OMAHA, Neb. – What might seem ho-hum to the casual college baseball fan was familiar and comfortable for UCLA on Friday.
Squaring off with media darling Stony Brook in the first game of the 2012 College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park, the Bruins pounced quickly and delivered a workmanlike 9-1 victory.
Adam Plutko blazed through seven innings and allowed only five hits, Jeff Gelalich broke the seal on the scoreboard with a two-run single and Kevin Williams broke the game open with a two-run double from the nine-hole as UCLA (48-14) surged into a Sunday night showdown against fellow Pac-12 co-champion Arizona (44-17) at 8 p.m. Sunday.
The Seawolves will face Florida State (48-16) at 4 p.m. Sunday in an elimination game.
“It was a typical Bruin win, really,” UCLA coach John Savage said. “Nothing fancy. No home runs or anything like that. It was just more kind of plate discipline.”
It was also all about Plutko handcuffing the Seawolves, whose Super Regional victory at LSU last week has been the buzz of the tournament since the teams arrived on Wednesday.
The lone run Stony Brook (52-14) mustered was Pat Cantwell’s solo home run in the third inning. The Seawolves loaded the bases in the second inning, but Plutko struck out Kevin Courtney and induced a foul pop against Sal Intagliata. The only other time Stony Brook came close to scoring was in the fifth inning, but a controversial 3-2 double play snuffed out that threat.
“He attacked the zone and was throwing strikes early,” Cantwell said. “That’s always effective. We were behind in the count most of the day.”
Of course, it didn’t hurt that Plutko spent most of his afternoon on a comfy cushion of at 4-6 runs.
The Bruins came out swinging in the first inning against California native Tyler Johnson and didn’t ease up off the accelerator until 10 hitters had come to the plate, five of them scoring.
|Tyler Heineman and Beau Amaral helped key the Bruins' five-run 1st inning in the CWS opener.|
Beau Amaral lit the fuse when he rammed a single through the middle and Tyler Heineman joined him on base on an infield hit to the hole at shortstop. Johnson walked Cody Keefer to load the bases and Gelalich won a long battle when he laced a hit to shallow right-center that plated a pair of runs.
“It wouldn’t have happened if the guys in front of me hadn’t gotten on base,” Gelalich said. “By the time I got up there, I had an idea of how there were going to pitch.”
Trevor Brown pumped another hit to center field for a 3-0 UCLA cushion and Savage called on Pat Valaika for a safety squeeze bunt and he came through. The final Bruins run came on Kevin Kramer’s infield single.
In the opening inning, UCLA produced five hits, two more than LSU managed against Johnson in nine innings of a 3-1 loss.
“Beau hits the ball up the middle off Tyler and kind of sets the tone for a day of beating infielders,” Savage said.
The early onslaught seemed to take the wind out of the Seawolves’ sails, and perhaps just as importantly, subdue an estimated crowd of 23,000 that was poised to provide the fuel for Stony Brook’s upset bid.
Plutko talked about the comfort of pitching with the lead and it seemed like the Seawolves wilted without an energy boost.
“I think it took the crowd out of it and helped us relax,” Gelalich said.
Meanwhile, Stony Brook never looked completely comfortable, especially compared to the previous weekend when it never came to bat trailing vs. LSU and got three-hit complete-game efforts in two victories.
The Seawolves only got four at-bats with runners in scoring position and squandered all of them. Plutko weathered every storm that popped up on the way to his 12th victory.
The sophomore struck out seven and walked only two. The top of the Seawolves batting order – Travis Jankowski, Cantwell and Willie Carmona – was a combined 1-for-12 after that trio tormented LSU.
“I think a lot of it has to do with deception in my delivery,” Plutko said. “I’m a fly-ball pitcher, and I don’t shy away from that. It’s a lot easier to get outs with the ball in the air than with the ball on the ground.”
It all looked fairly easy Friday for UCLA and now the Bruins march on as a No. 2 national seed that not a lot of people were talking about before Friday.
There was a sense of calm Friday, though.
Maybe even a little ho-hum.
“It’s the first game of our bracket, so there’s nothing to celebrate, nothing to get overly excited about, other than we know that we’re playing the night game on Sunday,” Savage said. “I’m proud of our guys.”