A party Bruin. Eric Filia gets mobbed by his teammates after notching the game-winning hit.

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Sorenson: Filia Spells Finis For UNC

LOS ANGELES — Wasn’t it just a few months ago I was writing a fall report on D1baseball.com about how UCLA’s Eric Filia has a renewed outlook for the Bruins? I mentioned in the column that he was coming back from having to sit out two full seasons for the Bruins and he couldn’t wait to get back on the field and assert himself on the college baseball landscape.

You remember, right?

Well I guess it just took two games for that assertion to come full force. In the ninth inning of a tied game with North Carolina on Saturday, the fifth-year senior came up big with a two-out, two-strike chopper up the middle that allowed Luke Persico to score from second, giving the Bruins a 6-5 win to even the series at 1-1.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised by Filia’s heroics because Bruins head coach John Savage said in the fall, “He has come back mature and completely focused. I think everyone is going to see how good he is this year.”

For Filia, it’s been a long road back. In 2013, the last season he played, he led the Bruins by going 4-for-6 in the CWS Finals vs. Mississippi State as UCLA earned its first ever national championship. He missed all of 2014 due to injury and then 2015 because of academics. But this past summer Filia turned a corner in his return to the sport by earning MVP honors of the Northwoods League All Star Game as he hit .340 for the Kenosha Kingfish.

Savage said in the fall, “He is fully engaged now. He is set on making an impact in the Pac-12 as well.”

Tonight, that impact was felt in the best way possible for the Bruins as they were able to outlast UNC in a classic back-and-forth battle. The Sons of Westwood only had four hits in the entire game, compared to 12 for the Heels, but they made the most of them. Tonight’s win evened the series between the two traditional powers, as the Sunday rubber match awaits.

ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING

If attitude is everything, as the saying goes, then no wonder North Carolina looks like a team that is going to get back into the habit of winning big again in 2016.

Last year the Tar Heels came THISCLOSE to getting into the NCAA tournament, but were eventually denied their shot at the Big Dance and left at home for the month of June. The NCAA selection committee even admitted they were one of the last teams left out of their field of 64.

According to assistant coach Scott Jackson a lot of that had to do with the attitude of the team. He told me before today’s game that last year was actually a chore to show up at the ballpark every day, a struggle to get the team motivated in a positive manner. That’s not how the game of baseball should be handled day-in, day-out.

“We kind of got rid of some of those bad elements from last year,” Jackson admitted. “This year’s team is completely different. They have been great to work with every day.”

As Aaron Fitt wrote about in his weekend preview, head coach Mike Fox said, “I have had a blast with this team, probably as much fun as I’ve had in a long time.” They’ve been tough, disciplined and not had any “toxic” players as opposed to last season.

The Tar Heel dugout shows the energy and enthusiasm that was missing from last year's unit. The Tar Heel dugout shows the energy and enthusiasm that was missing from last year’s unit.

Jackson said this year’s squad has been a “joy to coach, in every way possible.” No more dissension or negative energy this time around. And believe it or not we’re talking about some of the juniors and seniors from the team. The Heels ended up last season at 34-24 overall, but the 13-16 mark in ACC play is what helped convince the selection committee to deny them at at-large bid.

It’s only two games into the season, so we’ll see if this Tar Heels version 2.0 can get back to their national power role. So far from what I’ve seen at Jackie Robinson Stadium the last two days is a team that is relaxed and having fun, while also focused on success and willing to do whatever it takes to win.

Now let’s take a quick spin around the country to see what good and bad happened in college baseball Saturday.

THREE UP
The best of the day in college baseball

1- FAU silencing the Cowbells
For the second day in a row, unheralded Florida Atlantic strode into Dudy-Noble and stunned the Bulldogs, this time with a 4-0 blanking. Once again Esteban Puerta was hot, going 3-for-3 on the day. Additionally, three FAU pitchers were able to hold the Maroons to just four hits and four walks on the day. This coming a day after MSU was able to pound 17 hits off the Owls, yet still not able to outscore them. FAU is now 3-0 on the weekend and has one more game remaining in Starkville against South Dakota State before being named the National Team of the Week by any publication that puts those kind of awards out there.

2- The Trees are back.
Last year was a terrible one on the Farm. Stanford went 24-32 for the worst record in the long coaching career of the legendary Mark Marquess. Today, two games into the season, it looks like the Cardinal might be back again if downing Cal State Fullerton in a pair of games is any indication. Stanford won game one by a 2-0 count, then took game two by a 2-1 count. For the day, four Stanford pitchers combined to hold the Titans to just nine hits. And yes, that is one run allowed in 18 innings of play.

