OMAHA, Neb. — It was hyped as one of the most highly anticipated series in college baseball this season. It featured a pair teams that began their seasons 24-0 and 22-0, respectively. It was a matchup highlighted by talent-laden pitching staffs and potent lineups.
It wasn’t even close.
In a crucial late-April Pac-10 set, ASU bludgeoned UCLA en route to a three-game sweep in Los Angeles, outscoring the Bruins by a combined score of 23-5 and gaining the ground necessary to win a fourth-straight Pac-10 title.
The Sun Devils dismantled a UCLA pitching staff that entered the series with the second lowest ERA in the nation (2.44). Meanwhile, ASU starters were dominant in frustrating Bruin hitters all weekend.
“They came out and in some circumstances, we beat ourselves,” sophomore pitcher Gerrit Cole said. “But for the most part, I can’t remember them not playing perfect baseball.”
Since the disappointing weekend for UCLA, though, it has been one of the hottest teams in college baseball, winning 20 of 24 games.
The team’s great play has continued at the College World Series, where UCLA is in great position to advance to the championship series after wins over Florida and TCU.
“That was a very tough series for us,” freshman outfielder Beau Amaral said. “It definitely sparked a little fire in us and we’ve definitely been playing well after that.”
But more than just finding motivation humbling defeats can often provide, Cole said his team actually found things the Sun Devils did that the Bruins aspired to add to their own approach.
“I think we learned a lot from them,” said Cole, who was drafted in the first round of the MLB draft out of high school by the New York Yankees but turned them down for the opportunity to play for UCLA. “They were unbelievable the way they took the field and they way they played 9-on-1, really smothered you at the plate. And I think we took a lot of the elements they have, the foundation of their team, and we kind of incorporated them into our team and we tried to sort of replicate that on the stuff we had already built our team on.
“We knew we were on a roll. But we also knew at the same time that we could be a lot better, and they showed us that.”
The Bruins said they were hoping to face the Sun Devils in the championship series, but that rematch will have to be put on hold after ASU’s first back-to-back losses of the season led to a short stay Omaha.
UCLA now represents the Pac-10′s opportunity to have a third team from the conference win a national title this decade (Oregon State, 2006 and 2007).
A win on Friday against either TCU or Florida State will put the Bruins in the championship series and give the program a chance for its first national title in school history.
“I think this defines my goal of going to college,” Cole said. “To come to Rosenblatt [Stadium] in the final year, playing in the College World Series … it’s just an unbelievable experience.”
Reach the reporter at firstname.lastname@example.org