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Fullerton Fashions a Title

Improbable Titans win their fourth College World Series with a 3-2 victory over Texas.

June 28, 2004|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

OMAHA — Cal State Fullerton leaned on catcher Kurt Suzuki and pitcher Jason Windsor when times were tough and there were many such occasions during this college baseball season.

Naturally the Titans, big believers in the mental part of the game, would need their two stars in the most critical moments of Game 2 in the College World Series championship final against top-ranked Texas.

Suzuki came up with the game-winning hit in a decisive seventh-inning rally and Windsor carried his team to the finish line with another complete game to give Fullerton a 3-2 victory over the Longhorns for its fourth and, perhaps, most improbable NCAA championship.

It is the first title since 1995 and the first for George Horton in his eight seasons as coach. It also came at the expense of Texas Coach Augie Garrido, Horton's mentor who won three Division I titles in 21 seasons at Fullerton.

"I still have chills and it's not from the cold water that was just dropped on my head," Horton said. "On one hand it makes it more special to accomplish something like this against your mentor that laid the foundation for this great program.

"I think about Augie and hopefully his heart mends quickly. As for our guys sitting here with me and the guys that aren't, words can't describe what they just accomplished."

Fullerton, which finished with a 47-22 record, was the hottest team in the nation over the last three months. After falling to 15-16 on April 3, the Titans won 32 of their last 38 games.

After a 6-4 Game 1 victory on Saturday, they turned to their All-American right-hander to avoid having to play a decisive third game. Windsor was ready after throwing three innings to close out Thursday's elimination-game win over South Carolina.

Maybe too ready. Having trouble with his command, he needed 34 pitches to get through the first inning. Texas (58-15) loaded the bases with a double, a hit batter and a rare walk and took a 2-0 lead on Hunter Harris' two-out single up the middle.

"I was a little too eager to jump ahead of guys," Windsor said. "I didn't really have my curveball. My changeup showed up in the second inning."

The struggles only strengthened his resolve. The senior gave up five hits, three over the last eight innings. Windsor, the most outstanding player of the College World Series, retired 25 of the last 28 batters he faced and ended the postseason giving up three runs in 36 innings.

"He threw complete games for us all year," second baseman Justin Turner said. "I can't say anything more. He's the best pitcher I've ever played behind."

Garrido also praised Windsor.

"It was a major league performance. It was brilliant," he said.

Fullerton, however, trailed as Texas starter Sam LeCure shut down the Titans for six innings. With one out in the seventh, Bobby Andrews singled to set off a series of moves.

Horton sent up left-handed hitting Sergio Pedroza to bat for struggling shortstop Neil Walton. Garrido countered by lifting LeCure for left-handed reliever Buck Cody.

Horton, who played for Garrido and spent six years as his associate coach, pulled back Pedroza for Brett Pill. Much like his pinch-double against Long Beach State that sparked Fullerton's Big West Conference title-clinching victory, Pill delivered with a ringing triple down the left-field line to score Andrews.

"With a guy on first, I was trying to get something going," Pill said. "We were all kind of down. We needed something to happen."

Texas, which was shaky defensively in the two games, wilted. Pinch-runner Brandon Tripp scored easily on a wild pitch by Cody to tie it, at 2-2.

The Longhorns then committed their third miscue on shortstop Michael Hollimon's throwing error. Turner moved Ronnie Prettyman to second with a single, but Clark Hardman struck out against reliever J. Brent Cox.

It set the stage for Suzuki, the All-American junior catcher who hit .413 this season with 87 runs batted in but had only three singles in 21 at-bats during the series. Suzuki lined a clean single into left field to bring home Prettyman.

"I just put a good swing on it and I found a hole," he said. "I didn't do one thing in this series, but I just said, 'This is my time and I'm going to pick you guys up right now.' "

With their first lead, the Titans rode Windsor to the end the way they did all year. Texas put the tying run on in the ninth, but David Maroul's fly ball settled in Andrews' glove in right field to touch off the celebration in front of 21,392.

Fullerton won its fourth championship despite hitting only .244 in the College World Series and scoring 21 runs in six games. The Titans countered that with the best pitching any team had to offer, compiling a 2.17 earned-run average with two complete games from Windsor and one from Ricky Romero.

First baseman P.J. Pilittere, a fifth-year senior, said the team refused to give in when it was struggling and relished being overlooked.

"We want to stay under the radar and shock people like we just did," Pilittere said. "Now it's our turn to be in the spotlight."

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(Begin Text of Infobox)

Top of the Heap

A look at the schools with multiple College World Series championships:

*--* USC (12)

*--*

1948, 1958, 1961, 1963, 1968, 1970-74, 1978, 1998

*--* ARIZONA STATE (5)

*--*

1965, 1967, 1969, 1977, 1981

*--* LOUISIANA STATE (5)

*--*

1991, 1993, 1996, 1997, 2000

*--* TEXAS (5)

*--*

1949, 1950, 1975, 1983, 2002

*--* CAL STATE FULLERTON (4)

*--*

1979, 1984, 1995, 2004

*--* MIAMI (4)

*--*

1982, 1985, 1999, 2001

*--* ARIZONA (3)

*--*

1976, 1980, 1986

*--* MINNESOTA (3)

*--*

1956, 1960, 1964

*--* CALIFORNIA (2)

*--*

1947, 1957

*--* MICHIGAN (2)

*--*

1953, 1962

*--* OKLAHOMA (2)

*--*

1951, 1994

*--* STANFORD (2)

*--*

1987, 1988

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