OMAHA, Neb. — For years out in Hollywood, two storylines ran this way:
USC won the baseball titles. UCLA won the basketball titles.
In baseball, the Bruins definitely ran second string behind the Trojans. In its entire baseball history UCLA made only two trips to the College World Series before 2010: back in 1969 and in 2007.
Lately, though, the baseball Bruins have become the new Wizards of Westwood.
This year marks UCLA’s first back-to-back appearance in the CWS and third since 2010, tied for the most the past four years with South Carolina and Florida. Armed with a top-notch pitching staff, the Bruins are aiming to stay awhile starting by taking aim on LSU in Sunday night’s final first-round game (7 p.m., ESPN2).
“It’s good to see familiar faces,” UCLA coach John Savage said Friday. “I think we’re one of those teams that people are a little surprised to see. We lost a lot of players (from 2012). But we think we earned this trip.”
The Bruins (44-17) plowed through a regional at their home ballpark — named after the program’s most famous star, Jackie Robinson — before heading to Cal State Fullerton for a super regional and the right to come to Omaha.
UCLA survived Game 1 in 10 innings 5-3 before winning the second game 3-0 behind a strong pitching performance from starting pitcher Nick Vander Tuig.
“It’s almost a relief to get through that series and have an opportunity to go compete again,” Savage said.
Vander Tuig (12-4, 2.37 ERA) is the top winning pitcher on a UCLA staff that sports a stellar 2.69 ERA. The Bruins are slated to start junior right-hander Adam Plutko (8-3, 2.35) against the Tigers.
In the pen, the Bruins can pin their hopes on their surprise right-handed bullpen ace, David Berg (7-0, 0.88, 21 saves). Savage said Berg, the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year, was a walk-on who was widely overlooked coming out of high school.
“He was an average high school pitcher that turned to kind of a low three-quarter sidearm his senior year,” Savage said. “Still, nobody recruited him. He went to the CIF (California Interscholastic Federation) championship game; one of our assistants saw him and liked him.”
There is less to like about the offense, however. As a team the Bruins hit just .251, ranking 253rd nationally.
Third baseman Kevin Kramer leads UCLA with a .279 average, though in the NCAA tournament the Bruins have been led by right fielder Eric Filia (.524) and first baseman Pat Gallagher (.471, seven RBIs).
Though UCLA isn’t a match for LSU offensively, the Bruins are equally stout on defense, fielding at a .980 clip.