CARY — N.C. State’s Carlos Rodon didn’t get a chance to pitch against UCLA in last year’s College World Series.
Rodon did get that chance Saturday. But while many came to see the talented left-hander face the defending national champions, it would be another junior southpaw who ended up as the star.
The Bruins’ Grant Watson pitched eight shutout innings as 19th-ranked UCLA took a 2-0 victory over the sixth-ranked Wolfpack at the USA Baseball complex. All-America closer David Berg took it from there, retiring the Wolfpack in the ninth.
It wasn’t that Rodon pitched poorly. He went seven innings, threw 107 pitches, struck out eight and allowed just one hit after the second inning.
“He was good,” N.C. State coach Elliott Avent said.
But Rodon (1-2) didn’t try to mask his disappointment after the game, saying, “Losing’s never good. That’s a good ball club. You want to beat them.”
UCLA (6-4) played the kind of baseball that carried the Bruins to the NCAA title, making a lot out of a little. They had just three hits in the game but got the big one – Trent Chatterton’s two-run single in the second inning. They also were sound defensively.
In the second, Rodon jammed leadoff batter Ty Moore, but Moore managed to beat out a slow grounder to short. Luke Persico followed with a grounder to Rodon, but the ball skipped off Rodon’s glove and rolled up his arm. He was unable to make a throw.
“The ball got up on me, just cuffed me a little bit,” Rodon said.
Christoph Bono then was hit by a pitch – a breaking ball, Rodon said – to load the bases. Rodon struck out Pat Gallagher, but Chatterton, a right-handed hitter, slapped a single past Wolfpack first baseman Kyle Cavanaugh down the line to bring in two runs.
“That happens,” Rodon said. “That team, they do all the little things right. They’re a selfless team.”
The Wolfpack (8-2) did not get the leadoff hitter on base in any inning until the ninth, when Jake Fincher reached on an infield hit against Berg, who set an NCAA single-season record with 24 saves in 2013. But Bubby Riley bounced into a double play and Berg retired Logan Ratledge.
Watson’s line: three hits, three strikeouts and one walk – a tidy outing for the 6-foot, 180-pounder from Bakersfield, Calif.
“He threw a good game,” Fincher said. “He changed speeds really well and we were never really on balance. He mixed up all three of his pitches really well.”
In the top of the first, N.C. State’s Trea Turner walked with one out, went to second on a wild pitch and reached third on a groundout. But with a chance to give Rodon and the Wolfpack a lead, Riley grounded out to short.
Watson (2-1) said there was no extra motivation in facing Rodon, giving his best just-another-game responses.
“I was just trying to make pitches and have a good outing for our team,” he said. “People were going to hype it up, but I was just trying to throw strikes.”
Rodon pitched the College World Series opener, beating North Carolina, but UCLA then topped the Pack 2-1 in the next game. Watson later pitched six scoreless innings against the Tar Heels as the Bruins reached the CWS Finals and then won the title.
Watson’s victory Saturday wasn’t quite as momentous. But it did come before a standing-room-only crowd of 2,120 at Coleman Field, against a nationally ranked team aching to beat the champs and settle a score.
And it came against Rodon.
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