Bulldogs, Bruins set for College World Series final
Mississippi State, UCLA each seek first national title in best-of-3 series
OMAHA, Neb. -- The similarities between Mississippi State and UCLA are striking.
Each team survived tough roads advance to the best-of-three College World Series finals, which begin on Monday at 8 p.m. ET. Each team possesses lockdown pitching staffs, plays solid defense and is searching for its first national title.
But there are differences -- first and foremost at the plate. The Bulldogs (51-18) are hitting .297 with 14 runs scored in Omaha. The Bruins (47-17) are batting .182 with eight runs -- half of which came in one game.
And then there's the schools themselves. Mississippi State is located in Starkville, Miss., population: 23,888. UCLA is in, well, L.A.
"I don't know how much deer hunting or bass fishing they do in Los Angeles," Mississippi State first baseman Wes Rea said, "So off the field [we're] probably going to be a little bit different."
"We do the bass fishing on the video games and Big Game Hunter and all that kind of stuff," UCLA right-hander Adam Plutko said, "Where you're from doesn't matter. The Major Leagues prove that. It's just baseball when it comes down to it."
And what good baseball these finals should provide.
Mississippi State advanced to the College World Series by beating No. 6 Virginia in the Super Regionals and No. 3 Oregon State twice in Omaha.
UCLA topped San Diego in the Regionals, No. 5 Cal State Fullerton in the Super Regionals, and No. 4 LSU and No. 1 North Carolina in Omaha to advance to the finals.
"You've got two very confident teams with a lot of mojo on their sides," UCLA coach John Savage said. "You've kind of earned your stripes and that toughness that's built up through time by winning tight games against top people."
Mississippi State is led on offense by shortstop Adam Frazier, the Pirates' sixth-round pick in the 2013 First-Year Player Draft, right fielder Hunter Renfroe (No. 13 overall, Padres) and Rea, but it's been the Bulldogs' unorthodox pitching staff that has gotten them here.
The Bulldogs don't rely on their starters, who have averaged less than four innings per start this postseason. Instead, they turn to their bullpen early and put relievers in situations where they usually thrive.
"Our kids feel really comfortable in that role," Mississippi State coach John Cohen said. "It's a combination of things -- what our club needs and what the young man is comfortable with, and we're trying to make both of those things work."
Cohen said Sunday that right-hander Trevor Fitts likely will oppose Plutko in Game 1, though, as Cohen said, "It's as important who is available for us in the middle of the game."
UCLA, while sporting a solid one-two punch of Plutko (11th round, Indians) and Game 2 starter Nick Vander Tuig (sixth round, Giants), also has a solid 'pen, led by closer David Berg. And while the Bruins offense is lacking, their defense is not -- sporting a .980 fielding percentage on the season.
Because of that defense, Plutko said UCLA's pitchers don't feel pressured by the lack of offense to pitch perfectly.
"There is a lot of trust in the guys behind you," Plutko said. "We field with the best teams in the country. And the trust comes from the defensive side, too, as well as the offensive side."
Both teams do things a bit unconventionally. But, Rea said, there's a reason why they're the last two standing.
"They know how to win and that's why both of these teams are in the situation they're in right now," Rea said. "I think it's going to be a tremendous series. A lot of respect for those guys and may the best man win."