UCLA pitcher Grant Watson delivers against San Diego during the first inning. (Bret Hartman / Associated…)
At some point, possibly soon, UCLA Coach John Savage may have "era" attached to his name.
The only thing that is lacking at this point is a national title.
The Bruins moved a step closer to that with a 6-0 victory over San Diego at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Sunday. Grant Watson gave up one hit through seven innings to put them into the super-regional. UCLA will either play at Cal State Fullerton or host Arizona State in a best-of-three series starting Friday.
Watson wasted little time establishing his alpha-dog status. He struck out Kris Bryant, whose 31 home runs lead the nation, to start the game.
"That felt good," Watson said.
It was a warning sign for the Toreros. Watson retired 21 of 23 batters, giving up only an Austin Green double — the Toreros' only hit in the game.
"I was prepared for this," said Watson, a sophomore. "Last year in the regional, I didn't get to pitch much. I was biting at the bit for this one. I knew it could close it out."
It was culminated by a satisfied, but reserved, celebration after David Berg pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning. These things are a bit more commonplace around Westwood.
"We can enjoy this for about a day and then get ready for next week," Savage said.
It is hardly uncharted territory.
This is the third time in four seasons that the Bruins (42-17) have reached an NCAA super-regional. Two more victories and they would head to the College World Series for the third time in four seasons.
UCLA had been to the College World Series only twice before Savage arrived in 2005.
The Bruins had a handful of trips to the NCAA tournament before Savage — 12 to be exact. This is his seventh postseason appearance in the last eight seasons.
"They're a juggernaut here," said San Diego Coach Rich Hill. "They have this thing dialed in."
Even little, but significant, details have improved under Savage. UCLA is 16-7 against USC, winning eight of the last nine.
"We feel really good that we have put this program in the position it is in," Savage said. "We've had a lot of good players and a lot of good assistant coaches."
What has eluded UCLA, and Savage, is the national title, though not through lack of opportunity. The Bruins finished second to South Carolina in 2010 and have been considered among the elite programs since.
"We broke out 2010; obviously when you get to Omaha, it's a new world," Savage said. "As a program, if you want to be stamped, you need to go to Omaha. If you want to be talked about with Fullerton, Florida, Florida State, North Carolina, you got to get to Omaha. We've done that two of the last three years."
San Diego offered little resistance Sunday. Starter Max Homick was fresh from picking up a save in an 8-5 victory over Cal Poly on Sunday afternoon, which kept the Toreros (37-25) alive. He didn't have anything left for the nightcap and was gone after facing seven batters, six of whom reached base.
The Bruins scored four runs in the first to take the pressure off Watson, who was making his first postseason start. Pat Gallagher and Cody Regis had run-scoring singles in the inning.