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Texas Bounces USC Out of Tournament : NCAA baseball: The Longhorns prevail, 3-2, in regional final and advance to College World Series.


AUSTIN, Tex. — It was a routine ground ball and all USC third baseman Aaron Boone had to do was start the double play.

The Trojans had Texas all but wrapped up in the double-elimination NCAA Central II Regional at Disch-Faulk Field, prepared to force a final, winner-take-all second game Monday night.

And then the ball bounced.

It hit the dirt by third base, or the seam of the artificial turf, or who knew what, and suddenly the ball was bounding into left field. Two ninth-inning runs later, Texas drained the life out of USC's season, 3-2, before 7,401.

The Longhorns (50-14) earned the berth in the College World Series that the Trojans (35-29) spent the afternoon thinking they were nearing.

Tony Nieto (8-5), a converted catcher, started on two days rest for USC and was superb. He held Texas to one run and two hits through eight innings and continually tantalized Longhorn batters with breaking balls. Meanwhile, the Trojans clung to a 2-1 lead on the strength of Kurt Bierek's 11th home run during the second and Boone's run-scoring double during the seventh.

"The way things were going, the way Tony was pitching, we had them up against the wall," USC left fielder J.P. Roberge said.

Then came the ninth.

Texas left fielder Stephen Larkin, the brother of the Cincinnati Reds' Barry Larkin, popped out to the shortstop, but Nieto hit the next batter, right fielder Jerry Taylor.

With the Trojans thinking double play, up stepped pinch-hitter Jeff Conway, who was on the bench with a separated right shoulder that he sustained in Friday's tournament opener against McNeese State.

With the count 0-1, Conway reached out and hit the next pitch off of the end of his bat toward Boone.

"I was thinking double play," Boone said. "It was coming right at me, it was down, it was a perfect double play ball."

But suddenly, the ball skipped, jumped up and whistled past Boone's glove-side shoulder.

"I couldn't handle it," Boone said softly. "I've seen a lot of ground balls on this field. I don't know if it hit the crease and came up or what. It's a tough time to be taking a hit like that."

Taylor scored from first to tie the score, 2-2, and Conway made it to second on what was ruled a double. Shortstop Tim Harkrider, the next batter, chased Nieto with a single to left that moved Conway to third.

Justin Parle came in and, two batters later, yielded what turned out to be the game-winning single to center fielder Mark Prather.

In the bottom of the ninth--USC was the home team despite playing on Texas' field--Longhorn reliever Brooks Kieschnick retired the Trojans in order on three hard-hit balls.

"It was a great game," USC Coach Mike Gillespie said. "I thought everybody who pitched in the game pitched very well. I'm tremendously proud of our guy."

After giving up one run and six hits in 7 2/3 innings against Kentucky on Friday, Nieto said he had no doubts that he could be successful Monday. Between the third and seventh innings, he retired 15 consecutive batters.

"I was as confident as I've been since. . . I started pitching," Nieto said.

But then came the ninth, a Texas baserunner and Conway's shot toward third.

"Right away, I knew it was going to be a double play," Nieto said.

Didn't they all. . . .

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