Adam Plutko was unsure about the middle innings, but knew his experience carried him through the sixth and severth innings. The veteran right hander tossed seven innings, allowing only one earned run to collect his fifth career postseason victory — setting a school record for No. 10 UCLA.
The Bruins (40-17) defeated San Diego State 5-3 in the opening round of NCAA Regional action at Jackie Robinson Stadium Friday night. UCLA now advances to play Cal Poly at 6 p.m. Saturday evening after the Mustangs defeated San Diego earlier in the day.
The Aztecs (31-30) squared up a number of balls against Plutko, banging a double off the wall in the first inning, a triple off the wall in the third inning and a Jake Romanski homer in the fifth inning. Four of San Diego State’s first five hits went for extra bases. But the savvy Plutko made key pitches in big moments and walked away with the win.
“He made some big pitches in big spots,” said Romanski, San Diego State’s senior catcher. “He’s a location guy, not overpowering, but he made big pitches and that was pretty much the difference.”
“I’m not really sure what happened in middle. It definitely wasn’t my best out there, but I grinded,” Plutko said. “Coach said earlier that in the sixth and the seventh [innings], that’s where my experience came in, and I think that’s true. I think my experience showed in 6th and 7th inning.”
San Diego State jumped on top in the second inning with an RBI fielder’s choice by Romanski, but the Aztecs ran themselves out of a potentially bigger inning. Romanski came up with runners on second and third. His grounder deep in the hole on the left side was cut off by Pat Valaika, who fired to third to nail Matt Munoz. Romanski then got caught leaning at first base and was picked off by Plutko to end the inning.
Kevin Kramer tied the game in the third inning with a line drive sacrifice fly to score Pat Gallagher. Gallagher led off the inning with a double that bounced out of Danny Sheehan’s glove as he raced back to the wall.
Gallagher struck the big blow an inning later in an inning where everything seemed to go the Bruins’ way. Pat Valaika led off with a spinning screwball down the first base line that started foul before reversing course and ricochetting off the first base bag. The ball shot up in the air away from first baseman Ryan Muno for a wacky infield single. Shane Zeile followed with another infield hit as he roped a pitch to shortstop where Evan Potter couldn’t corral his sinking liner.
Following a walk to load the bases, Gallagher hit a hard grounder that sneaked by a diving Muno and into right field to plate a pair of runs. San Diego State was trying to attack Gallagher inside and had Muno groping the first base line to make sure he didn’t yank anything down the line and into the right field corner. Instead Gallagher was able to get the bat head through the zone and hit it where Muno normally plays.
“That’s all you can do – try to hit the ball hard, and hopefully you can beat an infielder, or maybe get a ball by an infielder,” UCLA head coach John Savage said about the Bruins good fortune in the fourth inning. “It happens every night in baseball. We were fortunate. You gotta be lucky at times, and certainly in that inning there were a few balls that we were pretty fortunate [to get].”
Brenton Allen followed with a sacrifice fly to put UCLA ahead 4-2. That was plenty enough run support for Plutko. He finished after throwing 101 pitches, 65 for strikes. The junior allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits and one walk. The win was his fifth career postseason victory — breaking a tie with his former teammate Trevor Bauer, who was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft.
“It means a lot. When you first commit to a program like UCLA, you just hope that you can live up to your expectations,” Plutko said. “For me to set the record with all the other great pitchers, to even be talked about in same sentence with Trevor Bauer and every single record he owns here, it’s unbelievable.”
Romanski finished 2-for-4 with two runs, two extra-base hits and two RBI. Tyler France continued his hot hitting, going 2-for-3 with a double and a walk. Greg Allen had a strong game atop the Aztecs’ lineup. He finished with three hits, including a double and a triple.
Gallagher led the way for UCLA with three hits while Eric Filia and Zeile both had a pair of hits.
After a scoreless eighth inning by Zack Weiss, David Berg pitched the ninth inning for his 19th save of the season. Ryan Doran (5.2 IP, 9 H, 4 ER) pitched much better than the boxscore indicates, but he allowed more than three runs for only the second time this season .
San Diego State will face off with rival San Diego in an elimination game Saturday afternoon at 2 p.m. The Bruins’ matchup with Cal Poly is scheduled to begin at 6 p.m.
Check out the 20-shot photo gallery from Game 2 of the Los Angeles Regional: