Bruins aiming for first UCLA baseball title
JUN 23, 2013 9:02p ET
Not one of them came on the diamond.
Two years ago, the Bruins were in the same position they are in today. They reached college baseball’s promised land of Omaha, Neb., at the College World Series and advanced all the way to the finals against SEC power South Carolina. But the Bruins run ended somewhat unceremoniously in a two-game sweep.
This year, it’s another SEC powerhouse – Mississippi State.
While the story thus far has been written much like it was in 2010, this Bruins team seems intent on rewriting history. They will take that first step Monday afternoon in the first game of the College World Series finals at TD Ameritrade Park at 5 p.m.
"You've just got to go with it and believe in your team in the time that you're in it," said head coach John Savage. "But a National Championship is always going to hang over any program that's an elite program that hasn't won one. You could problem mention 25 schools. We just happened to be playing for that one prize.
"You have to have at least a shot on goal, and we both do have that opportunity, but both teams have earned that right."
UCLA athletics typically bring to mind John Wooden and the record 10 national championships in men’s basketball. Yes, this is a different spot. But Wooden defines UCLA athletics, its tradition and pride in a way that no mascot ever could. The legendary head coach and motivator created a culture that all UCLA teams strive to emulate.
The Wooden legacy is something this Bruins team in particular has looked toward as inspiration and three College World Series appearances in four years speaks for the culture of the program.
But the baseball program is still searching for the titles that seem to come so easily to other programs.
"Coming from UCLA, the first thing you think of is Coach Wooden, and he's the coach of all coaches. He set the ground work for so many staffs, so many programs outside of basketball that it's hard to put into words what he's meant to the UCLA family, the UCLA community, and all coaches across the entire country from football, basketball, baseball, everything," Savage said. "It takes time to build that sort of environment and attitude that you want in your players and it doesn't happen overnight. It's not only tough going up, but it's tougher staying there."
Mississippi State has also never won a title. It might come as a surprise that a storied program with one of the biggest fan followings in the country, but the Bulldogs have had nine tries in Omaha and come up short each time.
Westwood and Starkville might be worlds apart but share that common bond.
"It's just small‑town type living, and they haven't been able to say we have a National Championship to claim," said Mississippi State first baseman Wes Rea. "I know UCLA is a very prestigious program and they've brought national championships back home to Los Angeles. But the people in Starkville, I'll let them answer that to see what happens after the series."
It's an intriguing matchup on the field. Both squads are largely based on pitching and boast bullpens that have the ability completely shut games down. UCLA’s light .248 average has never been much of a factor. Any mistake made, the Bruins (47-17) have made teams pay.
Mississippi State (51-18) has batted .400 in Omaha – a rare feat in the cavernous TD Ameritrade Park. Hunter Renfroe owns more than half of the team’s 30 home runs this season (16).
Not to mention, "they have fantastic beards as well," according to UCLA shortstop Pat Valaika.
By this time next week, one of these teams will finally have that coveted national championship trophy.
"It's baseball. You don't win every time you go out there. We'd all like to, but it's much more of a difficult game than sometimes people realize," Savage said. "But if you prepare and you set yourself up, then good things eventually will come your way."
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