Plutko pitches a gem in regional opener

Adam Plutko pitched his second complete game of the season as the UCLA beat Creighton. AP Photo/Gus Ruelas

LOS ANGELES -- Adam Plutko was pitching with a heavy heart, but luckily for him the baseball felt light.

A day after attending the funeral of his great grandmother, Plutko turned in the finest pitching performance of the season for UCLA as he spun a two-hitter to lead the Bruins to a 3-0 victory over Creighton in a first-round game of the NCAA Los Angeles Regional on Friday night at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

It was the first postseason shutout for UCLA since an 8-0 victory over Yale in 1992, putting the Bruins, seeded no. 1 in the regional, in a winner's bracket game against New Mexico on Saturday at 7 p.m.

After driving back from the funeral in San Diego on Friday morning, Plutko met his team at the ballpark and proceeded to dominate the Creighton bats from the outset. The sophomore right-hander retired the first nine batters he faced and 15 of the first 16. He struck out seven and walked three and allowed only one base runner to advance past first base.

"It’s been kind of a rough week," Plutko said. "It’s been a whirlwind of a week, but it was a lot of fun to pitch this game."

The complete game was a boon for the Bruins (43-14), who have not gotten many of them this year. Plutko had the only other one -- a 2-0 victory at Georgia on March 9. Obviously the Bruins have been relying heavily on their bullpen, but to get complete game in the first game of a regional could prove invaluable down the road.

"Adam gave his best outing of the year, quite honestly, and we needed it," coach John Savage said. "In a series when you are talking about multiple games in a few days, you’re talking about saving your bullpen and Adam just did it as well as he could."

The Bruins got all the offense they would need in the first inning when Cody Keefer beat out a chopper to shortstop for a two-out infield single and Jeff Gelalich followed by ripping a run-scoring double into the left-center gap.

Another two-out rally in the second produced two more runs as Cody Regis singled and Kevin Kramer and Beau Amaral followed with back-to-back doubles to give UCLA a 3-0 lead.

After that it was all Plutko (10-3) who effectively moved his fastball around the strike zone to keep the Bluejays (26-29) off balance. He got some help from Amaral, who made two nice running catches in center field with a man on first to thwart a potential Creighton threat.

Plutko said it meant a lot for him to pitch as well as he did given the difficult week, especially considering a lot of family members from all across the country, in Southern California for the funeral, came to the game Friday.

"It was awesome," Plutko said. "Doing it in front of a bunch of family was a lot of fun."

It was also much needed because Creighton lefty Ty Blach settled in after the first two innings and allowed only two more hits the rest of the game. Blach pitched a one-hitter last week in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament and showed why he's projected to get picked in the Major League later this month.

"That’s one of the hottest pitchers in the country and he proved that tonight," Savage said. "We were fortunate to get to him early."

Those three early runs and Plutko's stellar outing helped the Bruins avoid falling into the loser's bracket as they did last season when they dropped their regional opener to No. 4-seeded San Francisco and failed to advance out of the regional.

Savage said it was a bit of a relief to avoid that pitfall again, especially when facing a tough left-handed pitcher.

"When the No. 4 seed popped up, we knew pretty quickly that they had a guy," Savage said. "So relief? Yeah, a little bit, but we respect everybody we play and everybody and now it’s on to the next day. Nobody has done anything yet it this tournament. It’s just day one."

Day two will feature a high-powered offense in New Mexico (37-22). The Lobos have a .332 team batting average and are led by All-American third baseman D.J. Peterson, who is batting .427 with 17 home runs and 78 RBIs. Peterson was 4-for-4 with a home run Friday in a 4-0 victory over San Diego.

The winner of that game will be in the driver's seat for the regional title, needing to win only one more game to advance to the Super Regional. The loser will have to fight back and win three more games to advance.