OMAHA, Neb. — UCLA has won a record 108 national championships in team sports.
Baseball, however, is not among those.
That will change this week if the Bruins beat Mississippi State in the best-of-three College World Series finals that start Monday night.
UCLA coach John Savage said Sunday there is no shame in his school’s lack of baseball titles. Of the 66 national championships that have been won in baseball, eight schools account for 44.
The Pacific-12 Conference has won the most, with 16, and UCLA’s crosstown rival USC has 12 of those.
“It’s not like they hand them out. Let’s be clear on that,” Savage said. “You have to earn it.”
The Bruins are in the CWS for the fifth time and are 7-9 in Omaha. The closest they have come to a national title was in 2010, when they were swept by South Carolina in the finals.
“A national championship is always going to hang over any program that’s an elite program that hasn’t won one,” Savage said.
Mississippi State is looking for its first title in any team sport. The Bulldogs thought they might win one in baseball in 1985 with future All-Stars Will Clark, Rafael Palmeiro, Jeff Brantley and Bobby Thigpen, but they went 2-2 in Omaha.
“To have the opportunity to do what we’re going to do starting Monday is something that’s special,” Bulldogs pitcher Kendall Graveman said.
First baseman Wes Rae said one of his friends back home told him how closely Mississippians are following the Bulldogs’ run at the CWS.
Rea’s friend and co-workers at a corn seed company listened to every pitch of the Bulldogs’ 4-1 win over Oregon State on the radio.
Mississippi State and UCLA players engaged in a fun give-and-take about the cultural differences between Mississippi and California.
“I don’t know how much deer hunting or bass fishing they do in Los Angeles, so off the field is probably going to be a little bit different,” Rea said.
UCLA pitcher Adam Plutko smiled.
“We do the bass fishing on the video games, and big-game hunting and all that kind of stuff, so it’s pretty similar there,” Plutko said. “Where you’re from doesn’t matter..”
UCLA shortstop Pat Valaika said the teams are from “totally different worlds.”
“L.A. is a big city,” he said. “You have the beach and a lot of things to do. Starkville is Starkville. I mean, I can’t say I’ve ever visited. But some bass fishing does sound pretty good, so maybe after the season ends I’ll hit up Starkville.”