Remembering Omaha: 16 Trips to the College World Series
BY MEL FRANKS
CAL STATE FULLERTON SENIOR ASSOCIATE ATHLETICS DIRECTOR
Fullerton's first trip to Omaha is short. So short, that in the old double-elimination format, the Titans are eliminated before two teams even played their first games. They lost to Arizona State, 5-3, and, the next day, Oklahoma State, 11-4.
Off the field: an Omaha resident hands his car keys to a group of unknown Titan players looking for transportation and says, "Here, bring it back when you're done with it."
How they got there: It was the regional tournament that broke USC's hold on the CWS. Fullerton beat the Trojans in the first round at Dedeaux Field and, after Pepperdine eliminated the Trojans, the Titans knocked off the Waves in a winner-take-all final.
The Titans' second trip is far more successful. After losing the opener to Mississippi State, the Titans fight their way back through the losers' bracket. Righthander Dave Weatherman, who gets knocked out early in an eventual 8-5 win over Pepperdine, comes back to pitch the championship game and beats Arkansas, 2-1, with a complete game 4-hitter. Starter Tony Hudson is converted to a reliever and wins the Most Valuable Player Award, not national player of the year Tim Wallach.
Off the field: Coach Garrido heads off second-guessing by allowing sportswriters to help make out the lineup cards each day. For the Pepperdine game, Mickey Palmer starts in rightfield because of his defensive prowess over better hitter Matt Vejar. Palmer responds with five unexpected hits in the win over Pepperdine. In the hotel lounge that night, Los Angeles Times writer Tom Hamilton edits the marquee that read: "Now Appearing, Frankie and the Four Hits" by adding the words, "Palmer had Five."
How they got there: Testing the formula before they used it successfully in Omaha, the Titans lost their opener to UCLA before coming back through the losers' bracket at Fresno. They had to beat UCLA twice including a win over future major leaguer Tim Leary.
Anticlimactic is not a word frequently used with the College World Series, but that's the best way to describe the Titans' third appearance. After partying hard after an emotional regional win at Arizona State, the Titans accomplished a feat still unmatched -- going "two and 'que" without even scoring a run. Wichita State's Bryan Oelkers (7-0) and Maine's Joe Johnson (6-0) blanked the Titans, who averaged more than 8 runs in the regional.
Off the field: After losing twice, the Titans had to scramble to get home. A United Airlines strike was in effect, further disrupting limited air service out of Omaha. Friendly travel agents finally routed the team home via Minneapolis.
How they got there: Two dramatic CSF wins in Tempe handed the Sun Devils their first home regional loss ever. On Saturday, Mike Vanderburg hit a 2-run homer to tie the game in the bottom of the ninth and freshman John Fishel won it, 10-9, with a 2-out single. Then on Sunday Bob Bathe and Mark Pirruccello hit eighth-inning homers for an 8-7 lead and regional MVP Scott Wright won it in relief.
In the most offensive World Series to date, the Titans showed that pitching and defense could still prevail. After a second game loss to Texas, the Titans prevailed through the losers' bracket with wins over Miami (13-5), Oddibe McDowell and Arizona State (6-1) and Pete Incaviglia and Oklahoma State (10-2) to earn a rematch with Texas. Reliever Eddie Delzer got the starting call about one hour before game time and responded with seven courageous innings, leaving due to leg cramps with a 3-1 lead thanks to a key triple by John Bryant. Scott Wright logged save No. 22 to secure the trophy.
Off the field: The post-championship party back at the hotel far exceeded the budget of the sponsoring local organization and the excess had to be taken out of the 1985 baseball budget.
How they got there: Fullerton finally prevailed on a scorching weekend in Fresno. After beating Mark McGwire's USC team and San Diego State, the Titans missed a chance to close it out on Sunday when SDSU took a 9-5 decision. On Memorial Day, in 109-degree heat, the Titans blew a 7-0 lead, but John Bryant singled home Bob Caffrey from second base with two out in the bottom of the eleventh inning.
Adapting quickly to the new double-bracket formula in Omaha, the Titans jumped out to a 2-0 record behind starters Longo Garcia and Mark Beck, who beat Miami, 9-3, and Stanford and Mike Mussina, 5-3, respectively. But the second time around neither could beat Stanford on three days rest, losing by the scores of 4-1 and 9-5 for first-year Coach Larry Cochell.
