OMAHA, Neb. – Step for step and blow for blow, only one inning separated UCLA and Arizona Sunday night when the Pac-12 co-champions met on college baseball’s biggest stage.
That one inning was a major difference for both teams, though, and now another one of the pre-tournament favorites is on the ropes.
The Wildcats peppered Bruins’ starter Nick Vander Tuig for five straight hits and four runs in the fourth inning, and that was all Arizona needed as Konner Wade spun a dazzling complete-game performance in a 4-0 triumph.
UA (48-15) slid into one of the CWS driver’s seat and won’t play again until 2 p.m. (PDT) Thursday. UCLA (45-17), the No. 2 national seed, squares off with Florida State (49-16) in an elimination game at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
The Bruins join No. 1 seed Florida as heavyweights on the ropes, needing three wins to get to the best-of-three national championship series.
And it was Wade who stuck UCLA in that predicament with a dazzling performance that was the 100th shutout in CWS history, the 79th with a complete game and the first nine-inning whitewash without a walk since 1972.
“Needless to say, Konner Wade’s performance – it’s an understatement for me to say – he was outstanding,” Arizona coach and UCLA alumnus Andy Lopez said. “He was pretty doggone good.
“We were fortunate enough to get one inning where we got some offense.”
|Konner Wade: Outdueled UCLA's Nick Vander Tuig with a complete-game shutout, UA's first at the CWS since 1980|
That one inning came after Bruins’ starter Nick Vander Tuig matched Wade through 3½ perfect innings – the two pitchers needing only 70 pitches between them to record the first 21 outs.
After Vander Tuig got the 22nd out by striking out UA leadoff man Joey Rickard for the second time, the Wildcats finally started chipping away. After fouling off two pitches on a 2-and-2 count, Johnny Field shanked an opposite-field single that landed just inside the right-field line for a single.
Alex Mejia rifled a hit to left field and Robert Refsnyder loaded the bases when he whipped another single to left that was too sharply hit for Field to score.
Seth Mejias-Brean took a pitch and then ripped a line drive into right-center field that scored two runs, and an error on Bruins right fielder Jeff Gelalich allowed the hitter to take second base. With two runners in scoring position, Bobby Brown worked the count full and then yanked a double into the right-field corner.
“I missed up a couple of times, which hurt me and they put good swings on it,” Vander Tuig said.
Just like that it was 4-0 and UCLA was suddenly at the bottom of an uphill climb.
|Robert Refsnyder and Seth Mejia-Brean race home on Bobby Brown's 2B for a 4-0 lead.|
Arizona produced only one more hit the rest of the night and never came close to extending the lead. But the Bruins’ squandered their only real threat in the fifth inning Wade blazed through the first 14 hitters without allowing anything before Pat Valaika broke through with a soft liner to right. Cody Regis punched another hit to left-center field and Kevin Kramer legged out an infield single to load the bases.
After a visit from Lopez, Wade extinguished the Bruins’ uprising when Kevin Williams made the third out on a first-pitch fly ball to left field.
After that, Wade mowed down 11 of the final 13 hitters he faced and got a lift when the UA defense turned an around-the-horn double play to end the eighth inning. In the ninth, Wade (10-3) breezed through the Bruins’ two-, three- and four-hole hitters.
When Arizona and UCLA played in Tucson in mid-April, Wade lasted only three innings and surrendered 10 hits and six runs.
This time around, the Bruins didn’t have much bite and were shut out for just the second time all season (Oregon State won 3-0 on April 21). Wade got 15 outs on ground balls and recorded 10 outs – eight in the first five innings – on either the first or second pitch of an at-bat.
“We had our way with him a month a half ago and he really, really pitched well (Sunday),” Bruins coach John Savage said. “We rolled over all night. Really a credit to him. Really have to tip my hat. He pitched as well as anybody we’ve seen all year.”
“We weren’t ourselves, but a lot of that had to do with him. We were uncharacteristically impatient, and that’s what good pitchers do.”
|Kevin Williams collected one of UCLA's five singles|
Meanwhile Vander Tuig had plenty of success as well.
Besides the fourth frame, he notched five 1-2-3 innings and was on a run of eight in a row set down until Riley Moore plopped a base hit into right field in the seventh inning.
“Nick was very sharp,” Savage said. “Really the difference in the game was that five-hitter stretch. That was it. It was pretty quiet from both sides the whole evening.”
As a result of that one five-batter blip, UCLA will have to win three games – one against the ACC champion Seminoles and two against the Wildcats – to get a shot at a national crown. UA needs just one more win to get to the national championship series.
“It’s all about taking blows at the College World Series,” Savage said. “It’s not a dagger; it’s a blow. We’ll move on and we’ll be ready to play on Tuesday night.”