UCLA's Cole at a loss for words
The Bruins' ace couldn't explain his worst outing of the season at the worst time
OMAHA, Neb. -- It took Gerrit Cole five long seconds to respond to the night's first question.
The sophomore ace peered to the back of the postgame media room, not looking at anything in particular. He looked down at a stat sheet directly in front of him, the final score reading South Carolina 7, UCLA 1 in the first game of the best-of-three College World Series championship.
Cole shook his head, looked back up and kind of smiled. That's all he could really do.
What exactly does one say after everything that could possibly go wrong does? How exactly would you describe what 23,181 at Rosenblatt Stadium saw?
"Um," Cole said, still searching for the elusive answer. "Well, uh, they had a great approach. Um, I don't know what the approach was, but whatever it was, it worked."
It was somewhat shocking to see the usually prompt right-handed pitcher so flustered. He's quick with words and is the same on the mound with his work. Cole takes the ball, gets his sign, makes his pitch and wastes little time to do it all over again.
That's his thing.
But on Monday night -- on the sport's biggest stage -- the former major league first-round selection was roughed up like no other time this season. The six runs and 11 hits he allowed both marked season-highs. Cole, one of the nation's premier power arms, struck out a season-low two batters, both coming in the sixth when the Bruins trailed 6-0.
"Gerrit pitched effective, I thought," Bruins catcher Steve Rodriguez said. "He had good stuff tonight. South Carolina just -- they battled all night, put the ball in play. I think that's what killed us."
Cole wasn't the only victim.
UCLA's batters looked worse and appeared clueless against Blake Cooper, the Gamecocks' soft-tosser who took the mound on three-day's rest. The only similarity between Cooper and Cole? They're both right-handed.
While Cole's heater was humming in the mid-90s, South Carolina's starter kept the Bruins off balance with a barrage of low-70s changeups and the occasional 80-mph fastball.
"He pounded the strike zone and threw his change and breaking ball for strikes," UCLA head coach John Savage said. "It really kept us off balance all evening."
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Cooper got stronger as the night went on, finishing with 10 strikeouts and just three hits on 136 pitches. UCLA's first hit didn't come until the fifth. Cooper left to a standing ovation after loading the bases in the ninth.
"I felt fine warming up," Cooper said. "I could tell I wasn't going to have enough giddy-up on my fastball, like Coach [Ray] Tanner said. I really wanted to rely on the sink and being able to throw curveballs and sliders and strikes."
Having an early lead sure didn't hurt.
UCLA -- a team that takes pride in its fundamentally sound approach, a team that strives to master the game's small details -- committed two errors in the first three innings. In the same span, Cole was touched up for five runs and seven hits -- more than twice as many knocks as he had allowed in eight innings of work against Texas Christian a week prior.
Sometimes things just don't go your way, and it appeared as though Cole realized that. His teammates will look to fend off elimination Tuesday night.
"We didn't play well in all phases," Savage said. "It wasn't our pitching, it wasn't our defense, it wasn't our offense -- it was everybody."
Blair Angulo writes the UCLA blog for ESPNLosAngeles.com