Off the field: Cochell had a dramatically different style than predecessor Augie Garrido, who had departed for what turned into a 3-year stay at Illinois. The players called him "Chuck" because of his physical resemblance to famed test pilot Chuck Yeager.
How they got there: In one of the most dramatic moments in Titan history, Mike Ross hit a 3-run home run with two out in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 6-3 win over Texas A&M and the championship of a 6-team regional in Starkville, Mississippi. Fullerton earlier beat the host Bulldogs twice with reliever Paul Johnson working 7.1 innings for the second win over MSU and 5 innings to beat the Aggies.
For the third time, the Titans went "0-2 and barbecue" in Omaha, but it could have been worse. In the opening game against Oklahoma State, left fielder Rich Gonzales crashed head-first into the solid wall of Rosenblatt Stadium chasing a fly ball. He had the ball in his glove but because he was lying unconscious and "not in control" of the ball, the Cowboy hitter was credited with an inside-the-park 3-run homer to cap a 7-run second inning. Gonzales was taken off the field on a stretcher and was not permanently injured. His stunned teammates lost that game, 14-4, for CSF's worst Omaha defeat, and then lost to the The Citadel, 8-7, in 12 innings. The Citadel catcher, Gettys Glaze, moved to the mound for 3.1 innings of relief before returning behind the plate.
Off the field: Cochell got an offer he couldn't refuse later in the summer to take the head job at Oklahoma. With construction on a new stadium about to begin, Garrido was lured back to Fullerton after a controversial tenure at Illinois.
How they got there: Righthander James Popoff was the star as Fullerton went 4-0 in a 6-team regional at Austin, Texas. Popoff easily beat Old Dominion, 16-3, and then came back to hand Texas its second loss with a 4-hit shutout after Sam Colaruso had beaten the Longhorns, 5-2.
Long debated strategy and key plays by the Pepperdine double-play combination denied Fullerton its third national title. Fullerton fought back from a second-game loss to Miami to gain the championship contest with a win over Florida State and two over Miami, the last one in pouring rain. Playing about 12 hours after that conclusion at noon for CBS TV, the Titans lost to the Waves, 3-2. Shortstop Erik Ekdahl's first home run of the season produced the decisive run. Strategists disected the Fullerton eighth when the Titans sacrificed two runners into scoring position with eventual CWS MVP Phil Nevin coming up. Pepperdine Coach Andy Lopez leaped at the chance to intentionally walk Nevin, putting the go-ahead run on. The strategy worked -- barely. Jason Moler's drive into right center was turned into a sacrifice fly by a stiff incoming wind. Then second baseman Steve Rodriguez robbed Tony Banks of a game-tying single to right field.
Off the field: Nevin was the first player taken in the professional draft, conducted early in the CWS, going No. 1 to Houston. He spent an entire day doing interviews for Baseball America as its national player of the year and was the focus of attention everywhere he went. Yet he hit better than .500 for the series. And many questioned the decision to continue the Friday night win over Miami, made to ensure the CBS payday would come through on Saturday.
How they got there: The road to Omaha went through Baton Rouge, where Coach Skip Bertman's dynasty was still developing. Freshman Mike Parisi pitched most of an 11-0 shutout of the Tigers in the decisive winners' bracket game and then the Titans got a break when LSU was eliminated by Ohio State. The Titans routed the Buckeyes, 13-1, for the regional crown.
The last two teams to qualify for the CWS had to meet in the opening game and the hitters weren't sharp. Georgia Tech's Brad Rigby tossed a 3-hit shutout for a 2-0 win over Mike Parisi and the Titans, who had shut out Georgia Tech earlier in the year in Fullerton. Rested, the Titans hitters exploded for a 20-6 win over LSU and a 10-3 romp over Florida State to earn another shot at the Yellowjackets and Rigby. Parisi was his match this time. The score was 2-2 in the fourth and it didn't change until the 12th inning, when Nomar Garciaparra led off with a home run off Chad Rolish. Dante Powell reached third with no outs in the bottom half but the Titans couldn't score.
