OMAHA, Neb. — UCLA is one win away from its first national championship in baseball. If Game 1 of the College World Series finals was an indicator, it won't be won easily.
The Bruins defeated Mississippi State 3-1 on Monday night, but the Bulldogs pressured them to the end, leaving runners in scoring position in four of the last six innings.
"They're great hitters, they grind it out every at-bat, and they're not going away," UCLA closer David Berg said. "They want to win this thing as bad as we do. They're not going to give it up."
UCLA (48-17) will send Nick Vander Tuig (13-4) to the mound for Game 2 on Tuesday night. Mississippi State (51-19) will start either Ben Bracewell (1-1) or Will Cox (3-1).
"What we're going to try to do is put everything behind us and try to win two ball games," Bulldogs coach John Cohen said. "I think we're very, very capable."
UCLA followed its script yet again Monday, churning out a few early runs and letting its pitching and defense take care of the rest.
"We dodged some bullets, no doubt about it, but you have to give credit to our defense," UCLA coach John Savage said. "Kind of a Bruin game. Tight game, and at the end of the night we were fortunate to come out with the win."
Bulldogs second baseman Brett Pirtle said he and his teammates can't give the Bruins any openings because they're so capable of capitalizing on them.
"Nobody that's extra special," Pirtle said of the Bruins. "They're just small ball. They bunt and put pressure on the defense, and that's what helped them out, and that's the kind of ballclub they are. So keeping runners off base and just catching the ball and putting pressure on them will help us win the game (Tuesday)."
Adam Plutko limited the Bulldogs to a run on four hits in six innings and was helped by his defense. Eric Filia made a catch close to the wall against Nick Ammirati and hauled in a liner off the bat of Trey Porter with the bases loaded. Cody Regis made a couple diving stops and also started both of UCLA's double plays.
The Bruins made it 3-0 in the fourth on Filia's two-out, two-run single off Chad Girodo, who replaced starter Trevor Fitts (0-1) in the second. That was the last of the Bruins' six hits.
Mississippi State's fans started the "Maroon and White" chant in the bottom of the ninth after C.T. Bradford and pinch-hitter Sam Frost singled to put runners on first and second with one out against Berg.
Ammirati flew out, and pinch-hitter Jacob Robson ended the game with his comebacker to Berg, who sprinted toward first base before under-handing the ball to Pat Gallagher.
Berg, making his 50th appearance of the season, earned his NCAA-record 24th save for 1 2-3 innings of work.
"Records are meant to be broken, but titles are what matter," Berg said. "So if we all win a national championship, I'll enjoy that. But right now I don't think about it at all."
The loss spoiled a splendid performance by Girodo, who pitched the last 7 2-3 innings in relief of Fitts. He allowed three hits, walked two and struck out nine. Both runs against him were unearned.
Plutko (10-3) walked in Mississippi State's only run in the fourth.
The Bruins brought a .248 season batting average into the finals, and a .182 average through their first three CWS games.
They eked out enough offense to win again. In the first three innings, they had batters reach on a dropped third strike, infield single, two hit batsmen and a throwing error.
But there were big hits, too.
Filia, who came in 1 for 9 in the CWS, doubled after Kevin Kramer struck out but reached because strike three was in the dirt. Pat Valaika's single to center drove in Kramer for a 1-0 lead.
"First baserunner of the game kind of spells it out," Bulldogs coach John Cohen said. "I really wish that kid hadn't swung at that pitch. I'm not saying it to be a smart aleck, but that kid doesn't swing at that pitch, it lands in front of the plate, I think the ballgame could be different. But crazy things happen in sports."