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Identity lost: MSU knocks on championship door, but UCLA kicks it in

 

Matthew Stevens

 

OMAHA, Neb. -- Mississippi State University coaches, players, and fans have 235 days until the start of the 2014 season to stew over the disappointment of not playing their best in the College World Series.  

 

"What we've now done is knock on the door," MSU coach John Cohen said. "UCLA has knocked down the door tonight, and we didn't do that." 

 

UCLA earned its first national championship with an 8-0 victory Tuesday night in game two of the College World Series Finals at TD Ameritrade Park in front of an all-time record crowd of 27,127. After losing in the best-of-three title series in 2010, UCLA secured the championship in its fifth trip to Omaha.  

 

"We played good baseball, and that means we pitched, we defended, had quality, opportunistic offense and, at the end of the day, I think we outlasted everybody," UCLA coach John Savage said.  

 

UCLA, which has won 109 national championships, became the third-straight team to go through the College World Series undefeated, and gave up only four runs in five games. Its team ERA of 0.80 shattered the record in the aluminum bat era.  

 

"Before the season started, I remember we were in the weight room and (Savage) saw all the national championship and went to baseball and there was none and I remember (him) saying, 'We gotta get our name on that board,' so I think we worked hard from day one," UCLA starting pitcher Nick Vander Tuig said. "As far as a turning point, where we really believed, I don't know if you can say anything about that. We have worked hard all year, weight lifting, practice, conditioning, everything. We're a detailed team, and I think that's why we're standing up here." 

 

Coming off a 3-1 victory Monday in game one in which MSU (51-20) had 13 flyball outs, Vander Tuig (13-4) kept the Bulldogs down by allowing five hits in eight innings. He walked one and struck out six in a 117-pitch effort. 

 

"We have a lot of heart, and I couldn't be more proud of this performance," Vander Tuig said. "Our defense has been like that all year. I really can't explain how good they are." 

 

UCLA junior right-hander Adam Plutko, who earned the victory Monday, was named the tournament's most outstanding player after he controlled MSU and LSU in his two starts in the College World Series. In 13 innings, Plutko gave up just eight hits and two runs. 

 

UCLA shortstop Eric Filia was 2-for-3 with a career-high five RBIs. Eight of the Bruins' starters had hits, with Filia, Kevin Kramer, and Cody Regis leading the way with multi-hit nights.  

 

"I'd love to know what everybody was hitting in this tournament because well, everybody wanted to make a big deal about our batting average," Savage said. "I thought we had guys go up to the plate as threats, and if you looked at the scoreboard stats, they weren't threats. They knew their roles." 

 

MSU scored one run and had 11 hits in 18 innings in the College World Series Finals, and is 0-3 all-time in the postseason against UCLA (49-17). The Bulldogs were shut out for only the second time this season in their first appearance in the College World Series Finals, and ninth trip to Omaha. 

 

The middle of MSU's order -- Hunter Renfroe, Brett Pirtle, Wes Rea, and C.T. Bradford -- went 0-for-14.  

 

"It bothers me we didn't play well the last two games, but I think we played 15 postseason games and we played two bad games," MSU coach John Cohen said. "I'll never understand why we picked this time to play one of our worst games of the year, but we did." 

 

This is the second-straight year a team from the Pacific-12 Conference has defeated a Southeastern Conference school in the finals. The University of Arizona swept the University of South Carolina in 2012. 

 

Despite the losses, MSU likely will finish with its highest final ranking in the Baseball America Top 25 poll. The 1985 MSU team finished No. 3 after going 2-2 in the College World Series.  

 

"I said at the press conference (five years ago) we would win a national championship," Cohen said. "This is why we do it: o win the whole thing. What this club has done is lay some foundation for future teams because we're going to come back here and win this thing." 

 

Rea, Renfroe, Pirtle and Trey Porter were selected to the all-tournament team. 

 

"I'll always have a special place in my heart for this group of kids because everything they did was new to them," Cohen said. "It's hard to explain what these (older) kids have done for this program." 

 

 

 

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