LSU starting pitcher Aaron Nola. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Monday, June 17, 2013 10:11 AM
OMAHA, Neb. — Mark one up for small ball.
Or just blame it on some uncharacteristically shaky defense by LSU.
But two LSU errors led to both of UCLA’s unearned runs as the light-hitting but pesky Bruins edged the Tigers 2-1 in the final first round game of the College World Series.
“We made a couple of misplays that cost us dearly,” LSU coach Paul Mainieri said. “Had we made all the plays, they might not have scored all night. We really gift-wrapped the runs that they did score.”
LSU starter Aaron Nola probably deserved a better fate than his first loss of the season, although he had to pitch out of far more jams than his norm.
UCLA, by hook or crook, got the leadoff runner on in the final six innings, but still needed the two errors to get any runs across.
“They forced us to make some plays and we came up empty and gave them a couple of runs,” Mainieri said.
“Opportunistic would be the word,” UCLA coach John Savage said. “One inning, Nola threw only five pitches and we got a run. We caught some breaks.”
The UCLA win completed a CWS first round in which all four of the lower seeds sent the higher seeds tumbling into the loser’s bracket.
Thus the Tigers (57-10) and their legions of fans are in danger of making an early exit from their first Omaha appearance in four years.
They’ll face No. 1 seed North Carolina in an elimination game Tuesday afternoon after the Tar Heels were battered 8-1 by North Carolina State in Sunday’s first game.
North Carolina was the last team to eliminate the Tigers, handing them both of their losses in the 2008 CWS.
“I don’t think anybody wants to go home,” said LSU’s Mason Katz, who produced the Tigers’ only run with the first home run of this year’s CWS in the fourth inning.
“It’s doable,” Mainieri said. “We’ve just got to play better than we did tonight. We know what the rules are — we have to win four games to get out of this bracket. There’s no room for error.”
The Tigers could have used two fewer miscues Sunday night.
“Nola gave us fits all night. We did not get many good swings against him all night. They did get some good swings. But (UCLA starter) Adam (Plutko) pitched to the ballpark a little bit.”
LSU, often chasing Plutko’s high fastballs, managed only five hits and had 13 fly ball outs in the big ballpark.
Until a very eventful but unproductive ninth, LSU looked like an antigue trying to play Gorilla Ball in the Grand Canyon that is TD Ameritrade Park.
Katz cleared the fence in left for the Tigers’ only run in the fourth, but their other three best scoring opportunities died at the warning track on a pair of towering blasts for long outs by Christian Ibarra and another by Andrew Stevenson.
Meanwhile, the Bruins got six straight leadoff runners on with three singles, an error, a hit batter and even a swinging strike three on a wild pitch that catcher Ty Ross couldn’t handle.
“At the end of the day, it was our type of game,” Savage said. “At the end, it could have gone either way.”
“We play small ball,” said UCLA’s Eric Filia, who had a sacrifice fly for the Bruins first and hit the ground ball that allowed the winning run to score on an error by Alex Bregman. “We don’t try to get too big. I feel like this field really played to our advantage.”
LSU got its first lead-off runner of the night on in the ninth against All-American closer David Berg, but Raph Rhymes hit into a double play to wipe out the good start.
The Tigers still got the tying run into scoring position — and made the double play look all the more glaring — on a walk to Ibarra and Tyler Moore’s pinch-hit single.
But Berg got his 22nd save of the season by getting JaCoby Jones to fly to right and end the game.
Rhymes, whose been double play-prone all season, hit a hard shot down the line at third on a 2-0 pitch after he’d squared to bunt on the first two. Katz was running on the play but couldn’t beat the relay at second.
“Raph hit it hard,” Mainieri said. “It was just bad luck. I gambled and we came up snake eyes.
“Once the count got to 2-0, I knew Mason wouldn’t get picked off and Berg throws a lot of strikes was going to have to lay one in there, assuming he was going to bunt again.
“He hit it so hard they were able to get the force at second. If the ball goes down the line for a double, we’re in business ... didn’t work out for us.”
Not much did.
The Tigers, who came to Omaha with the best fielding percentage in the CWS, threw away a run in the sixth and bobbled one away in the eighth.
The Bruins got singles to open both the fourth and fifth innings and sacrificed both to second with one out. But Nola cruised through both threats with routine second outs before ending both innings with strikeouts.
But a throwing error by Ty Ross on lead-off bunt in the sixth got Brian Carroll to second and he eventually scored an unearned run on Eric Filia’s sacrifice fly.
The Bruins went ahead in the eighth after getting runners at first and second with one out. Nola got the second out on routine fly ball, but Bregman, the All-American shortstop , couldn’t handle a hard-hit ground ball hit right at him and Eric Filia and Christoph Bono scored the winning run from second on the miscue.