The Bruins churned out a few early runs and let their pitching and defense take care of the rest in a 3-1 victory over Mississippi State on Monday night in the opener of the College World Series finals.
They're one win from their first national championship in baseball and their school's record 109th in a team sport.
"We dodged some bullets, no doubt about it, but you have to give credit to our defense," UCLA coach John Savage said. "Kind of a Bruin game. Tight game, and at the end of the night we were fortunate to come out with the win."
The Bruins (48-17) know it won't be easy to finish off a Mississippi State team that had an estimated 8,000 fans migrate from the Magnolia State to be at TD Ameritrade Park to see their team play for the school's first national title in any sport.
Adam Plutko limited the Bulldogs (51-19) to a run on four hits in six innings and turned the game over to his bullpen. The Bulldogs left runners in scoring position in four of the last six innings.
"They're great hitters, they grind it out every at-bat, and they're not going away," UCLA closer David Berg said. "They want to win this thing as bad as we do. They're not going to give it up."
Bulldogs second baseman Brett Pirtle said he and his teammates can't give the Bruins any openings because they're so capable of capitalizing on them.
"Nobody that's extra special," Pirtle said of the Bruins. "They're just small ball. They bunt and put pressure on the defense, and that's what helped them out, and that's the kind of ballclub they are.
The Bruins can play some defense, too. Eric Filia ran in to catch Trey Porter's line drive to right with two outs and the bases loaded in the fourth, and he robbed Nick Ammirati of extra bases with a catch on the warning track in the fifth. Second baseman Cody Regis made a couple diving stops and also started both of UCLA's double plays.
UCLA is 40-0 when leading after seven innings.
The Bruins made it 3-0 in the fourth on Filia's two-out, two-run single off Chad Girodo, who replaced starter Trevor Fitts (0-1) in the second. That was the last of the Bruins' six hits.
Mississippi State's fans started the "Maroon and White" chant in the bottom of the ninth after C.T. Bradford and pinch-hitter Sam Frost singled to put runners on first and second with one out against Berg.
Nick Ammirati flew out, and pinch-hitter Jacob Robson ended the game with his comebacker to Berg, who sprinted toward first base before under-handing the ball to Pat Gallagher.
Berg, making his 50th appearance of the season, earned his NCAA-record 24th save for 1 2-3 innings of work.
"Records are meant to be broken, but titles are what matter," Berg said. "So if we all win a national championship, I'll enjoy that. But right now I don't think about it at all."
The loss spoiled a splendid performance by Girodo, who pitched the last 7 2-3 innings. He allowed three hits, walked two and struck out nine. Both runs against him were unearned.
Plutko (10-3) walked in Mississippi State's only run in the fourth. He wasn't overly sharp, but he continued his impressive run in postseason play. In eight career NCAA tournament games, he's 7-0 with an 0.94 ERA.
The Bruins brought a .248 season batting average into the finals, and a .182 average through their first three CWS games.
They eked out enough offense to win again.
But there were big hits, too.
Filia, who came in 1 for 9 in the CWS, doubled after Kevin Kramer struck out but reached because strike three was in the dirt. Pat Valaika's single to center drove in Kramer for a 1-0 lead.
"First baserunner of the game kind of spells it out," Bulldogs coach John Cohen said. "I really wish that kid hadn't swung at that pitch. I'm not saying it to be a smart aleck, but that kid doesn't swing at that pitch, it lands in front of the plate, I think the ballgame could be different. But crazy things happen in sports."
The Bruins added two more in the fourth. Brenton Allen singled and Brian Carroll reached when he bunted and catcher Ammirati made a bad throw to first.
Carroll ran into the Bulldogs' 6-foot-5, 272-pound first baseman Wes Rea while running through the bag. Rea stayed down after the knee-to-knee contact but was able to keep playing after an athletic trainer attended to him. Allen and Carroll came home on Filia's base hit to right.
Alex Detz and Brett Pirtle produced Mississippi State's first and second hits against Plutko with one out in the fourth. Rea was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
That got the "Maroon and White" chant started as Bradford came up to face Plutko. Bradford fouled off three straight pitches before the count ran full. Plutko walked him with a high changeup, scoring Detz. Plutko's 30-pitch inning ended when Trey Porter lined out.
Plutko had to endure more stress in the fifth. Filia made his big catch on Ammirati, and Demarcus Henderson reached when Plutko misplayed a comebacker, and moved to second on a balk. The inning ended with Detz's line out to second.
Freshman reliever James Kaprielian came on in the seventh with a man on and none out. After he walked Ammirati, Henderson, the team leader in sacrifice bunts, fouled off two bunt tries and then grounded to second for the first of UCLA's two double plays.
"Not much to get excited about," Savage said. "It comes down to tomorrow."