Shatel: Bruins make big statement in small-ball CWS - Omaha.com
Published Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 12:01 am / Updated at 5:49 pm
BASEBALL
Shatel: Bruins make big statement in small-ball CWS

This one was the Warning Track Series.

Time and again, we heard the explosion of bat on ball, looked up and saw the ball soaring toward the bleachers and history, followed by the exhale of disappointment. Caught.

That moment when the ball falls helplessly into an outfielder's glove, that's the perfect metaphor for the 2013 College World Series.

This was the CWS when a hero's sword was the well-placed bunt, not a breathtaking dinger. This was the year of the pitcher, the hit by pitch, games that turned to chess matches, won by the blink of an error.

This was a CWS that will be remembered for the long-running debate on the lack of the home run, the size of the park, a week of grumbling. The chicks who dig the long ball? They got stood up.

It was a College World Series when the conversation was more about what we didn't have, instead of what we did.

Too bad.

What we had was a good series. What we had were familiar faces and fresh faces. What we had was a series with energy, the energy of potential and hope.

We had Indiana, for the first time on our stage, and the possibility of a Big Ten team carrying the story through the week.

We had Omaha's team, LSU, and the chance to bring Mardi Gras downtown for the first time.

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There were great players and memorable plays and big crowds and Mississippi State fans showing up like no fan base has showed up before.

It looked like it could get wild. But LSU left early. The Indiana story fell short.

Finally, what looked like a loud and emotional final series turned into a methodical march to history.

All of that potential fell just short, at the warning track.

For that, give credit to UCLA.

They were dominant, classy and deserving champions of the CWS. What they accomplished here belongs up there with anything USC or LSU or Cal State Fullerton did in this town.

They pitched. My, how they pitched. Four runs allowed in five games? Shutout with the championship on the line?

They defended. Boy, how they defended. They were clinical in making routine plays and in making tough plays look routine.

They bunted and reached base by getting plunked and squeezed all they could get out of 19 runs in five games.

They were relentless, coming from behind twice during the week. They kept coming and coming, pitching and defending and squeezing all the dirt out of this game.

In that way, their way, UCLA was just as comfortable in their skin, and their game, as the old Bayou Bashers. Just as LSU always knew it was going to win with the bat, the Bruins played with a confidence, an edge, that their arms and gloves and guile would find a way.

Just as LSU used the way Rosenblatt Stadium played to their advantage, so did UCLA.

They got up 3-0 after three innings on Tuesday night, and it might as well have been over. Right-hander Nick Vander Tuig was that good. They were all that good.

Today the fans who watched and waited for the big inning, for the big thrill, will talk about the shots hit by Wes Rea and Hunter Renfroe that died on the track. Afterward, Renfroe talked about the heartbreak.

Now they know how Oregon State and Indiana felt, watching rockets fall short against MSU last week.

There was a certain symmetry in that, and that's the thing about this ballpark and this series downtown. When it comes to the home run, it's an equal-opportunity heart-breaker.

The Bulldogs and their fans will hurt. But they'll be back. You have to learn how to get to Omaha, then you learn how to win here.

UCLA did that. The Bruins lost to South Carolina in the 2010 final, then got beat by Pac-12 rival Arizona and Florida State last year.

Then they faced one of the toughest gauntlets any CWS champion ever faced.

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It's finally their turn, in more ways than one. All of those national titles at Westwood and finally now there's one at the park named after Jackie Robinson.

Now they don't have to listen to USC (12 CWS titles) or Cal State Fullerton (four) crow. Now they can plant their own trophy in the city of angels.

You hope they take notice. L.A.'s a crowded sports town. The Bruins had a small but hearty following here. The L.A. sports media largely ignored it.

Then again, the only ones who need to appreciate it are the ones on the dogpile.

That's probably good, because UCLA's accomplishment here may not get the attention it deserves. When pitching and defense happen, the game has a problem. Baseball, football, basketball. The public demands offense. That's a fact.

I'm in favor of tweaking the game to bring the deserving homer back. Will it happen next year? No. The gorilla bats didn't go away in a year. The NCAA and all of its research experts will do due diligence. Which might mean 2015.

But please, let's remember that there are other ways to score runs and win games. You can hit line drives. It doesn't have to be batting practice.

You can put emphasis on the other parts of the game. UCLA taught us that in 2013. For those paying attention, it was a lesson that should be appreciated, and most certainly should be remembered.

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

CWS SCHEDULE »
Friday, June 14
Opening Celebration

Saturday, June 15
Game 1: Mississippi State 5, Oregon State 4
Game 2: Indiana 2, Louisville 0

Sunday, June 16
Game 3: N.C. State 8, North Carolina 1
Game 4: UCLA 2, Louisiana State 1

Monday, June 17
Game 5: Oregon State 11, Louisville 4
Game 6: Mississippi State 5, Indiana 4

Tuesday, June 18
Game 7: North Carolina 4, LSU 2
Game 8: UCLA 2, N.C. State 1

Wednesday, June 19
Game 9: Oregon State 1, Indiana 0

Thursday, June 20
Game 10: North Carolina 7, N.C. State 0

Friday, June 21
Game 11: Mississippi State 4, Oregon State 1
Game 12: UCLA 4, North Carolina 1

Championship Series

Monday, June 24
Finals Game 1: UCLA 3, Mississippi State 1

Tuesday, June 25
Finals Game 2: UCLA 8, Mississippi State 0
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