Defense has been one LSU's biggest strengths all season long, but it was two uncharacteristic errors that were the difference Sunday night as UCLA stunned the Tigers 2-1 to win their opening game of the 2013 College World Series.
With two outs and a man on second in the top of the eighth, UCLA's Eric Filia hit what looked to be an inning-ending routine grounder to shortstop Alex Bregman, who booted the ball into the outfield and allowed the go-ahead run to cross the plate:
With the runner on second cutting in front of him, Bregman was forced to stay back on the ball, then misplayed the hop as it jammed him in on the hands.
UCLA's first run was set up in the sixth when Aaron Nola sailed a ball into right field attempting to throw out Brian Carroll on a bunt single. The throwing error allowed Carroll to advance to second, and a groundout moved him to third before a sac fly brought him in to even the score at one.
Their pitching meanwhile, managed to hold in check an LSU offense that came in hitting .302 in tournament play. Ace Adam Plutko, now 6-0 in postseason games in his career, gave up only one run on four hits through his seven innings of work. He repeatedly challenged the LSU hitters with fastballs high in the zone, using their aggressiveness and the cutting wind blowing into the stadium to his advantage.
Plutko's only mistake came in the fourth inning, when LSU's Mason Katz hammered a line drive over the left field fence for his 16th home run of the year to make it 1-0:
TD Ameritrade Park, notorious for keeping balls in the yard, has been especially stingy so far in this tournament -- for the first time since 1972 there were no home runs in any of the first three games of the CWS. Coach Paul Mainieri observed afterwards that the line drive nature of the shot was what allowed it to sneak under the crosswinds that have been cutting down potential bombs all weekend.
For UCLA, the game fit the formula they've been using to win all season long: strong pitching and scrappy hitting to scratch out close games. Batting only .251 as a team on the year, they've relied on an opportunistic offense that just seems to be able to scrape together runs when they need them most. They kept the pressure on the LSU defense most of the night, putting the leadoff man on base from the fifth inning on, and were eventually rewarded with the two unearned runs.
The game marks the 18th time UCLA has scored two runs or less this season, a rather amazing stat for a team this deep in the postseason. Equally amazing is the fact that they are now 16-2 in one-run ball games. Something about this club gives them the ability to perform in the clutch during tight games, a skill LSU now knows plenty about.