UCLA loses national championship, 2-1, to the South Carolina Gamecocks in the College World Series

By Ryan Eshoff

Dan Klein took one look at Whit Merrifield’s line drive into right field, then removed his glove and walked slowly off the mound. Typically, it’s an inning-ending routine for the UCLA closer, but this time it was on the wrong end of a season-ending loss.

Merrifield’s walkoff RBI single scored Scott Wingo and lifted South Carolina to a 2-1, 11-inning victory that made the Gamecocks the College World Series champions Tuesday night, as they swept the Bruins in the best-of-three series.

It was a disappointing end to an historic season for UCLA. The Bruins (51-17) set a program record for wins and advanced further than any UCLA team had ever gone. But in the series to determine the national champion, the Bruins ran into a South Carolina team that was clicking on all cylinders.

“They’ve earned the right to be called national champs,” UCLA coach John Savage said of South Carolina. “They’re the last ones standing.”

The Gamecocks’ victory Tuesday night was their sixth straight in Omaha, all coming after they lost their opener to Oklahoma.

South Carolina – thought to be boasting the weaker of the two pitching staffs entering the series – held UCLA to two runs over the two games. The Gamecocks (54-16) got just enough offense on Tuesday night, tying the game at 1 in the bottom of the eighth before closing out the 2010 season in walkoff fashion. UCLA, meanwhile, failed to come through at the plate when it mattered most.

“We just could not come up with the big hit,” Savage said. “That was the story the last two nights.”

Klein threw 73 pitches in his longest outing of the season. The fateful 11th inning was his fourth inning of work, as he exchanged zeroes with South Carolina’s closer Matt Price in the late innings. Klein walked Wingo to start the 11th. The Gamecock second baseman then advanced to second on a passed ball and third on a bunt before Merrifield was able to drive him in.

Trevor Bauer, who started for UCLA on Saturday, got loose in the bullpen multiple times throughout the late innings, including in the 11th.

UCLA got on the board in the fifth when Niko Gallego drove in Trevor Brown. It was just the second – and final – run that the Bruins scored in the final series. For a while, however, it appeared that that’s all the Bruins would need. They got a strong start from Rob Rasmussen, who went six shutout innings before turning the ball over to Erik Goeddel to start the seventh inning.

“Once you get taken out it gets nerve-racking,” Rasmussen said.

How right he was. South Carolina scored its run in the eighth when UCLA first baseman Dean Espy failed to field a groundball. Espy hurt his right hand punching the dugout bench in frustration and had to be removed from the game.

Although the game was won in the 11th, it might have been lost in the early innings. UCLA stranded runners on base in each of the first three innings. The Bruins also loaded the bases in the top of the ninth but Price struck out Gallego to maintain the tie.

As the home team, South Carolina had a chance to win with every at-bat from the ninth inning on. Bright flashbulbs popped around the ballpark like Nebraskan fireflies. The atmosphere was celebratory and electric, but the eventual ending was a somber one for the Bruins.

“Emotions are running wild,” said UCLA outfielder Brett Krill, who hit a pair of balls to the warning track for outs and watched the game-winning hit fall in right field. “I just can’t say enough about this team. It was a battle, and South Carolina played a great game, but so did we.”

“In the locker room it’s hard to hold your emotions in,” Rasmussen added. “You get so close and you fall short, that hurts.”

The night was also significant in that it was the final game to be played at historic Rosenblatt Stadium. As the game progressed into the late innings, it seemed destined that the Rosenblatt legend come down to a final at-bat. In the end, the Gamecocks turned the ballpark into a party, with fireworks bidding good-bye to Rosenblatt. With South Carolina celebrating just its second ever national championship across all sports – and its many fans cheering in jubilation –Rosenblatt was, fittingly in the end, a Merrifield.

Read more here: http://www.dailybruin.com/articles/2010/6/30/ucla-loses-national-championship-2-1-south-carolin/
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