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COLLEGE WORLD SERIES

Long Beach, USC Remain Alive

June 03, 1998|JIM HODGES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

OMAHA — The state of Florida could have applied for federal baseball disaster relief Tuesday when Miami joined its brethren on a slow, embarrassingly early trip home from the College World Series.

The Hurricanes were issued tickets by Long Beach State, which used Chuck Lopez's bases-loaded, ninth-inning chopper over a drawn-in infield to score two runs and a wild pitch to score another for a 6-3 victory in a knockout game.

The consolation prize for Miami is the state championship, won by default because top-seeded Florida and third-seeded Florida State went two-and-out. The second-seeded Hurricanes were 1-2.

Still at large is the California title, because USC gave state teams a sweep in Tuesday's elimination games by finding something just about everybody here has lost: pitching.

The Trojans got a much-needed four-hit, eight-inning performance from freshman Rik Currier in knocking out Mississippi State, 7-1. Currier struck out 12 in the most dominating pitching performance so far in this series.

The rewards for Long Beach State and USC are extended stays in Omaha. The 49ers today play Arizona State, which has rested since Sunday because it is 2-0. USC, at No. 4 the top-seeded team left in the series, plays Louisiana State, also 2-0, on Thursday.

Miami, the nation's top-ranked team in the final regular-season polls, scored only eight runs in its three games here, which is the main reason it played only three games here.

"Looking back . . . we swung the bats really well over the course of the season," Coach Jim Morris said. "But here, we didn't swing the bats with any authority. When you don't do that, you've got to take care of the little things, like bunt defense. Long Beach did that today, and we didn't."

The 49ers did it in the seventh inning when, with the score tied, 3-3, and Miami runners on first and second bases, Manny Crespo lined a sacrifice bunt attempt to Long Beach reliever Darren Merrill, who whirled and doubled up Bobby Hill at first base to quell the threat.

The Hurricanes didn't do it in the ninth inning when 49er pinch-hitter Sam Monroy faked a bunt and chopped the ball at second baseman Crespo, who turned and tossed to shortstop Hill, who was confused and wasn't on the bag. He also failed to tag out a sliding Justin Hall.

Terrmel Sledge bunted to try to move the runners along, succeeding because Miami first baseman Rick Saggese threw late and ill-advisedly to third base.

Morris pulled the infield in to try to cut off a run, but Lopez foiled the strategy by slapping the ball over Crespo's head for two runs and a 5-3 lead.

Sledge scored on Rob Morrison's wild pitch.

"We were scraping around and ended up turning table scraps into a feast," said Long Beach Coach Dave Snow. "We were able to scrap one out today. Let's face it: we were very fortunate."

The 49ers made some of their luck by getting six strong innings from starting left-handed pitcher Mike Gallo, who was going on three days rest and with a blister on the index finger of his throwing hand that was treated between innings with a substance recommended by former Dodger trainer Bill Buhler.

"It smells like Superglue," said Gallo, who treated the digit with the goo between innings and struck out eight.

That paled when compared to Currier, whose longest outing to date had been 7 2/3 innings and who struggled in his first start of the postseason, against Fordham in the East regional.

He had no such problems Tuesday night, walking two batters in the first inning but only one thereafter.

"He was nasty," Mississippi State's Brad Freeman said. "He would have shut down anybody in the tournament like that. He had me 3-and-1 one time and that's a fastball count, and he threw me a slider for a strike."

Currier, a shy type who is still a bit overwhelmed by all of this, frequently struggles at the beginning of games.

"I've always had trouble in the early innings and then I get into it," he said. "Then I get my rhythm and get command."

The Trojans made it fairly easy for him to do just that by scoring three runs in the second inning on Brad Ticehurst's solo homer, a sacrifice fly by Wes Rachels and an RBI single by Robb Gorr.

Ticehurst homered again in the third inning for a 4-0 lead.

From then, it became a matter of watching Currier, who had averaged 12.3 strikeouts per nine innings, sixth-best in the nation. The view was a pleasant one for the Trojans, who had struggled in winning, 12-10, in 11 innings on Monday night.

"It was extremely important for us [to get a well-pitched game from Currier]," Coach Mike Gillespie said. "Some of the guys we normally would go to in relief were not available today. Given he was able to go that far, it afforded us the rest we needed."

And now USC gets a day of rest before it sees LSU again.

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