA. Armstrong would have stayed at third on a good throw, then would have scored easily on Jake Fincher's fly ball to left, which instead ended the inning with the Wolfpack leading 1-0. UCLA got an even bigger break from the ballpark in the late innings.
The Bruins took the lead in the top of the fifth. NC State starter Logan Jernigan (1-1) retired Zeile on a grounder to shortstop leading off the inning, but Cody Regis walked and Allen lined a single to right field. When Jernigan walked Brian Carroll to load the bases, State head coach Elliott Avent summoned senior lefthander Grant Sasser from the bullpen. Kevin Kramer singled to center to tie the game, and Sasser unloaded a wild pitch to score Allen and put UCLA up 2-1.
Vander Tuig, who went on cruise control starting with the Fincher fly ball to end the third, retired 12 in a row and 13 of 14 through the end of the seventh inning.
"[Vander Tuig] just worked out, up, down, mixed speeds well," Wolfpack third baseman Grant Clyde said. "No walks. That's always tough to beat. That means he's working ahead in the count. Never going to get you in a hitter's count. And when we do get in a hitter's count, he'd pull the string on a changeup or something that he knew he could get over for a strike."
When Adametz led off the bottom of the eighth with a first-pitch single to left, Savage went to the bullpen for Pac 12 Pitcher of the Year and national Closer of the Year David Berg, who worked the final two innings for his 23rd save, but not before throwing a serious scare into the Bruin faithful in the bottom of the eighth.
Armstrong, attempting to sacrifice Adametz to second, managed to get hit in the leg with an inside pitch, putting runners on first and second. Logan Ratledge then attempted to bunt both runners into scoring position, but popped the ball up. Berg fielded and threw to third to nail the lead runner, which proved crucial.
Turner followed and crushed a first-pitch fastball to left that looked for all the world like a three-run home run and a 4-2 NC State lead. Instead, TD Ameritrade Park, for the third time in four days in this College World Series, took a potential late-inning, game-winning home run and killed it at the warning track, where UCLA defensive replacement Christoph Bono ran it down for the second out.
"Yeah, I was dumb enough to think so," Turner said when asked if he thought his drive would leave the ballpark. "I mean, that's about as good as I can hit a ball right now. And unfortunately, it fell a few feet short. And that could have been the difference in the game."
The fact that the ball failed to leave the ballpark was tough enough for the Wolfpack, but had Ratledge, one of the team's most reliable bunters, gotten his sacrifice down, the tying run would have scored from third on the Turner fly ball. Instead, Berg recovered and struck out Fincher to end the inning.
Tarran Senay got a one-out single in the bottom of the ninth, but Berg recorded the game's final two outs on strikeouts.
"What we talked about in practice yesterday was that UCLA is a team that is going to give you absolutely nothing, and they didn't," Wolfpack coach Elliott Avent said. "We fought hard. We played hard. We played pretty good. Vender Tuig was fantastic. He kept hitting his spots, kept the ball down, elevated when he needed to, and his changeup is pretty tough. But we fought hard and had our chances."
NC State got 4 1/3 innings from Jernigan, who had just 30 1/3 innings to his credit entering the game. He allowed just three baserunners through four innings before running into trouble in the fifth. Jernigan walked three and struck out three. The NC State bullpen, aside from the wild pitch allowing the go-ahead run to score, was airtight as usual. Sasser and Josh Easley combined to allow just two hits in 4 2/3 shutout innings.
Vander Tuig and Berg combined to limit NC State to five hits, the fewest by the Wolfpack in 27 games, since a three-hit performance April 14 at Boston College.
The loss was just NC State's fourth in 18 one-run games. UCLA improved to 15-2 in one-run contests. NC State now is 32-5 since March 31, an .865 winning percentage, still the best in that time among the eight College World Series participants. The Wolfpack is 8-2 in the postseason, including ACC and NCAA tournament games, and is 6-1 in the NCAA Tournament.