3- The UVa K-fest
Defending national champion Virginia went strikeout crazy in its 8-0 win over Appalachian State. Starter Daniel Lynch and relievers Holden Grounds and Jack Roberts totaled 18 strikeouts between them with Lynch getting half of them in his 5.0 innings on the mound. App State managed just five hits while also giving up 15 hits to the Wahoos. Three errors led to just four of the UVa runs being earned.

Honorable Mentions
– Kendall continues to torment Toreros
Somebody needs to go ahead and throw a pail of water on Vanderbilt outfielder Jeren Kendall. After hitting two home runs yesterday, he ended up going 3-for-5 with three RBI and two stolen bases in the Commodores 13-6 rout of San Diego.

– Rattler Bats
So far through two games, Florida A&M has scored 29 runs on 38 hits in a pair of wins over visiting Marshall. That might not sound like the most impressive thing in the world until you remember that this is FAMU, a program that was so down in the dumps they won just seven games in 2013. In today’s 20-4 win, Willis McDaniel went 3-for-4 with 5 RBI, including a home run, an HBP and a stolen base. In the two wins combined 2B Alec Wong has gone 6-for-8 with seven RBI.

– Alex Lange X 2
I don’t know why but I just got a kick out of reading about LSU’s Alex Lange and his solid day on the mound against Cincinnati, as written by Bearcats SID Alex Lange. Good write-up Alex. And yes, both Alex Langes spell their names Alex Lange.

LSU’s Lange went 6.2 innings, allowed just one hit and struck out nine Bearcat batters to help LSU pull off a 4-0 win in his first start of the season.

– UT Martin’s Tanner Wessling
The Skyhawks pounded out 33 hits and 31 runs in a pair of routs over Jackson State, but nobody had a day quite like the junior outfielder. He went 3-for-5 with 3 RBI in game one and then went 2-for-5 with 5 RBI in game two, each included a double and a home run.

– Arizona’s Ramer.
For the second day in a row Arizona shortstop Cody Ramer stayed hot and it helped the Wildcats down Rice at Reckling Park once again, this time by a 6-2 count. In the first two games of this season Ramer is 6-for-8 with three RBIs. Big series win for Jay Johnson’s charges as they can use this as a source of confidence for the rest of the season.

– Batesole’s 700th
Fresno State head coach Mike Batesole earned his 700th career win with a 2-1 win over Creighton. This win marked the second straight 2-1 win over the Bluejays this weekend. Batesole becomes the 38th active coach in Division I to reach 700 wins. McCarthy Tatum earned both RBIs in Saturday’s win, marking the first two RBIs in his career.

THREE DOWN
The worst of the day in college baseball

1- Trojan Troubles
At first I was going to put North Dakota up among the “Three Up” for today after picking up the second win in a row at USC by a 5-4 count. But then I thought to myself, “Wait a minute. Imagine what kind of recruiting classes these two pull in. Now think about how many outdoor practices the Trojans have over the NoDaks. Then think about how USC is playing at home.” Nope, as cool as this is for the Fighting Hawks, these two losses have been doubly troubling for the Trojans. Virtually inexplicable. You kidding me? USC has managed just nine hits in the two losses to North Dakota so far this weekend.

2- Another Dog gets beaten.
This one has already been mentioned above, but it’s still hard to believe that Mississippi State has been bested by Florida Atlantic for the second day in a row, this time by a 4-0 margin. And this was at home, no less. Polk-Dement Stadium is supposed to be the most intimidating atmosphere in D1 baseball. But once again, FAU showed no fear, holding the Bulldogs to four hits.

3- Arrrrrrgh!
Indiana may have had the most frustrating day of anyone in the country, having lost a pair of extra inning games at Middle Tennessee State, 3-2 in 11 innings and 5-4 in 10 innings. They had leads in both games too. And get this, both games were lost on throwing errors to home plate which allowed Austin Dennis to score the winning runs in sprint-off fashion.

Dishonorable Mentions
– Rebels play worth a yell.
After beating No. 23 Texas on Friday night, the good fortune did not last for UNLV in Austin. The Rebels committed five errors and issued six walks in their 11-2 loss to the Longhorns,

Coach Stan Stolte lamented more than just those miscues. “We just played unsound baseball,” Stolte said. “It wasn’t just the five errors charged to us, there were other plays that we have to make. We just played poorly in all phases.”

– UC Irvine gets doubled-up.
You don’t usually hear of a top flight program like UCI losing a pair of games to San Jose State, but that’s what the Anteaters did today, dropping 9-3 and 8-5 decisions to the perennial doormat. The normally stout defending Eaters also committed six errors on the day.

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