UCLA's John Savage did what any good coach does the day after his team won the national championship.
He started thinking about next year.
The Bruins returned to Los Angeles on Wednesday after their almost two-week stay in Omaha ended with a College World Series championship. UCLA won its first national baseball title Tuesday night with an 8-0 victory over Mississippi State to close the best-of-three championship series.
“We will have some big shoes to fill, especially at shortstop and on the mound,” Savage said in a telephone interview with The World-Herald shortly after returning home. “We do have three or four guys that didn't pitch in Omaha that we feel can be pretty good.
“We have a bunch of arms in the bullpen that sacrificed being relievers this year for the team. Those guys will move into the rotation next year, and we have enough coming back in the field that there are plenty of reasons to think that we'll have a chance to be very good.”
The 49-17 Bruins were the best team in the 2013 NCAA tournament, winning 10 straight games to become the third straight champion to sweep its way to a title. South Carolina in 2011 and Arizona in 2012 also needed the minimum 10 games to win their championships.
The Bruins' most notable personnel losses will be pitchers Adam Plutko and Nick Vander Tuig and shortstop Pat Valaika. All three are juniors but were selected in the first 11 rounds of the first-year player draft and are expected to turn professional.
Plutko, named the outstanding player of the CWS, won 10 games, while Vander Tuig tied for the national lead with 14 victories. Valaika led the Bruins in home runs and RBIs and anchored the defense that backed UCLA's sterling pitching.
Three other players who saw action in the CWS also face decisions about turning pro. Reliever Zack Weiss was drafted in the sixth round by the Cincinnati Reds, left fielder Brenton Allen was picked in the 20th round by Washington and infielder-designated hitter Kevin Williams was a 29th-round pick by Miami.
Savage said the Bruins stand a good chance of retaining Allen and Williams. If so, UCLA would start next season with seven of the nine players who started Tuesday's final game.
Grant Watson, the team's No. 3 starter, will be a junior next season, while James Kaprielian is one of the relievers Savage expects to transition to a starting role. Kaprielian showcased some electric stuff while serving as one of the setup men for record-setting closer David Berg.
“On the plane ride home, I started thinking a little about what our roster is going to look like next year and some of our recruiting needs,” Savage said. “It never ends in this game. You have to be constantly looking into the future.”
UCLA will have enough veterans returning that fully realize the value of Savage's system of focusing on pitching and defense.
“Our teams tend to be very athletic defensively because we try to put things together up the middle of the field,” Savage said. “We're always looking for shortstops, and then we move them around the infield. We're looking for center fielders, and then we move them around.
“The way we build our teams has tended to fit the new style of play you've seen the last three and four years. We like speed. We like defenders. And we like strike-throwers on the mound.”
The emphasis on defense sometimes leaves the Bruins a little short on the offensive side. That was evident during their stay in Omaha as they hit .227, the lowest average by a national champion in the metal-bat era that started in 1974. They scored 19 runs, the fewest ever by a national champion.
UCLA also became the first champion with no CWS home runs since Ohio State did it in 1966.
“We tend not to have much power,” Savage said. “I wish we had more power.”
UCLA's championship was the second Savage has been involved in: He was an assistant coach on Southern California's 1998 title squad. Savage credits Mike Gillespie, the Trojans' head coach, for having a huge impact on his career.
“I owe my whole career to coach Gillespie,” Savage said. “He was the one that taught me that if you want to have a chance to get to Omaha, and if you want to be able to compete in the West, you really have to be able to pitch and defend.
“I've taken the approach with me, first to Irvine and then to UCLA.”
UCLA's style produces a lot of tight games. Nineteen Bruin games were decided by a run, with UCLA going 17-2 in those contests. The Bruins were also 9-1 in two-run games.
“Ours is a grinding, grueling style,” Savage said. “I accepted that style awhile ago, where there would be a lot of times when we'd be up a run or two or down a run or two after six innings. A lot of times it can be frustrating, when you can't get that big hit or you can't execute.
“A lot of times, I'll go home after a game and think about one pitch. That's how tight things can be when you play as we do. It's a style that can grind on players, but to our guys' credit, they've bought into it and embraced it.”
Savage said his Bruins were greeted by a group of fans when they returned to campus on Wednesday. A championship celebration is planned for Thursday at Jackie Robinson Stadium, the Bruins' home field.
“That's going to be really neat,” Savage said.