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Replacing the Titans Has Been Their Goal

Fullerton's Horton, LSU's Laval have kept excellence of Garrido and Bertman going.

June 13, 2003|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

OMAHA -- Eight NCAA championships between them define the roles Cal State Fullerton and Louisiana State play in college baseball.

The coaches -- George Horton of Fullerton and Smoke Laval of LSU -- also know the pressure that comes with maintaining powerhouse programs. For them, this College World Series is a chance to make some history on their own as the teams meet in an opening-round game today at 4 p.m. (PDT). Both former assistants have been successful caretakers of programs once headed by legendary figures Augie Garrido (now the Texas coach) and Skip Bertman, but neither has won a title on his own.

Laval is in only his second season as head coach for the Tigers, but he has them back in the national championship tournament for the first time in three years. Horton is taking his third team to Rosenblatt Stadium in seven years, but the Titans' best finish since winning the 1995 title (its third under Garrido) was the semifinals in 2001.

Winning a championship isn't a new goal for the 49-year-old Horton but it is an important one.

"It's probably the most important thing in my life besides my family," said Horton, who is 307-130-1 as head coach.

Looking for its fourth NCAA championship, Fullerton (48-14) is in position for a long run over the next 11 days. The Titans may be the most balanced of the eight squads that have made it here. They rank sixth in the nation in hitting with a .333 average and have committed only 66 errors for a .972 fielding percentage, the second-highest in school history. Led by today's starter Jason Windsor (10-2, 1.82 earned-run average), the pitching staff ranks second with a 2.75 ERA.

Last weekend, the Titans held powerful Arizona State to one run in each of their two wins.

"They've got a great pitching staff," LSU shortstop Aaron Hill said. "We've got a great hitting team. It's going to be a great matchup."

A sense of urgency accompanies the Titans' high level of confidence. As senior infielder Jason Corapci said bluntly, "We're here to win it. I think when we came here in 2001, we were just happy to be here and enjoy the experience. We need to take care of business."

Horton discounted the notion that the Titans need to win here to validate their season.

"Every club that gets this far has been a pretty special club," the coach said. "There's never been a year where we don't envision ourselves being here. The word 'Omaha' is mentioned several times in our first organizational meeting each season."

This could be one of the final tries for Horton at his alma mater. He said he would talk to officials at Oklahoma State about its opening after the tournament. He also could succeed Gary Adams at UCLA after next season.

"It's a compliment when people look at you as a leading candidate for jobs," Horton said. "Do I expect to be contacted? No. Will I be honored? Yes.

"The thing that's working against them is my happiness at Cal State Fullerton."

Laval, after seven seasons as coach at Louisiana Monroe, returned to take over for Bertman, who became LSU's athletic director in 2001. The former longtime assistant said he wants to keep a proud program at the top.

The Tigers (45-20-1) were the team of the last decade, winning championships in 1991, 1993, 1996, 1997 and 2000 during Bertman's 18 seasons as coach.

"I don't think I can ever follow Skip Bertman," Laval said, "but we're going to give it an honest effort."


College World Series

All times PDT

Double-elimination tournament,

at Rosenblatt Stadium, Omaha.

Schedule for first two days; championship game June 22 or June 23.



* Game 1 -- South Carolina (44-20) vs.

Stanford (46-15), 11 a.m.

* Game 2 -- Cal State Fullerton (48-14) vs.

LSU (45-20-1), 4 p.m.



* Game 3 -- Southwest Missouri State (40-24) vs.

Rice (53-11), 10:30 a.m.

* Game 4 -- Texas (48-18) vs.

Miami (44-15-1), 4 p.m.

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