UCLA's Adam Plutko is UCLA's career leader in postseason victories… (Jason Redmond / Associated…)
It figures to be his biggest game ever, but UCLA pitcher Adam Plutko still will eat his sandwich.
The Bruins' ace fashions a daylong routine out of an Italian sub or anything with capicola in it, accompanied by playlists, alarm clocks and stretches.
On the morning of a start, it creates a sense of normality. On the morning of the first game of the College World Series' best-of-three championship series against hot-hitting Mississippi State in Omaha, it will be anything but.
"It's an all-day deal," said Plutko, a junior right-hander. "Same kind of sandwich, same kind of music. It all makes you feel comfortable because things are so familiar. But this one will probably be pretty uncomfortable."
Even though he is from Glendora, Plutko (9-3) speaks with a drawn-out twang and listens only to country music, Brantley Gilbert to be specific. His good friend Adam Frazier calls Plutko "a country boy at heart," which makes the matchup against Mississippi State seem as if it's all coming full circle. That feeling will intensify when Frazier, the Bulldogs' shortstop, leads off against Plutko.
Mississippi State (51-18) is averaging 5.5 runs per game in the postseason. With two victories over No. 3 Oregon State and one over Indiana, the Bulldogs reached their first CWS final series.
Mississippi State right fielder Hunter Renfroe brings a wow factor, along with the 16 home runs and 65 runs batted in that helped lead the San Diego Padres to make him the 13th overall pick in this month's draft.
But no amount of firepower can alter Plutko's pregame routine, especially since he is UCLA's career leader in postseason victories at 6-0 and has an 0.87 earned-run average. He had a 2.29 ERA in the regular season.
"It's on me to stay in my routine and keep focused," Plutko said. "It makes me feel that I have already done the work and done the preparation, so it's just about playing after that."
That mindset seems to have rubbed off on the Bruins (47-17), whose knack for playing fundamentally sound baseball made them the only undefeated team this postseason.
"We preach it's all about winning pitches and winning innings," Coach John Savage said. "It's important to remain as close to your character during these big moments. You don't change when you get here. You're not going to throw or swing harder here."
At times that character has been tested in close games. UCLA has scored only eight runs in three games in Omaha. But its pitching staff boasts a 1.00 ERA and gave up only three runs in victories over No. 4 Louisiana State, North Carolina State and overall No. 1 North Carolina.
Like his ace, Savage — whom Plutko calls the most prepared coach in the nation — will rely on the same routine that led the Bruins to the finals for the second time in the last four seasons.
"You have to be detailed in your preparation," Savage said. "Know your opponent, line your team up to be the best that you can. We don't want to be satisfied by just getting to Omaha. We want to take the next step."
Plutko said he doesn't remember the last time he had seven days of rest between starts. His last start came in a seven-inning, four-hit, 2-1 victory over Louisiana State on June 16 at the CWS. Mississippi State will send Trevor Fitts to the mound against Plutko in Game 1, on Monday.
"Our kids just believe something good's going to happen," Coach John Cohen said after Mississippi State's 4-1 win over Oregon State on Friday. "I know it sounds crazy, sounds cliche, but our kids just think something good is going to happen."
One program will win its first CWS title. The other will return to its usual off-season routine of dreaming of what could have been.
"We knocked on the door in 2010 and now we're here again," Savage said. "It'd mean everything to our program, fans and to the alumni of UCLA baseball. We're playing for them. We're honored to do that."