UCLA baseball ends its best season with optimism

By Ryan Eshoff

OMAHA, Neb. – In 2011, the College World Series will move to a brand-new, state-of-the-art venue in downtown Omaha that promises a modern environment and will “usher in a new era of sports, entertainment and community development,” according to the official website for the project.

In making the decision to leave legendary Rosenblatt Stadium for TD Ameritrade Park, the NCAA has essentially announced that it is ready to take the next step. Maybe it was fitting, then, that UCLA advanced to the championship series in Rosenblatt’s final days. Maybe the Bruins’ loss to South Carolina in the finals was merely the beginning of their own college baseball renaissance.

In the aftermath of Tuesday night’s loss to the Gamecocks, the mood among the Bruins wasn’t about missed opportunities or coulda-woulda-shouldas. Instead, the focus was twofold: appreciating the year that was and looking ahead to the future that will be.

“I’m so proud of our players and program, the strives that we’ve made,” coach John Savage said. “It’s been a long journey. I’ve told the players that they’ve now reached the pinnacle in college baseball.”

Not bad for a group of guys that, at this time a year ago, probably felt that they were at its base. In 2009, UCLA went 27-29 and failed to qualify for postseason play. An offseason of introspection and commitment to chemistry later, the Bruins rattled off 22 straight wins before anyone could blink. It was undoubtedly a special season that ended with them being the penultimate team in the nation.

“Now every player in that locker room knows what it feels like, what all the hard work and all the sacrifice to get to where they are,” Savage said.

Despite the history that the Bruins made – they set the program record for wins and advanced further than any other UCLA baseball team – they left some unfinished business on the table. UCLA was swept at home by conference rival Arizona State and went winless again in the final best-of-three series against South Carolina, in which they scored just two runs in 20 innings.

Plus, the fact that they put together a record-setting season didn’t help ease the heartbreak the Bruins felt after being eliminated in walkoff fashion on Tuesday.

“Emotions are running wild,” outfielder Brett Krill said afterward. “I just can’t say enough about this team.”

The Bruins now face an interesting offseason. Pitchers Rob Rasmussen and Dan Klein are most certainly gone after getting selected high in the MLB Draft. Seniors Blair Dunlap, Justin Uribe and Garett Claypool have graduated, and key contributors Krill, Matt Grace and Niko Gallego could also depart.

But the team returns two of its aces in Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer, as well as the bulk of a lineup that will benefit from the return of rising junior Tyler Rahmatulla and rising sophomore Cody Keefer, both of whom missed the College World Series with injuries.

With that much talent coming back and having gotten so close this year, UCLA will be all the more hungry in 2011.

“Now the bar’s been raised,” Savage said. “We look to be back (to Omaha) as soon as possible.”

New stadium in Omaha, new expectations. Should the Bruins be back in Nebraska next year, there will be no time for being in awe of the stage. This year’s team set a new standard for UCLA baseball, and while that is not completely satisfying for the group of departees that helped take the team to the brink, it is pretty darn good.

“We really were the best team that this school has ever seen,” Rasmussen said. “We set the bar for this program really. That’s something that we’re all very proud and something that we came here to do. So looking back on it, I think we’ll all be pretty happy.”

Read more here: http://www.dailybruin.com/articles/2010/7/6/ucla-baseball-ends-its-best-season-optimism/
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