Mississippi State, playing in the national championship round for the first time, finished 51-20. They finished frustrated as well, but with due respect to the victors.
"We worked so hard for this opportunity to be here," said RF Hunter Renfroe. "Of course you want to be the upper team but we got second. We just didn't pull it out, hats off to UCLA they played two great ball games. Their pitching staff did a phenomenal job both games, and we didn't get the hits when we needed to and they did."
That, with mention of some devastating defensive lapses that UCLA utilized for runs both nights, was a succinct a summary as any. The Diamond Dogs felt they were hot coming into the best-of-three championship round. Once there though they ran into a Bruin club that was simply sizzling.
"I thought UCLA played a great ball game," Coach John Cohen said. "And we didn't."
It wasn't a good game either. Sharp Bruin pitching, combined with batting approaches out-of-synch from what brought them to this point, limited the Bulldogs to just five hits and no scoring. It was only the second shutout of the entire season. On the other side UCLA rapped out a dozen hits at the expense of four of the five State pitchers used in a lost evening.
The winners did commit an error which did not damage. State had three charged errors, two on the same play which led to the first Bruin run. The only one they really needed as things played out.
"There's a lot of things that happened in this ball game that they just did better than us," said Cohen. "Why we saved one of our worst games of the year for this day is disappointing. We did a ton of things the wrong way."
As differing as the offenses were, the pitching comparison was even more stark. Nick Vander Tuig (14-4) might not have been the series-starter down the season stretch but the righthander looked every atom an ace for 8.0 shutout, five-hit innings. He walked only one and struck out six Bulldogs. UCLA ran NCAA saves leader David Berg out for the ninth so he could tie the record for season appearances with #51. Berg made quick work of three pinch-batters with one struck out.
After chasing high strikes most of Monday, this was a different combination to face. "They did a good job of changing speeds and up-and-down in the zone," Frazier said. "And we weren't very disciplined at the plate, the way we have been in the World Series." Having lead the tournament in average for the brackets round, the Bulldogs had just eleven hits in two meetings with UCLA. This helped the Bruins set a metal-bat era record for lowest staff ERA at a College World Series.
"We didn't do what we were supposed to do," Renfroe said. "We hit balls hard but didn't find gaps. We didn't help the pitchers out."
State's staff sputtered on its own in almost every aspect. Starting, mostly, as Luis Pollorena was done after one inning. A weird one too because the senior southpaw—who hadn't worked in weeks with a sore muscle—only threw a dozen pitches with just one hit.
But it led to a run, and with the way UCLA pitched and fielded Monday the Dogs knew falling behind early was big trouble. Pollorena hit leadoff man Brian Carroll on the knee while showing bunt. When Kevin Kramer did sacrifice, Pollorena bobbled it enough that his rushed throw to first base was mishandled too, putting runners on corners with no outs.
A fly ball to right by Eric Filia scored the lead Bruin. Pollorena allowed another single but Filia tried for third and was shot down by RF Hunter Renfroe to keep it 1-0. By then Cohen had decided to change for the second inning.
"He was throwing balls that were barreled-up. I felt something was wrong with Luis because he's one of the best defenders on our club and he just whiffed on a bunt, then tried to throw it 850 mph to our first baseman. When that happened it wasn't the Luis Pollorena who has been very successful. We knew how bad he wanted it, maybe he was trying to do too much."
Lefty long reliever Ross Mitchell had been in the bullpen even before Pollorena threw a pitch, showing State wasn't certain what Pollorena could give after the long layoff. Mitchell got four outs but when the top of the order returned it was different story. A walk of Carroll and Kramer single set up a squeeze-score, with Filia sacrificing in Carroll. Pat Valaika did it the traditional way with a base hit past first base for the 3-0 margin.
It might as well been 30-0. "They're not the best pitchers in the nation but they do know how to pitch," Renfroe said. "They may not have the best stuff but they absolutely knew how to use it."
Still State could have cut into that deficit in their fourth with a leadoff single by DH Alex Detz and one-out reach by 2B Brett Pirtle on an errored grounder. 1B Wes Rea tried to change the game, taking the first pitch deep; just not deep enough as it was caught on the track. A shorter fly ball finished that frame.
Any real doubts on the outcome were finished with another two-run Bruin turn. Mitchell plunked his first-faced in the fourth and was done with Ben Bracewell inheriting the runner. After a sacrifice bunt Cody Regis singled in the fourth score, and Allen doubled. Bracewell loaded the bases with a plunking of order-topper Carroll and that was it, with Jonathan Holder entering.
He had to settle for a fly-ball RBI before ending it on a grounder. A two-out double in UCLA's fifth didn't matter, but a leadoff infield single in the sixth did. Regis moved around where he could make it a six-run lead on Filia's single and third RBI of the evening. UCLA's unnecessary insurance was provided by Filia, of course, with a two-run single in the eighth.
Vander Tuig meanwhile was cruising, stranding a couple in the fifth as 3B Sam Frost became the only Dog to get as far as second base all evening. A two-out walk of C Nick Ammirati in the seventh did no harm, nor did Frazier's leadoff single in the eighth. It was the drafted junior's 107th hit of a school-record season and likely last in college.
Holder absorbed three runs on seven hits with a walk and four strikeouts, throwing 4.0 innings of middle-relief instead of his usual closer's role. Will Cox took care of the last two outs, the only State pitcher not to allow a hit or run.
The five Bulldog hits were spread among as many hitters; while Kramer and Filia had two safeties apiece. The latter drove in five RBI, and while Carroll only hit once he scored three times at top of the order. This was the second season a Pac 12 team defeated a SEC squad in the title round, after Arizona beat South Carolina in two games last June. The SEC has put teams in the title round six-straight years now, and in 2010 one of them (South Carolina again) beat the Bruins in their first time to reach the finals.
The Bulldogs (51-20) did finish with the second-most victories in any season, and stretched the season out to its latest date ever by reaching a CWS finals for the first time ever. None of which immediately mattered. "We're just two games from a national championship," said Frazier. And he wasn't saying it in a satisfied sort of way.
His coach was even less content with runner-up status. "What we did was knock on the door. And UCLA has knocked on the door before. They knocked down the door and we didn't."
"It bothers me we didn't play well the last two days. But I think we played 15 postseason games and I feel like we didn't play well in two of them." Which was the point of a best-of-three series of course, as those were the games that sent the Bruins back to Los Angeles with the trophy Mississippi State really wanted.
Four Bulldogs made the All-Tournament Team; Rea, Renfroe, Pirtle, and DH Trey Porter.