JOHNSON: Light Hitting, Still Winning

NC State will have to be ready for a different kind of opponent on Tuesday night, a UCLA Bruins squad that thrives on defensive mistakes and small ball.

If you want evidence of how different the college game is since the NCAA put restrictions on aluminum bats several years ago, UCLA is Exhibit A.

The Bruins, simply put, are not a very good hitting team – yet here they are in the winner's bracket of the College World Series. They've made it this far through a combination of great pitching, superior defense and timely hitting.

"They make every routine play it looks like," Pack catcher Brett Austin said. "You gotta play as clean as possible – you have to capitalize on the mistakes the other team makes."

This is a team that thrives by not making mistakes and pouncing on the opposition when it makes one. They've committed just 50 errors in 62 games all season (the Pack, a solid defensive team, has committed 76 in 64 games). That's how they upset LSU on Sunday, downing arguably the hottest team in the nation by scoring two runs off Tiger errors and holding LSU's powerful offense to just one run.

"They can play the small game very very well whether it is defensively or offensively," head coach Elliot Avent said. "Pitchers are going to throw strikes under John Savage – that's what he believes in."

The Pack will get one of UCLA's many strike-throwing machines tonight in the form of Nick Vander Tuig. The right-hander, who was drafted in the sixth round of the MLB draft by the San Francisco Giants, leads the Bruins with 12 wins and has a sparkling 2.37 ERA. He almost never walks a batter, just 17 walks in 114 innings – or about one walk per start. He's struck out 81 batters and allowed just 24 extra-base hits on the season.

Avent said he's not worried about the team's approach at the plate however.

"The last seven weeks of the season, the last 40 games, they've had work to do," Avent said. "And I don't think they've stopped yet."

Defensively, the Pack will have to be ready for anything from the Bruins' offensive attack. This is a team with nobody hitting over .300, nobody with an on-base percentage or a slugging percentage over .400 and who's starting line-up has hit just 15 home runs and a combined 93 extra-base hits. The Pack has 154 extra-base hits including 115 doubles.

But what the Bruins lack in offensive fire-power they make up for in ingenuity. They bunt – 68 sacrifice hits on the year, not including the times they've bunted for hits – they hit-and-run, they steal bases. Lead-off hitter Brian Carroll is 30-for-37 in stolen base attempts and keeping him off the bases will be a key for the Pack.

"They are very scrappy – they pitch really well, they play great defense and they get hits when they have to," Pack first baseman Tarran Senay said. "Coach said they bunt a lot – we practiced some bunts today so we'll be ready."

The Pack spent a good half hour of its practice on Monday working on fielding drills, specifically their bunt defense, in preparation for their match-up Tuesday night. Avent, who was the head coach at New Mexico State for eight years before coming home to Raleigh in 1997, spent enough time on the west coach to grow familiar with the style of baseball the Bruins play.

"They can run, they can slash, they can do it all – that's west-coast baseball," Avent said. "It's a little different type of baseball; I was out there fortunately for eight years and got to experience it firsthand. You have to be ready for anything."

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