OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Mississippi State coach John Cohen couldn't help but think about the what-ifs.
What if UCLA's Kevin Kramer hadn't swung at a third strike in the dirt and eventually come around to score?
What if Trey Porter's bases-loaded drive to right field had fallen for a hit?
As it was, the Bulldogs lost 3-1 to UCLA on Monday night in Game 1 of the College World Series finals. They must win Tuesday night to keep alive their hopes for their school's first national championship in a team sport.
"You know, it's frustrating," Cohen said. "You feel like you put yourselves in a great chance to win a game over and over again. They hit balls to spots in the grass. We hit balls that found gloves."
Adam Plutko limited Mississippi State (51-19) to a run on four hits in six innings, and the Bulldogs left runners in scoring position four of the last six innings.
UCLA (48-17) had six hits, but not another after Eric Filia's two-run single gave the Bruins a 3-0 lead in the fourth. The Bruins also struck out 12 times to the Bulldogs' two.
"We dodged some bullets, no doubt about it, but you have to give credit to our defense," UCLA coach John Savage said. "Kind of a Bruin game. Tight game, and at the end of the night we were fortunate to come out with the win."
The Bruins (48-17) are one win from their first national championship in baseball and the school's record 109th in a team sport.
The Bruins (48-17) know it won't be easy to finish off a Mississippi State team that had an estimated 8,000 fans migrate from the Magnolia State to be at TD Ameritrade Park to see their team play for the school's first national title in any sport.
"They're great hitters, they grind it out every at-bat, and they're not going away," UCLA closer David Berg said. "They want to win this thing as bad as we do. They're not going to give it up."
Bulldogs second baseman Brett Pirtle said he and his teammates can't give the Bruins any openings because they're so capable of capitalizing on them.
"Nobody that's extra special," Pirtle said of the Bruins. "They're just small ball. They bunt and put pressure on the defense, and that's what helped them out, and that's the kind of ballclub they are. So keeping runners off base and just catching the ball and putting pressure on them will help us win the game tomorrow."
Mississippi State fans started the "Maroon and White" chant in the bottom of the ninth after C.T. Bradford and pinch-hitter Sam Frost singled to put runners on first and second with one out against Berg.
Nick Ammirati flew out, and pinch-hitter Jacob Robson ended the game with his comebacker to Berg, who sprinted toward first base before underhanding the ball to Pat Gallagher.
Berg, who was making his 50th appearance of the season, earned his NCAA-record 24th save for 1 2-3 innings of work.
The loss spoiled a splendid performance by Chad Girodo, who pitched the last 7 2-3 innings in relief of Trevor Fitts (0-1). Girodo allowed three hits, walked two and struck out nine. Both runs against him were unearned.
The Bruins brought a .248 season batting average into the finals, and a .182 average through their first three CWS games.
They eked out enough offense to win again. In the first three innings, they had batters reach on a dropped third strike, infield single, two hit batsmen and a throwing error.
But there were big hits, too.
Filia, who came in 1 for 9 in the CWS, doubled after Kevin Kramer struck out but reached because strike three was in the dirt. Pat Valaika's single to center drove in Kramer for a 1-0 lead.
"First baserunner of the game kind of spells it out," Cohen said. "I really wish that kid hadn't swung at that pitch. I'm not saying it to be a smart aleck, but that kid doesn't swing at that pitch, it lands in front of the plate, I think the ballgame could be different. But crazy things happen in sports."
The Bruins added two more in the fourth. Brenton Allen singled and Brian Carroll reached when he bunted and catcher Ammirati made a bad throw to first.
Carroll ran into Bulldogs' 6-foot-5, 272-pound first baseman Wes Rea while running through the bag. Rea stayed down after the knee-to-knee contact but was able to keep playing after an athletic trainer attended to him. Allen and Carroll came home on Filia's base hit to right.
Mississippi State got its first hit with one out in the fourth when Alex Detz sent a ball up the middle. Brett Pirtle followed with a base hit and Rea was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
That got the "Maroon and White" chant started as Bradford came up to face Plutko. Bradford fouled off three straight pitches before the count ran full. Plutko walked him with a high changeup, bringing in Detz and UCLA coach John Savage out of the dugout for a mound visit.
Plutko's 30-pitch inning ended when Trey Porter lined out with the bases loaded.
"I thought the biggest blow of the entire ballgame is bases loaded and our guy gets the pitch he wants and just absolutely hammers a line drive into right field and he's out," Cohen said. "That's how the game works sometimes. You get the pitch you want. You do everything right way, and it doesn't happen for you."