By Eric Olson
The Associated Press
OMAHA, Neb. — Adam Plutko limited Mississippi State to a run on four hits in six innings, and UCLA survived some anxious moments to beat the Bulldogs 3-1 in Game 1 of the College World Series finals Monday night.
Plutko retired nine straight to start, worked out of trouble twice and turned the game over to the bullpen in the seventh. The Bulldogs (51-19) left runners in scoring position four of the last six innings.
The Bruins (48-17) are one win from their first national championship in baseball and the school’s record 109th in a team sport. Mississippi State must win Game 2 on Tuesday night to keep alive its hopes for its first NCAA title in any sport.
UCLA made it 3-0 in the fourth on Eric 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.
Plutko (10-3) walked in the Bulldogs’ run in the fourth.
UCLA is 40-0 when leading after seven innings. There was drama all the way to the end.
The estimated 8,000 Mississippi State fans at TD Ameritrade Park 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 closer David Berg.
Nick Ammirati flew out, and pinch-hitter Jacob Robson ended the game with his comebacker to Berg, who sprinted toward first base before underhanding the ball to Pat Gallagher.
Berg, who was making his 50th appearance of the season, earned his NCAA-record 24th save for 1 2-3 innings of work.
The loss spoiled a splendid performance by Girodo, who pitched the last 7 2-3 innings. He allowed three hits, walked two and struck out nine. Both runs against him were unearned.
UCLA’s Plutko wasn’t overly sharp, unable to rely on his breaking ball and changeup to get outs. But he still continued his dominance in postseason play. In eight career NCAA tournament games, he’s 7-0 with an 0.94 ERA.
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.
The Bruins added two more in the fourth. Brenton Allen singled and Brian Carroll reached when he bunted and catcher Ammirati made a bad throw to first.
Carroll ran into Bulldogs’ 6-foot-5, 272-pound first baseman Wes Rea while running through the bag. Rea stayed down after the knee-to-knee contact but was able to keep playing after an athletic trainer attended to him. Allen and Carroll came home on Filia’s base hit to right.
Mississippi State got its first hit with one out in the fourth when Alex Detz sent a ball up the middle. Brett Pirtle followed with a base hit and Rea was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
That got the “Maroon and White” chant started as Bradford came up to face Plutko. Bradford fouled off three straight pitches before the count ran full. Plutko walked him with a high changeup, bringing in Detz and UCLA coach John Savage out of the dugout for a mound visit.
Plutko’s 30-pitch inning ended when Trey Porter lined out.
Plutko had to endure more stress in the fifth. Filia made a leaping catch in right field to rob Ammirati of extra bases, Demarcus Henderson reached when Plutko misplayed a comebacker and moved to second on a balk. The inning ended on Detz’s line out to second baseman Cody Regis.
Freshman reliever James Kaprielian came on in the seventh with a man on and none out. After he walked Ammirati, Henderson, the team leader in sacrifice bunts, fouled off two bunt tries and then grounded to second, where Regis started a double play.