(Part 7 of an 8-part College World Series preview)
Making back-to-back College World Series appearances for the first time in school history, the UCLA Bruins (44-17) test LSU on Sunday at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
Undefeated in five postseason games, the Bruins swept Cal State Fullerton 5-3 in 10 innings and 3-0 in the Fullerton Super Regional.
UCLA, which doesn't have a starter batting over .300, has the lowest team batting average (.251) in the eight-team CWS field. Then again, the Bruins' pitching staff — arguably the best in the nation — requires minimal run support.
UCLA is 15-2 in one-run games and the bullpen has been flawless protecting leads as the Bruins are 37-0 when up after seven innings.
Defensively, UCLA and LSU both have .980 team fielding percentages, tied for tops among CWS clubs.
Sophomore third baseman Kevin Kramer (.279, 3 HR, 40 RBI) and junior shortstop Pat Valaika (.257-5-44) have been the Bruins' most consistent offensive threats. In addition to home runs and RBI, Valaika leads the team in triples (3), total bases (93) and slugging percentage (.404). The Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, Valaika was drafted by the Colorado Rockies in the ninth round.
Junior center fielder and leadoff batter Brian Carroll (.259-0-20, 30 stolen bases) is batting .524 in NCAA Tournament games.
Junior righthander Adam Plutko (8-3, 2.35) will draw the starting assignment against LSU.
UCLA's Saturday starter throughout the season, junior righty Nick Vander Tuig (12-4, 2.37), was drafted in the sixth round by the San Francisco Giants. Three picks later, the Cincinnati Reds selected junior righthander Zack Weiss (2-1, 2.33).
Weiss has appeared in 41 games, primarily as an eighth-inning setup may for All-American closer David Berg (7-0, 0.88, 21 saves).