UCLA has had a knack for winning close games all year, and did so yet again Tuesday night in a 2-1 victory over N.C. State to advance to within one game of the College World Series final.
Thanks to dominant pitching and an opportunistic offense, the Bruins took their 17th one-run game of the season, and have now won five out their seven NCAA Tournament games by two runs or less. The victory came just 48 hours after they took down No. 4 LSU 2-1 on Sunday.
With an offense that only hits around .250 as a team, UCLA has had to rely on scrappy bats that find various ways to score, which is exactly what they did Tuesday night. Down 1-0, UCLA led off the fifth inning with a groundout, but then used a walk, a single and a walk to load the bases with one out. Kevin Kramer then singled to bring in the tying run, and two batters later a wild pitch scored Brenton Allen to make it 2-1.
So far in Omaha, UCLA has scored its four total runs off a sac fly, an error, a single and a wild pitch.
Nick Vander Tuig was dominant, allowing just one run off four hits in seven innings of work, striking out six in the process. David Berg then entered in the eighth and allowed just one hit in the final two innings to pick up the save.
N.C. State got on the board first with a run in the third. A hit-by-pitch and a single led off the inning, before a sac bunt moved both runners into scoring position. Trea Turner then delivered a single to left to score Bryan Adametz. An overthrow to the plate enticed Jake Armstrong to round third and try for home, but a fortunate bounce off the backstop allowed UCLA to tag him out at the plate.
The Wolfpack threatened to take the lead back in the bottom of the eighth after they put men on first and second with one out. Turner then ripped a ball deep to left field that looked as though it would carry over the fence for a three-run homer, but instead stalled on the warning track for a long out. A strikeout would later end the inning with UCLA still up 2-1.
The lack of home runs has been as big a story as any this year in Omaha. Thanks to the combination of deadened bats and windy conditions in TD Ameritrade Park, only two balls have left the yard in eight games of the 2013 CWS. It's not as if batters haven't put good swings on balls -- some of the best hitters in the country have repeatedly squared up pitches only to have them hang up in the wind. Turner was fist pumping on his way to first after being sure he'd sent one over.
N.C. State got a decent start from Logan Jernigan, who gave up only three hits in 4⅓, but did allow both UCLA runs. Control has been an issue for the sophomore, who had walked 25 batters in just over 30 innings of work coming into the game. He was sharp through the first four frames, allowing just one free pass and only three baserunners total, but walked two of the first four batters in the fifth to set up the Bruins' scoring inning.
N.C. State now drops into an elimination game against No. 1 North Carolina at 8 p.m. ET Thursday, a rematch of the teams' opening CWS game in which the Wolfpack beat the Tar Heels 8-1. The winner of that game will then play UCLA on Friday, and will need to beat the Bruins twice in a row to advance to the finals.