Dodger Stadium shines for collegiate showcase

USC rolls through top-ranked competition; players, coaches humbled by historic venue

Dodger Stadium shines for collegiate showcase

LOS ANGELES -- Baseball arrived early at Dodger Stadium on Sunday, one month from Opening Day.

Four of the NCAA's top teams -- including the two most recent College World Series champions -- called the ballpark home for the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic.

A pair of local rivals clashed as No. 25 USC bested No. 6 UCLA to improve to 15-1, including a 3-0 record in the tournament. And in the early game, No. 7 TCU took down the defending champion, top-ranked Vanderbilt, in a 4-2 victory.

"I've been doing this 25 years and been in a lot of different tournaments, the College World Series, a couple different unique things," said TCU coach Jim Schlossnagle. "This is right there with Omaha. No disrespect to the other things we've been a part of, but when you walk in the parking lot, you look up and say, 'That's where Kirk Gibson hit the ball.' ... It was just an awesome life experience."

The games were played before a crowd that totaled 14,688 throughout the day, and peaked at the onset of the local matchup as both schools drew sizable fan contingents.

"The timing was right," said UCLA coach John Savage. "USC is playing as good as they have in a long time and we're 11-1 coming in. So I think the fire was hot and the timing was good for good crowds to play at Dodger Stadium."

The experience of playing in a Major League stadium left a lasting impression on the players and coaches. For USC outfielder AJ Ramirez, a Bakersfield, Calif., native, his home run to left-center in the second inning provided a lifelong memory.

"It really feels like a dream come true," said Ramirez, whose father, Roberto, spent eight years in the Minors. "My first at-bat, I was not trying to do too much, and then I just got my pitch."

The collegiate showcase, now in its fifth year, offered a postseason-like atmosphere, with four teams ranked among Baseball America's top 25.

"This is a World Series bracket, that's all there is to it," Vanderbilt coach Tim Corbin said of the quality of the weekend's competition.

"There's not going to be any regional that's going to have these four good teams," said TCU right-hander Preston Morrison.

And it was the lowest-ranked team, the Trojans, who made the most noise, with a pair of walk-off victories Friday and Saturday and a victory over their crosstown rival Sunday.

"On a big stage, where a lot of people were looking at us trying to figure out how good this team really is," USC coach Dan Hubbs said, "well, I think we made that statement that we're pretty good."

The doubleheader at Chavez Ravine not only featured four of the nation's top teams, it also offered fans in attendance a look at several players who could find themselves playing on a Major League field on a regular basis in the coming years.

Those players included three ranked among MLB.com's top Draft prospects for 2015 -- Vanderbilt right-hander Walker Bueller (No. 4), infielder Dansby Swanson (No. 9) and TCU closer Riley Ferrell (No. 21).

"It was awesome," said Bueller, who allowed one earned run and struck out five in four innings, his longest outing since missing time with elbow soreness. "It's a really cool experience to get to play in a stadium like this and especially a big league stadium with so much history and tradition.

"It was definitely an honor to play here."

Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.