Off the field: Another "Fullerton" rule change. In the future, the last team to qualify would be placed in the bracket that begins play on Saturday.
How they got there: By capturing perhaps the most difficult regional tournament victory of them all. In the decisive winners' bracket game in Stillwater, Oklahoma, Fullerton took an 11-8 lead over host Oklahoma State into the bottom of the ninth. Jake Benz hit a 2-out, 3-run walk-off home run for a 13-11 OSU win. The Titans came back the next morning to beat Memphis, 12-5, to get another chance at OSU in stifling heat and humidity with no fresh pitchers. Five hurlers including Dan Ricabal, who worked five innings in the morning, held the Cowboys to five runs. But it's 5-4 OSU in the ninth, two out and the bases loaded. Brian King singles to center to score the tying run but pinch runner Tony Fetchel was thrown out trying to score the winning run. Fullerton put a patchwork defense on the field in the tenth including lightly used shortstop Chris Remala and third baseman Steve Rath, who caught a line drive for his only fielding chance of the season. In the bottom of the tenth, OSU relief ace Rob Gaiko entered with the bases loaded and one out and hit pinch-hitter Robert Matos in the wrist with his second pitch to force in the winning run.
Possibly the greatest college baseball team ever roared through Omaha, becoming the first No. 1 seed to live up to the hype. After a nervous 6-5 win over Stanford -- those guys again -- in the opener, the Titans rolled elevens to twice rout Tennessee and Todd Helton (11-1 and 11-0) and then beat USC, 11-5, behind Mark Kotsay's two home runs and close-out relief pitching. The Titans won everything that season -- the Anaheim Hilton and Towers Classic, the conference title, the post-season tournament and the regional before adding the ultimate trophy.
Off the field: The Titans earned themselves a September trip to the White House as the guests of President Bill Clinton.
How they got there: Baton Rouge proved a popular spot again for the Titans, who went 4-0 for the second time at LSU. Rice, with Jose Cruz, Jr., and Lance Berkman, stood in the way in the final two games, going easily by a 17-7 score but then hanging tough in an 8-7 finale. Freshman Mike Lamb drove in the winning run in the top of the ninth with a sacrifice fly.
A three-year absence, equalling the longest void in the Titans' Roads to Omaha, came to an end but the Stanford jinx was renewed as the Cardinal beat the Titans in the opening round, 9-2. Kirk Saarloos saved Matt Sorensen's 4-2 win over Texas A&M but Florida State sent the Titans home 1-2 with a 7-2 victory.
Off the field: Kevin Costner's visit turned into a Hollywood event. The Cal State Fullerton alum rented a local cineplex on Sunday morning and invited all the teams and CWS officials to an uncut showing of his latest baseball film, "For Love of the Game." Sorensen jumped up on stage at the Opening Ceremonies and played "air guitar" with country group Sawyer Brown.
How they got there: The first year of the Super Regional format created all kinds of controversy. Fullerton went 3-0 to win a regional at Notre Dame, but after the final victory, four Titan players were cited in a gravel-throwing incident that got them banned from the Super Regionals, held at Ohio State. Fullerton thought it would be the host of the new 2-out-of-3 format because of its higher seeding but the Buckeyes and their bigger stadium and following got the nod (the rule would be changed the next year). Minus stars Adam Johnson and David Bacani, the Titans overcame an opening loss to pound the Buckeyes, 11-5 and 13-2.
Beloved University of Nebraska made its first Omaha appearance and the normally neutral fans turned a bright shade of red for the opening game vs. Fullerton on a weekend that President George W. Bush threw out the ceremonial first pitch. Jon Smith got a 5-4 win with help form Mike Nunez and Chad Cordero. David Bacani's solo home run in the fifth broke a 4-4 tie. But Stanford reared its ugly head for a 5-2 win in 10 innings as Cordero was beaten after escaping a ninth-inning jam. Fullerton beat Tulane but lost again to Stanford, 4-1, as Jeremy Guthrie got 20 of 21 outs on strikeouts or ground balls.
Off the field: Baseball SID Ryan Ermeling missed what would have been his first College World Series, staying at home to await the birth of his first child. Alexis was born on June 15, two days after the Titans were eliminated.
