The UCLA Bruins are one win away from their first NCAA baseball championship, and their pitching will be the biggest X-factor in Game 2 of the College World Series against the Mississippi State Bulldogs on Tuesday night in Omaha, Neb.
UCLA beat Mississippi State 3-1 in Game 1 on Monday (recap courtesy of the Los Angeles Times). The Bruins had great pitching yet again and are now one win away from making history.
The Bruins (48-17) have won 10 straight games, including all nine postseason games. Mississippi State (51-19) lost for only the second time in 10 games. The good news for Bulldogs fans is that their team hasn't lost back-to-back games since early May.
All of the pressure is on Mississippi State right now. This is a team that knocked off Oregon State twice in the postseason, and the players better come ready to play.
Let's take a look at what the biggest X-factor for each team will be.
Top of the order sets the tone
It will be important for the Bulldogs to have a big night out of the middle of the lineup, but the people at the top of the order need to get on base for them.
The Bulldogs have a chance to set the tone right away. They will be the visiting team in Game 2, so they will be able to try to score first.
UCLA was able to score in the opening inning of Game 1, and then the Bruins padded their lead a few innings later. The Bruins improved to 18-2 when scoring in the first inning. Scoring early can give a team confidence, especially when facing elimination.
Adam Frazier and Alex Detz will need to rebound from a disappointing opening game. They combined to go 1-for-8, although Detz did score the Bulldogs' lone run.
Frazier is hitting over .350 this year, and both players are above .360 in the postseason.
With Hunter Renfroe right behind them, it will be important for the first two batters to get on. Renfroe is hitting .351 this season and has 16 home runs.
Getting out to a fast start is the key to beating UCLA. Mississippi State can't afford to let the Bruins settle in on the mound and get in a groove. The offense needs to put pressure on the opposition early and keep going throughout the game.
If Mississippi State is able to force a Game 3, Frazier and Detz will need to be getting on base tonight.
Pitching wins championships
There's absolutely no secret to UCLA's success. The Bruins have shut teams down with outstanding pitching. They have outscored their opponents 36-14 in the postseason, which averages to just over one run per game allowed.
The Bruins haven't allowed more than one run in a game since coming to Omaha, and they've done it only once in their last seven games.
Junior Nick Vander Tuig is expected to take the mound tonight. The right-hander allowed only one run on four hits against NC State in his last start. He moved to 13-4 and has an ERA below 2.50. That's not too shabby for a No. 2 pitcher.
Part of the reason the Bruins have been successful this year has been their starting pitching. The bullpen does its part as well.
Sophomore David Berg set the NCAA single-season record by getting his 24th save of the season on Monday. The Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year shuts teams down, so Mississippi State will need to do its best to get a lead before Berg comes in.
The Bruins are a perfect 40-0 when leading after seven and 38-1 when opponents score three runs or fewer. They have won with pitching all year.
UCLA needs a clutch hit here and there throughout the game, and the pitching is good enough to keep them in the game until that hit comes.
With Vander Tuig on the mound, the Bruins could find themselves celebrating by the end of the night. If the offense can get a run or two early on, Vander Tuig and Berg can take care of the rest.
*All stats are courtesy of UCLABruins.com and HailState.com