By Eric Olson/The Associated Press
OMAHA, Neb. — It’s the Southeastern Conference vs. the Pac-12 for the second straight year in the finals of the College World Series.
Mississippi State and UCLA will square off in the best-of-three starting Monday at TD Ameritrade Park after each went unbeaten in winning its bracket.
UCLA survived a rocky ninth inning to eliminate No. 1 national seed North Carolina with a 4-1 win on Friday night. The Bulldogs got a three-run homer from Hunter Renfroe and defeated Oregon State 4-1 in the afternoon.
Mississippi State beat Oregon State twice in bracket play — a fact that did not go unnoticed by Bruins coach John Savage.
Oregon State won two of three against the Bruins in Los Angeles while winning the Pac-12 championship.
“To beat Oregon State, we know how good Oregon State is. They’re good,” Savage said. “And to do what they did against them twice, it goes to show that they’re a little better than them. So we’re going to respect the game. We’re going to respect the opponent. We’re going to respect the next two days in terms of preparation, getting ourselves ready and do what we do.”
The Bruins (47-17) are in the finals for the second time, and first since getting swept by South Carolina in 2010.
Mississippi State (51-18) is in the finals for the first time. Each team will be playing for its first national championship in baseball.
“I know it sounds crazy, but our kids just think something good is going to happen and, by the way, our coaches do, too,” Bulldogs coach John Cohen said. “I think these guys are on a little bit of a roll for sure.”
The Pac-12’s Arizona beat the SEC’s South Carolina to win the national title a year ago. Teams from the Pac-12 and SEC have faced off in the finals three of the last four years.
UCLA’s star closer David Berg wasn’t his usual dominant self in the Bruins’ first two wins in Omaha, and he really struggled Friday against the Tar Heels. Carolina loaded the bases twice against Berg but came away with only one run.
“I would say he’s been pushed,” Savage said. “But come on, you get run out there as much as he does, I mean, you’re not going to go 1-2-3, 1-2-3. Things are going to happen.
“He’s one of the major reasons why we’re here. He can screw up every now and then, it’s OK.”
The elimination of North Carolina, which set a school record for wins, means the Atlantic Coast Conference will go without a national title in baseball again. The last ACC team to win the championship was Wake Forest in 1955. And the top seed hasn’t won the College World Series since Miami in 1999.
Both starters went six innings, with the Bruins’ Grant Watson (9-3) allowing four hits and Kent Emanuel (11-5) giving up five singles and striking out seven.
UCLA opened the CWS with 2-1 victories over LSU and North Carolina State. The Bruins, with eight total runs, matched 1976 Eastern Michigan for fewest by a team in the metal-bat era that won its first three CWS games.
The Bruins scored single runs in the second and sixth innings and made it 4-0 in the seventh on Pat Valaika’s double.
Renfroe’s homer for Mississippi Strate came on an afternoon the wind was blowing in at a ballpark that surrenders few home runs. He had already seen teammate Wes Rea come up short with a fly to the left-center power alley that Michael Conforto caught against the wall on perhaps the best defensive play of the CWS.
Renfroe’s 16th homer of the season, and first since May 4, came on a 3-1 pitch from Andrew Moore (14-2) and put the Bulldogs up 4-0 in the fifth. It was only the third homer in 11 CWS games, and there was no doubt it was out, even though Renfroe didn’t initially see it that way.
“I was running hard out of the batter’s box and going for a double,” he said. “I kind of hit it off the end of the bat, but I was able to get enough backspin on it.”
Graveman (7-5) worked the first 5 2-3 innings, allowing one run and four hits. Ross Mitchell and Jonathan Holder finished, with Holder getting the last two outs for his 21st save of the season and school-record 30th of his career.
Read more about the Bulldogs in Omaha in Sunday’s NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.