How they got there: Fullerton qualified for Omaha on its home field for the first time. The Titans won their first home regional (they finished second to USC in 2000) by winning a Game No. 7 over Texas Tech behind Jon Smith. That earned them a Super Regional hosting role for the first time and they overpowered Mississippi State. Mike Rouse had three home runs in a 13-2 win and then Aaron Rifkin hit three in a 9-3 decision.
In another revision of the format, the Titans came within a run of meeting Rice in a best 2-out-of-3 series for the national championship. After beating LSU (8-2) and Stanford (6-5), the Titans needed only one more win to advance. But Stanford stayed alive with a 5-3 victory and then became the first team all season to overcome a 3-run deficit against Fullerton with a 7-5 win in 10 innings. Jonny Ash's first career home run off Chad Cordero tied the game in the seventh and Danny Putnam hit a 2-run game winner in the tenth off Darric Merrill. Justin Turner survived a beaning in the face but the Titans could not overcome 15 runners left on base including three in the eighth inning.
Off the field: The blue and orange got plenty of exposure. Lead singer of the rock group Smashmouth wore a Titans' warmup shirt during their performance at the Opening Ceremonies. The CSF Alumni Association rented a house across the street from the stadium for hospitality and it became a mecca for fans before and after games, including some local converts.
How they got there: Fullerton stayed home at Goodwin Field again with great success. The Titans went 3-0 in a home regional for the first time by beating San Diego and then Notre Dame twice. In possibly the tourney's toughest Super Regional matchup, the Titans won two of three from Arizona State behind the outstanding starting pitching of Jason Windsor and Dustin Miller.
The number 13 proved extremely lucky for the Titans as they won their fourth national title by sweeping the championship series in two games over heavily favored and No. 1-seeded Texas with former Fullerton Coach Augie Garrido. Making their 13th consecutive trip to the NCAA playoffs and their 13th trip to Omaha, the Titans spent 13 nights in the Crowne Plaza Hotel, which is 13 miles from Rosenblatt Stadium, which is located on 13th street. Ricky Romero put the Titans in the driver's seat in their bracket as he logged win No. 13 in beating No. 1-ranked Miami in Coach George Horton's 13th game in the CWS. Jason Windsor logged his 13th win with a 3-2 complete-game victory over the Longhorns in the final game.
Off the field: The matchup of the mentor (Garrido) and pupil (Horton) took center stage despite efforts by both coaches to downplay their roles. A medical problem prevented Kevin Costner from attending and having to show allegiance publicly to either his good friend Garrido or his alma mater, Fullerton. The "Return of Titan House," a pre and post-game Fullerton fan headquarters across the street from the stadium, reached new heights. The fans cheered the team bus in and out of the stadium each day and the players showed up en masse by foot for the post-title celebration.
How they got there: After a 15-16 start, just qualifying for the post-season seemed an optimistic goal. But a 32-6 finish that included a record-breaking 19-2 run to the Big West Conference title gained the Titans a host role for the regionals, albeit as a No. 2 seed to No. 1-seeded and apparently snake-bitten Arizona State. A stunning extra-inning loss to Pepperdine forced the Titans to win three elimination games to qualify for the Super Regionals, where they drew a break by drawing another hosting role after No. 3-seeded Tulane won the regional at No. 1-seeded Mississippi. Fullerton dispatched the Green Wave in two games behind Windsor and Romero.
The starting pitching that carried the Titans through a tremendous season and helped lead the nation in earned run average didn't perform with the same efficiency in Omaha. The Titans held the lead for only six innings the entire College World Series and they finally ran out of rallies. A 13-inning loss to North Carolina put them in the losers' bracket. They were one strike away from elimination before a 3-run ninth inning eliminated Georgia Tech and a 4-run rally erased a 6-3 deficit to eliminate No. 1-seeded Clemson. Down by the same score to North Carolina, the Titans scored twice and then saw the potential tying run first cut down at the plate on a squeeze play in the eighth and then caught against the left-field wall in the ninth.
