UCLA’s Berg goes from walk-on to star closer

OMAHA, Neb. — David Berg has pitched three of every four UCLA baseball games over two seasons, set a school record for saves and was the Pac-12 pitcher of the year.

For all that, he’s still a walk-on. He said Saturday he’s been promised a scholarship for next year, when he’s a junior.

Of course, Berg is grateful to be playing Division I baseball at all after going largely unrecruited through high school. UCLA’s coaching staff didn’t offer him a chance to make the team until a month after his senior year of high school in 2011.

“Just a great college baseball story,” Bruins coach John Savage said. “It gives, I think, a feel for any young guy out there that feels like he’s not wanted. It was just a credit to him that he took advantage of the opportunity and he became what he is today.”

Berg will go into UCLA’s College World Series opener against LSU on Sunday night with a 7-0 record and a Bruins-record 21 saves, tied for second in the nation. He has an 0.88 ERA, tied for first nationally.

The two-time all-conference pick added to his collection of awards Saturday when he was selected the Stopper of the Year by the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association. As a freshman, he was used as a setup man, which, Savage said, probably will be his role if he pitches professionally.

Berg said he didn’t take it personally when people told him he couldn’t pitch at a big baseball school.

“I was just happy I did what I did to prove coach Savage and coach (T.J.) Bruce right,” he said. “They were the ones willing to give me a chance.”

Savage described Berg as an average high school pitcher who didn’t appear destined to land at a major baseball school until his coaches at Bishop Amat High helped him develop his distinct sidearm delivery.

Berg led Bishop Amat to the sectional championship at Dodger Stadium, where he was spotted by UCLA pitching coach T.J. Bruce. UC Irvine and Nevada also showed interest, but Berg jumped at Savage’s invitation to walk on.

“I visited with him for about 45 minutes, and I could tell he was going to be good,” Savage said. “I didn’t know he was going to be this good.”