Filia provides boost for Bruins

Five years ago, Eric Filia made a decision that would alter his future when he verbally committed to play baseball at UCLA.

He did so, he said then, during his sophomore year at Edison High, for many reasons. One, in particular, stood out.

"They have a great history when it comes to education and athletics," he said to the Independent in a 2008 story that told of his decision to attend UCLA. "Even though they haven't won a national title in baseball, my plan when I get there, is to win a national championship. My goal is to make it to Omaha."

Filia, who plays right field for the Bruins, succeeded on both counts, and his dreams were wildly exceeded.

In his second trip in as many years to Omaha, Neb., site of the College World Series, the sophomore played a huge role as UCLA won its first national championship in baseball. He drove in a career-high five runs as the Bruins secured the title on June 25 by shutting down Mississippi State, 8-0.

The Bruins (49-17) completed a two-game sweep in the College World Series finals against the Bulldogs (51-20) and ended the season with 11 straight wins. They went 10-0 in the NCAA tournament including 5-0 in Omaha.

The baseball national championship added to UCLA's NCAA record for team titles which now is at 109.

The Bruins have made it to Omaha in June now in three of the past four years.

"Like I said then [2008], when I saw how many team national championships UCLA had, for baseball, there was zero," Filia said on Tuesday. "To be part of the first team to make history for the school in winning a baseball national championship, is just incredible."

UCLA allowed four runs in five games to set a CWS record for fewest runs in the metal-bat era that started in 1974. The Bruins outscored their five opponents, No. 4 LSU, North Carolina St., No. 1 North Carolina, and Mississippi St. twice, 19-4.

"Basically, this is a dream come true," said Filia who, as a freshman at Edison, set school records for most hits in a single season (53) and most at-bats (106), and tied a school record held by Jeff Kent for the best single-season batting average (.500).

"I was 13 years old when I came with my dad to Rosenblatt [Stadium, former site of the College World Series]," he recalled. "I remember everything about the experience, the houses across the street from the stadium where memorabilia was sold, the people. And here I was last week, playing in Omaha for the second time. Just unbelievable."

UCLA also made its way to Omaha a year ago. Filia was a freshman on that UCLA team that shared the Pac-12 Conference championship with Arizona but fell short in its quest for the national championship.

He was happy to get another chance.

"Last year, I wasn't really playing but part of the team, and I really thought we were the best team in the country," he said of the 2012 Bruins who entered the CWS as the No. 2 national seed. "We didn't win the title but the hot team [Arizona] at the right time, did.

Filia's former teammate at Edison, Kurt Heyer (Class of 2009), experienced the thrill last year of winning a national championship as an ace pitcher on the Arizona team that won the CWS title.

"I couldn't wait to get back to Omaha and step onto the field," Filia said. "To be able to play there two years in a row, and win it this time around, is surreal and a dream come true."

Words such as memorable and unforgettable fit, well, like a glove when describing what Filia accomplished during the Bruins' title turn at TD Ameritrade Park, home site of the CWS since 2011.

He drove in seven of UCLA's 11 runs against Mississippi St. in the championship series which the Bruins swept, starting with a 3-1 first game victory on June 24. A left-handed hitter batting in the No. 3 slot, Filia drove in the first two runs and final three runs in the 8-0 title-clinching win on June 25.

He went two for three in the final game, one day after he went two for three with two RBIs in the 3-1 win. His two-out, two-run single in the fourth had extended the Bruins' lead to 3-0.

Filia finished four for six in the championship series.

Defensively, he came up with two outstanding plays in the opening game of the series. He nabbed a line drive with two out and bases loaded in the Mississippi St. half of the fourth to get the Bruins out of a jam while still in the lead at 3-1.

In the fifth, he made a leaping catch on the run before going into the fence in right field. The play not only denied Mississippi St. a key, extra-base hit but for Filia, who wears jersey No. 4, the play would rank at No. 4 on ESPN's SportsCenter's Top Ten plays of the day for June 24.

He led the Bruins in Omaha with a .333 average (five for 15) and drove in eight runs. For the season, Filia also topped the Bruins with a .281 average. He had 14 doubles, a home run, triple and 33 RBIs.

He was named to the CWS all-tournament team.

