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By UCLA pitcher Grant Watson delivers against San Diego during the first inning of an NCAA college baseball tournament regional game against San Diego, Sunday, June 2, 2013, in Los Angeles. San Diego won 8-5. (AP Photo/Bret Hartman)
BY GREG ECHLIN Special to The Californian
Omaha, Neb. -- When Florida State eliminated UCLA from the College World Series last year, Bruins head coach John Savage said his team was "schooled in a positive way."
It wasn't what Centennial High School alum Grant Watson wanted to hear, but he took it heart for the 2013 season.
"I think last year we came here with more complacency, as in 'We made it back.' That was like the end-all goal," said Watson, a 6-foot sophomore left-handed pitcher who worked himself into UCLA's weekend rotation this year. "But as far as this year I feel like we have a lot of veterans who have experience here, so it's not really just making it here. It's (about) winning it all."
As opposed to two-losses-and-out, as the Bruins suffered last year, they started off the College World Series this year with a 2-1 opening-round win over LSU on Sunday night. The Bruins (45-17) play tonight (5 p.m. PT, ESPN2) against North Carolina State (50-14) in a winner's bracket contest.
Watson's last 2012 appearance came in the season-ending loss against FSU when he was summoned from the bullpen to relieve starter Zack Weiss, who lasted only a third of an inning after walking three and gave up one hit on just 26 pitches. This year, while Weiss worked solely as a relief pitcher, Watson (8-3) compiled the third-most innings on the team behind the 1-2 starting punch of Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig.
"He (Watson) is a very athletic and tough-minded competitor who has made a major contribution to both of our Omaha teams in his first two years at UCLA," UCLA coach John Savage said of Watson.
Watson is prepared to start, or come out of the bullpen at the College World Series. "In the postseason, it's just a matter of helping out the team," he said.
In his last outing, June 2 against San Diego, when the Bruins clinched their regional at Jackie Robinson Stadium, Watson picked up his eighth victory, one shy of last year's total. He gave up only one hit over seven innings of shutout ball. "I feel like I threw better this year even though my record doesn't say I did as much, with the nine wins (in 2012)," said Watson who started out as a walk-on with the Bruins.
"I feel like going to the weekend and gaining that experience definitely has helped me out."
Also helping out is a solid defense. Though Bruins shortstop Pat Valaika was charged with an error Sunday night against LSU, it was only the team's 50th error this year. LSU, on the other hand, committed a pair of miscues that resulted in two unearned runs and ultimately decided the outcome of the game.
"I rely on the defense heavily," said Watson.
He added that the Bruins welcome the opportunity to be involved in another close game like their opening-round win against the Tigers.
"As far as our season, Bruin baseball has always been, 'We like to like to compete in close games.' We feel really comfortable in close games."
UCLA finished final exams last week, but from his experiences of the last two years Watson also feels better schooled on the diamond, as Savage proclaimed.