The Bruins rode a stellar pitching effort from Trevor Bauer to a 10-3 victory over the Horned Frogs of TCU in the opener, while future MLB prospects Sam Dyson of South Carolina and Casey Harman of Clemson dueled for their clubs in the nightcap, before the Gamecocks landed on top, 4-3.
UCLA and South Carolina will now meet in a best-of-three series beginning Monday night at 7:30 p.m. ET for the national championship. The Bruins, as the No. 6 national seed, will be the home team for Game 1 and, if necessary, Game 3.
Victories by the Horned Frogs and Gamecocks on Friday night had forced a deciding game in both brackets, something that hadn't happened since 1988. But for CWS first-timer TCU, it only prolonged the inevitable.
UCLA 10, TCU 3
On Friday night, UCLA players and coaches dismissed the notion that they would have any trouble "flushing" the day's loss in the College World Series and moving on to Saturday's deciding game.
On Saturday, the Bruins answered their own challenge, sticking it to upstart TCU, 10-3.
The Bruins responded after falling to the Horned Frogs, 6-2, on Friday, meaning Saturday's loser headed home.
Fifth-year senior outfielder Blair Dunlap, a 43rd-round Draft pick of the Orioles, launched a three-run laser shot into the left-field bleachers as part of a five-run first inning that gave the Bruins a commanding early lead.
But the Tigers' sixth-round selection, catcher Bryan Holaday, wasn't riding off into the sunset of his collegiate career without a fight. Holaday smacked two home runs in the contest. Both were solo shots, with one coming in the first inning and another in the fifth.
The Bruins, though, kept the offensive pressure on TCU all day, manufacturing runs up and down their lineup. It proved too much for the Horned Frogs to control, despite using six different pitchers.
"We swung the bats," UCLA coach John Savage said. "We had 15 hits. But they were still hanging around. It was a 6-3 ball game in the sixth or seventh inning and we finally knocked the door down and kind of separated ourselves."
Bauer more than held down his end of the deal, though, striking out 13 Horned Frogs. Early on, Bauer wasn't dominating, but he escaped major damage. As the game wore on, though, Bauer picked up steam and grabbed his 12th win of the season.
"Bauer was outstanding," Horned Frogs coach Jim Schlossnagle said. "We felt like we were getting into deep counts against them and battling, but when you throw out that 5 spot, and 6 in the first two innings, you know, against the great pitcher, it's really tough to get back from."
South Carolina 4, Clemson 3
With more than Palmetto state pride on the line, the Gamecocks and Tigers grinded out their last meeting of the season, before South Carolina finally shut the door in the ninth inning of their College World Series contest. It was somewhat fitting that South Carolina -- one of the quirkest, grittiest teams in Omaha -- won the way they did, a tight affair in the Gamecocks' fourth straight elimination game.
"Well, I feel like this is the kind of team that we are," senior Whit Merrifield, a ninth-round pick of the Royals in the recent MLB Draft said. "We're a very resilient team. We're a team that doesn't like to lose a lot. And we've done things the hard way all year."
Clemson hurler Casey Harman, the Cubs' 29th-round Draft pick, dueled with South Carolina hurler Sam Dyson, a fourth-round pick of the Blue Jays, for nearly seven innings. Neither pitcher had his best stuff, but neither was willing to relent in what could have been the last game of their collegiate career.
"It was a battle," Harman said. "And they did a good job putting the ball in play. They got that run in the first inning, and after that it was feeling it out. ... It was a pitching battle. It's tough to go out like that for the last time of the season."
In the end, Dyson's team came out on top. But despite not getting the victory, the right-hander's effort -- holding Clemson to two runs on five hits -- was representative of the battling spirit that brought South Carolina out on top.
"It's a never say die team," head coach Ray Tanner said. "We've battled. We try to get an opportunity from the middle to the end. That is who we've been and we keep competing. It's hard to explain."
That spirit showed up again in the gutsy play of Merrifield, who collided with second baseman Scott Wingo and lay motionless in the right-field grass for several minutes before standing up and staying in the game. Merrifield, a ninth-round pick of the Royals, said after the game he had the wind knocked out of him, but was fine.
In one of the most evenly played games of the Series, the Gamecocks came out on top. But the Tigers have nothing to hang their heads about, finishing within one win of the finals.
"It's always tough," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said. "Somebody's going to walk away happy. Somebody's going to walk away disappointed. And I think when you have respect for each other like that, it's always tough to deal with that on either side, probably."
Bailey Stephens is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less