"He's a very talented hitter," UCLA head coach John Savage said. "When we recruited him, we knew he was the kind of guy who could hit in the middle of the lineup, or the top of the lineup. We felt that he was one of the better hitters in the country, and he showed that in the last month of the season."

"He's a very, very talented player. He's maturing and that has helped his entire game. We have more hopes for him as a junior next year."

Filia was confident the Bruins would win the national championship.

"This team has so much heart," Filia said. "Our captains, Pat Valaika, Nick Vander Tuig, Adam Plutko, Brian Carroll and Ryan Deeter, led by example. We were well prepared.

"When we got here, Coach Savage talked about us not just getting here, but winning a national championship. He said that the end of the season is July 1. When we got to Omaha, our veterans, like Cody Regis, talked about this being a business trip and that there was work still to be done.

"To be able to accomplish this in front of all the parents and girlfriends who came out to support us is special. I was so happy to share one of the greatest moments of my life with my family and my girlfriend."

Filia went straight from the College World Series in Omaha to play summer ball in the Cape Cod League. He's playing for the Yarmouth-Dennis Red Sox through mid-August. He worked out Monday at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.

What with all that has gone on for him in a week's time, Filia has to be pinching himself.

"Here I am, at Fenway, where many of the greats have played," he said. "I mean, I'm hitting in the same batter's box as Ted Williams who, in my opinion is the best hitter there was. It's surreal.

"This past week has been beyond belief. I'm on Cloud Nine."

Urabe, out of HB, contributes

Brett Urabe of Huntington Beach High (Class of 2012) also is part of UCLA's national championship baseball team. The freshman infielder had one plate appearance at the College World Series and drew a walk. It came during the Bruins' 2-1 win over North Carolina St. in their second game of the tournament.

Urabe left Monday for Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, where he is playing collegiate summer ball for the Victoria HarbourCats of the West Coast League.

Urabe experienced at the CWS much what Filia did when Filia was a freshman a year ago. This time, though, the Bruins brought the title home to Westwood.

"It is kind of surreal, to go from high school a year ago, to being on the biggest stage in college baseball," Urabe said. "Our goal from the beginning of the season was to win a championship. Coach [Savage] said we were looking to win a title when we had a team meeting at the start of the school year.

"It is awesome to be a freshman, and win a national championship. It hasn't hit me yet. It probably won't sink in, either, for a few years."

Urabe is the second Huntington Beach Oiler to compete in Omaha in the last four years. Former Oiler standout Beau Amaral (Class of 2009) was an outfielder for the Bruins when they finished runner-up to the national title in 2010, and when they returned to the tournament last year.

"We like him," Savage said of Urabe. "He was good and is a very versatile player who can play anywhere. He's got a good arm and runs the bases well. He really contributed, whether it was hitting, running or as a late-game defender, when we need it. He's a very valuable guy."

Plutko, another local connection

UCLA junior pitcher Adam Plutko was selected as the College World Series' most outstanding player. His father, Greg Plutko, is superintendent of the Huntington Beach Union High School District. His grandfather, Ray Plutko, is a former commissioner of the CIF Southern Section.

Adam Plutko was 2-0 at the CWS with wins over fourth-ranked LSU (2-1) and in Game 1 against Mississippi St. (3-1). He was part of a sensational Bruins pitching staff that allowed an amazing 0.80 ERA in five games in Omaha.

"I think you start with how hard this team and these guys have worked, and their commitment to one another," Greg Plutko said of the Bruins' rise to the title.

He attended the CWS with his wife, Mena, and daughter, Sara, who played soccer at the University of Oregon.

"They were so committed to each other and the UCLA system," he said. "There was a real bond between all of them. Then, to have the ability to see the pure joy of them winning the title, was just incredible. A lot of credit goes to Coach Savage."

For Adam Plutko to play at his best on such a big stage made the CWS experience special for his family.

"No question, there is the pride you have as a dad, mom and family," Greg Plutko said of his son's honor. "It's really special and Adam can't say enough about his teammates. As you step away from it all, we are very humbled by it."

Adam Plutko was selected by the Cleveland Indians in the 11th round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft last month. Greg Plutko said his son is in conversations this week with the Indians.

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World