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UCLA-Arizona matchup is good news for Pac-12

One of the schools figures to advance to the championship series.

June 17, 2012|By Rachel George
  • UCLA's Kevin Kramer beats the throw to second base in the first inning against Stony Brook. (AP Photo/Eric Francis)
UCLA's Kevin Kramer beats the throw to second base in the first inning… (Eric Francis / Associated…)

OMAHA — — UCLA Coach John Savage would have liked to have seen four Pac-12 teams in the College World Series. But with Oregon and Stanford both losing in super regionals last week, it sent only two.

Don't feel sorry for the conference, though. After UCLA and Arizona won their opening games here at TD Ameritrade Park, the Pac-12 has nearly guaranteed itself a participant in the championship series.

The second-seeded Bruins (48-14) will face Arizona (44-17) in a winner's bracket game at 6 p.m. PDT Sunday on ESPN2. The Wildcats advanced early Saturday morning after beating Florida State, 4-3, in 12 innings.

"It says a lot about West Coast baseball and it says a lot about our Pac-12 Conference that two teams are playing in such a big game this time of year," Savage said.

Said Arizona Coach Andy Lopez, "Great program. John's done an unbelievable job there. And again kind of sounds selfish, but kind of fun to play a Pac-12 school in the World Series."

While the Pac-12 co-champions might have liked to have faced off later in the tournament, both advancing in their bracket all but ensures a Pac-12 team will play for the championship. Since the current CWS format was adopted in 1988, 87.5% of the championship series participants came out of the winner's bracket.

Only six times, all in different years, has a team advanced to the final series after losing its opener. Two-time defending champion South Carolina was the most recent one to do it, beating UCLA in the 2010 championship after losing its opener to Oklahoma.

It's the fourth meeting this year for the Pac-12's best two teams, which each finished 20-10 in conference play. A look at the conference's statistical hitting leaders reads like a roster of the two teams.

UCLA has six starters hitting better than .300, while Arizona has eight. Seven of the top 11 hitters in the Pac-12 play on those two teams.

The Bruins took the season series in Tucson this year, dropping the opener, 4-3, before winning the next two games, 15-3 and 6-2.

Savage isn't taking too much comfort in that, though. He knows better than most how good the Wildcats are. There's a good chance the two will meet at least once more here.

There are no guarantees on who will advance with Florida State and Stony Brook, the Cinderella team of the College World Series, in the loser's bracket. But Sunday's Pac-12 matchup and perhaps the next 10 days in Omaha set up well for one of those teams, and its conference.

rageorge@tribune.com

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