LOS ANGELES--Yes, UCLA can hit a little bit, too.
And the Bruins do, indeed, have a solid bullpen.
Dominant starting pitching had been the story for UCLA the first two days of the NCAA regional at Jackie Robinson Stadium, but the Bruins broke out the bats in a big way Sunday and thumped Creighton, 13-5, to win the regional and advance to a Super Regional for the second time in three years and third time in six.
UCLA, seeded No. 2 nationally, will face the winner of Monday's elimination game between Texas Christian and Mississippi next weekend. If the Bruins continue to play the way they did in the regional, they should have no trouble winning that best-of-three series and making a return trip to Omaha for the College World Series.
The Bruins (45-14) simply steamrolled through the regional, displaying dominance in all facets of the game. Right fielder Jeff Gelalich keyed the Bruins charge Sunday, blasting two home runs off the hitting facility beyond the right field fence to lead the offensive outburst.
The 11-hit attack came on the heels of dominant outings by starters Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig, who combined to give up only three hits and no earned runs in 17 combined innings on Friday and Saturday. Zack Weiss started Sunday and wasn't quite as effective, but the offense and the bullpen -- which hadn't gotten much work this weekend -- carried the day.
Gelalich was 3-for-3 with four RBIs and three runs scored while Trevor Brown and Pat Valaika each drove in a pair of runs for the Bruins, who turned in a juggernaut-type performance in dominating the regional by outscoring opponents 23-6 in three games and outhitting their opponents, 35-16.
"We think we have one of the best pitching staffs in the country and we know that if they can keep us in games, we know our offense is good and we work together as a team and kind of feed off of one another," said Gelalich, named the most outstanding player of the regional.
The Bruins impressed in all aspects of the game. They committed only one error during the regional and Sunday showed the bulllpen that had been a major factor all season for a UCLA staff that had only one complete game during the regular season. David Berg and Ryan Deeter gave up only one hit in three combined innings. Closer Scott Griggs wilted a bit when mopping up in the ninth and gave up two runs on four hits, but also struck out the side.
It was a solid performance after Weiss who labored through his five innings, yet managed to keep the Bruins in the game until the offense took over. He gave up three runs on seven hits and walked three. He pitched in and out of trouble in four of his five innings and needed 89 pitches to get out of the jams.
"Zack was definitely on the ropes," coach John Savage said. "He wobbled and he hung in there and pitched out of some problems and after the fifth inning handed the ball to our bullpen which is one of our strengths."
The offense helped ease the burden. After Creighton took a 2-0 lead in the first, Gelalich tied it with a two-run blast in the bottom of the first. Trevor Brown's two-run single in the third keyed a five-run rally that gave UCLA a 7-2 lead and put UCLA in control.
Creighton coach Ed Servais, whose team lost twice to UCLA in this tournament, came away impressed with the Bruins' balance.
"They have some power arms and they know how to pitch." Servais said. "We saw a much more offensive team tonight. I like their athleticism. They have left-handed hitters, right handed hitters. They have a good bullpen that can shorten the game a little bit. If the games are held here, UCLA has got a great chance to advance."
Savage said this team reminds him a little of the 2010 team that made it to the national championship series and for good reason: The core group of position players are the same. Outfielders Gelalich, Cody Keefer and Beau Amaral along with Brown and first baseman Cody Regis were all regulars on that team.
And the way the Bruins are playing right now is also reminiscent of that team even though star pitchers Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer are no longer with the team after getting selected first and third in last year's major league baseball draft.
"You don’t have the Bauer and Cole factor, but I really think offensively and defensively this team is just as good as that team," Savage said. "Basically they are the same players, just two years older. They’ve grown up. They’ve played a lot of post season baseball. There are certainly some comparisons."
The Bruins are streaking, too. They have now won seven consecutive games and 14 of their last 15, playing solid fundamental baseball and building the kind of momentum you need to make a deep run in the post season.
"I think we are playing pretty good baseball," Brown said. "This is the time we want to be playing our best baseball and as a team we’re playing pretty well. I think we want to just carry this momentum into next weekend."