June 25, 2013 1:28:06 AM
OMAHA, Neb. - To properly encapsulate the opening game of the College World Series finals, the winning team focused on making the most of their opportunities.
The losing team focused the breaks of the game that didn't go right for them.
After losing 3-1 to the University of California at Los Angeles in the opening game, Mississippi State University coach John Cohen said his team had "bad things happen" to his club by losing a game where they gave up only one earned run. He said "the game beat" his Bulldogs program during many of the 11 fly ball outs that TD Ameritrade Park ate up Monday night.
"I thought some things didn't go our way tonight but that's how things work in this game," Cohen said. "First run of the game scores on a swing and miss on a ball that hits us in the mask. There's no way to block that. I honestly wish he hadn't swung on that."
UCLA (48-17) used what coach John Savage called "the Bruin way" to victory Monday night, which was having its veteran ace Adam Plutko pitch to the spacuous ballpark in Omaha, Neb., and give up just one run on six hits by using its three relievers they trust the most.
"We dodged some bullets and there's no doubt about it but you have to give credit to our defense," Savage said. "We don't really strike many people out but what we do is rely on our defense and have confidence that the guys behind our pitcher will make plays for him."
On the strikeout by MSU starter Trevor Fitts in the first inning, UCLA's leading hitter Kevin Kramer got on base after the ball trickled toward the MSU dugout following hitting Bulldogs catcher Nick Ammirati in the mask.
"There's simply no way to block that, no way," Cohen said. "We're searching around for the baseball because it hit our catcher in the mask and he can't find it."
Fitts (0-1) took his first decision of the 2013 season after allowing one run on three hits in 1 1/3 innings. The sophomore righty, who hasn't gone longer than four innings in any of his six postseason starts, was lifted in a 2-2 count in the second inning by MSU pitching coach Butch Thompson for senior left-handed hurler Chad Girodo.
MSU, which had spoken for months about its identity being trying to shorten up swings for base hits instead of forcing power, had 13 fly ball outs not find gaps and typically with this tournament not find the outfield seats.
One of the key sequences where Plutko (10-3) was given a pass after elevating a fastball in the strike zone was to MSU designated hitter Trey Porter in the fourth inning. Porter, who had a two-RBI single against Indiana University earlier in the tournament, crushed a 0-1 pitch to deep right field but the line drive was caught by Bruins outfielder Eric Filia before slamming against the wall.
"It's frustrating because you feel like put yourself in a great chance to win the game over and over and over again but they hit balls to the spots in the field that found grass," Cohen said. "We hit balls that found gloves."
As Cohen looked over the box score, he was able to point to several scenarios where his team suffered what he considers the unfortunate randomness of the game of baseball.
"We punched out 12 of their guys, their one error didn't cost them but our one error did cost us," Cohen said. "So what we've got to do is put everything behind us and try to win two ball games."
UCLA's bullpen trio of James Kaprielian, Zach Weiss and David Berg combined to hold MSU's offense to just two ninth-inning hits over three innings of relief. Berg's five-out save broke the NCAA's record for single-season saves with 24.
"Basically we know our pitching is phenomenal and when we get those few runs in the first, it's huge," Filia said. "It's weird to say that one run can make us feel comfortable but that's the reality."
MSU's top three hitters during this postseason run (Adam Frazier, Hunter Renfroe and Wes Rea) were contained to a 0 for 10 night with five fly outs and two strikeouts.
"You can call it luck if you want but we simply we didn't get the job done," MSU first baseman Wes Rea said.
As both clubs leave TD Ameritrade Park Monday night, Cohen seemed to want to focus on the lucky breaks his team didn't receive. Savage, who has lost this CWS final series to a Southeastern Conference school (University of South Carolina in 2010), will try to bring back to Los Angeles the school's first ever college baseball national title. Only two of 10 teams in the College World Series final have lost the first game and go on to win two games back-to-back to win the national championship.
"Mississippi State is dangerous and I think they proved that to us tonight," Savage said. "I told the team there's not much to get excited about because we can enjoy this one for 30 to 45 minutes and then start the preparation for Game 2."
All of the Dispatch MSU Sports Blog readers: feel free to follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/matthewcstevens for up-to-date Mississippi State coverage.
4. The Ups and Downs of Nelson's Pillar BOOK REVIEWS