LOS ANGELES — David Berg’s first career save was of the three-inning variety. It sent UCLA to the College World Series last season.
While it wasn’t a postseason performance, Berg faced a tough situation on Saturday afternoon at Dedeaux Field. Facing off with the Bruins’ rival, Berg collected his longest save of the season on Saturday afternoon at Dedeaux Field to give UCLA a 7-6 victory and a Pac-12 series win.
Berg entered in the seventh inning of a 7-6 game with the tying run 90 feet away and quelled the USC rally. The Trojans had scored three runs against relievers Cody Poteet and Zack Weiss to trim away a 7-3 lead.
“It was 7-3 and then all of a sudden it was 7-6. I don’t like using him in the seventh,” UCLA head coach John Savage said, “but we felt with two outs and runners at first and third, we felt we had to go to our guy.”
As he has done all season, Berg shut the door, using his stellar defense to his benefit. With runners on the corners, Berg got one of USC’s hottest hitters, Greg Zebrack, to hit a hard grounder to the hole on the left side where shortstop Pat Valaika made yet another solid play, cutting the ball off and firing to first to nab Zebrack by a step.
USC was able to get the tying run in scoring position in the eighth inning, but Berg was able to induce two more grounders to Valaika, who made a pair of solid plays — charging a slow hopper up the middle and backhanding a short hop in the hole — and UCLA was out of the inning. The sidewinding closer finished off the 2 1/3 innings save for his 15th save of the season tying the UCLA school record that was set last season by Scott Griggs. He also pushed his scoreless streak to 33 1/3 innings, dating back to March 30.
USC led the game early, getting to Bruins starter Nick Vander Tuig the second time through the lineup. The Trojans sat on Vander Tuig’s fastball with him having trouble controlling his slider and took advantage of some pitches up in the zone. After a leadoff walk to Garrett Stubbs, Adam Landecker doubled under the glove of Kevin Kramer on a hit-and-run. Two sacrifice flies plated both runners.
Greg Zebrack also singled and came around to score due to Vander Tuig’s struggles with the slider. Zebrack advanced to second on a passed ball, went to third on a wild pitch and came home when a third pitch bounced away from catcher Shane Zeile.
Nigel Nootbaar, who started because Wyatt Strahan was scratched with forearm tightness, helped the Bruins provide an immediate response. Nootbaar threw 10 balls in his first 11 pitches to start the fifth inning. After back-to-back walks and falling behind 2-0, he battled back to get a double play, but Brian Carroll lined a shot to right field that Zebrack couldn’t catch. Zebrack hesitated on the ball and then tried to make a diving catch but came up short, allowing Carroll to advance all the way to third. Kramer grounded a ball through the right side, scoring Carroll and cutting the lead to 3-2.
The Bruins scored five runs in the seventh inning, but did it on only two hits. Instead UCLA took advantage of the gifts USC gave them, namely an error and five of the 10 walks issued by USC pitchers on the day. Eric Filia landed the big blow when he unloaded the bases with a rocket over the first baseman’s head and into the right field corner to give the Bruins a 5-3 lead. Valaika added an RBI single and Cody Regis picked up an RBI when the fifth walk came with the bases loaded.
USC got a run back in the bottom half of the inning with three singles against Cody Poteet. Timmy Robinson’s bouncer through the left side scored Bobby Stahel and prompted John Savage to jog out to the mound to make an immediate pitching change. Zack Weiss came on and turned up the dramatics, walking the bases loaded and hitting Landecker to score a run. James Roberts’ second sacrifice fly prompted Savage to come out and motion for his sidearm slinging closer.
“I knew John [Savage] was probably going to bring him in because that was the game,” USC head coach Dan Hubbs said. “He felt like if they get behind, who knows if they score.”
Check out the 15-shot photo gallery from Saturday afternoon’s action: