This was all supposed to be for UCLA.
The dog pile on the field. The “O-MA-HA! O-MA-HA!” chants from the bleachers. The cheers and hugs and smiles that lasted long after the final out. The trip to the College World Series.
But it wasn’t for the top-seeded Bruins. Not this time.
UCLA lost to third-seeded Michigan 4-2 in the decisive third game of the Los Angeles super regional Sunday night, the sun finally setting on a Bruins team that had survived four previous elimination games this postseason.
After repeatedly postponing the long night of the offseason, UCLA fell tantalizingly close to the College World Series.
“I’m just so proud of my guys and their season,” UCLA coach John Savage said after his team’s only weekend series loss of the entire year. “Just a tough way to finish.”
At first, it looked like this season’s squad was going to keep its national championship dreams alive. The Bruins built an early 2-1 lead thanks to a solo home run by Jake Pries and a run-scoring groundout by Ryan Kreidler.
But then the game turned.
UCLA’s infield misplayed a pickoff opportunity with runners on the corners in the top of the fifth, failing to throw out a Michigan baserunner caught between first and second. Moments later, the Wolverines’ Ako Thomas lined a two-run single up the middle to put his team ahead 3-2.
“We’ve got to get an out there,” Savage said. “They just didn’t leave any room for our mistakes.”
Behind a seven-inning, two-run start from Tommy Henry (10-5), a two-inning save from Benjamin Keizer and a lack of timely hitting from UCLA (52-11), which went 0 for 8 with runners in scoring position and left seven on base, Michigan (46-20) never trailed again.
Resigned fans began trickling out of Jackie Robinson Stadium after the Bruins stranded a runner at third in the seventh. More hit the exits when Chase Strumpf’s eighth-inning fly ball died at the wall.
Michigan added an insurance run in the top the ninth, giving Keizer enough breathing room to work around a pair of baserunners in the bottom of the inning.
“To say we’re excited is an understatement,” Michigan coach Erik Bakich said after his team clinched the program’s first College World Series berth since 1984. “It’s been a long time coming.”
The Bruins experienced opposite emotions. After the final out, they could only somberly stare at a celebration they thought would belong to them. Savage stood at home plate, kicking dirt. Others looked on through teary eyes and parted fingers.
“We’ve had some really good teams,” Savage said. “Some have gone to Omaha, some haven’t gone to Omaha. This is our best team that hasn’t.”