Off the field: The Titans maximized their rare shot at national TV exposure. Their opening game vs. North Carolina went 4:53, making it the second longest game in CWS history. And their win over Clemson took 4:05, making it the third longest 9-inning game ever at the CWS. "Titan House" again proved extremely popular and the team even ate its post-game meals there three out of four times.
How they got there: A suspect starting rotation in January turned magnificent as Wes Roemer, Lauren Gagnier and Dustin Miller combined for a 39-6 record before the CWS. The Titans were ranked No. 1 or 2 nationally most of April and May, went 6-0 vs. Long Beach State and won the Big West title by six games. They got to host in the post-season again, sweeping a Regional against Fresno State, San Diego and Saint Louis by a combined score of 25-6, and sweeping the Super Regional against Missouri, 7-1 and 9-1, behind Roemer and Gagnier.
The Titans picked up where they left off in 2006, playing dramatic games down to the final pitch but with less success. In the opener against Oregon State, Wes Roemer gave up two more home runs and made a throwing error that was decisive in a 3-2 loss. A two-out rally in the ninth inning ended with Titans on the corners. In an elimination game, Fullerton and UC Irvine went toe-to-toe for a CWS record 5:40 before the Anteaters won their first game ever in Omaha, 5-4, in 13 heart-stopping innings.
Off the field: The Left Coast, Left Bracket bunched a maximum of four West Coast teams -- two from the Big West Conference and two from the Pac-10 -- into Bracket No. 2. The Pac-10 won the openers to leave the Titans and Anteaters in a battle for survival that took on epic proportions. Coach George Horton, matched as pupil against mentor Augie Garrido in 2004, had to battle protege Dave Serrano in an elimination game. UCI copied the Titan practice of renting hospitality headquarters across the street from Rosenblatt Stadium as Cal State Omaha battled Eater Nation in consumption of food and beverage.
How they got there: The Titans found out what life on the bubble was like. They lost 11 of their final 17 regular-season games including the final four Big West series to finish in fifth place with a 10-11 record. But given new life with an at-large berth into the regionals, they played like Titans of old. They avoided host University of San Diego (0-2) and easily handled Minnesota (7-1) and Fresno State twice (6-4 and 13-2) to advance to a Super Regional, which they got to host when UCLA upended Long Beach State in the Blair Field Regional. Wes Roemer easily avenged a loss to Tyson Brummett by a 12-2 count and then a home run by Clark Hardman and a seventh-inning single by Matt Wallach were enough to beat the Bruins, 2-1, behind the pitching of Jeff Kaplan, winner Adam Jorgenson and Bryan Harris, who got the save.
This was probably the second most disappointing performance of the Titans' 16 trips to Omaha, "topped" only by a pair of shutout losses in 1982 after dethroning defending national champion Arizona State in Tempe in the Regional. Seeded No. 2 nationally and on a roll to end the season, the Titans played out of character -- or were forced to by Arkansas and Virginia. The young pitchers had trouble throwing strikes and the offense wasted several opportunities to add to a respectable showing of 11 runs in two games. The reckless aggressiveness on the basepaths never materialized as the Titans never led at the end of a single inning. And yet, in each game, the Titans staged aborted rallies, falling a big hit shy of tying the scores -- 10-6 to Arkansa and 7-5 to Virginia.
Off the field: The head coaches were the big news. Four had brought multiple schools to Omaha. One was here for the fourth year in a row. One grew up across the river, played at Creighton and coached alongside his opening day opponent. Another announced his retirement and then brought his school to Omaha for the first time. A former Nebraska coach got his first win after three 0-2 and cues. And the sport's winningest coach picked up wins with a walk-off walk and a 10-run rally to overcome a 6-run deficit. Jared Clark made news when his practice day home run broke the windshield of a passing motorist, an LSU fan who had Jared autograph the ball.
How they got there: Titans cruise through Regionals and Super Regionals unbeaten for third time but easily by biggest margin of victory, outscoring foes 64-11. Titans led for 43 innings and trailed for only one. Only close game was 7-4 win over Gonzaga after 4-4 tie through five innings. Dustin Garneau edges Khris Davis for Regional MVP honors as Titans hit .476 and Christian Coilon is LOW man among regulars at .429. Titans hit .394 to .129 for Louisville in Super Regional routs, 12-0 and 11-2.