OMAHA, Neb. -- If this were football, circa 1991, the point spread would be somewhere around 50, in favor of the large, corn-fed guys wearing red.
But this isn't one of Gene Murphy's money-making "body bag games."
Nor is this a Troy State-like speed bump on former Coach Tom Osborne's
non-conference schedule. (FYI: Believe it or not, Troy State is on Nebraska's
2001 football schedule ... really)
This is baseball. So when No. 1-seeded Cal
State Fullerton meets No. 8 Nebraska
tonight in each team's College World Series opener at Rosenblatt Stadium, the
favorites will be the guys with three NCAA baseball championship trophies
in Titan Gym.
If the Titans are to add a fourth title, they'll have to part the red sea,
a unique "home crowd" for Nebraska will greet Fullerton. Short of
300 traveling Titans devotees, virtually the entire 25,000 SRO crowd will be
decked out in Huskers red.
Winning in front of hostile crowds is nothing new to Fullerton. This is a
that has won more road regionals (10) than any program in college baseball
-- in such pits as LSU, Texas and Mississippi State.
And of course, there was the Titans' historic three-game road sweep this
at Miami, the first such broom job in the 28-year history of Mark
In other words, this is Titans baseball and we laugh in the face of hostile
fans seeking to intimidate us. Even USC Coach Mike Gillespie said the Titans
play with an aggressive us-vs.-the-world `tude.
Anger, yes. Fear, no.
"It (tonight's pro-Nebraska crowd) is going to be crazy when Nebraka
It's going to be electric beyond description," Gillespie said Thursday,
adding that Fullerton doesn't care who or where it plays. "Fullerton is
always ornery anyway, it's part of their swagger. I think they can deal with
200 people yelling for them and 25,000 screaming against them as well as
But there's no doubt, it's going to be nuts."
Fullerton Coach George
Horton and his staff are not taking any chances. Titans coaches have been
talking about the hostile crowd to players all week, and have even have their
team sports psychologist working overtime.
"Not only are they a very fine baseball team, but we also will be in the
position of being the enemy," Horton said. "Instead of playing in
front of a neutral crowd in a normal College World Series game, you have the
added stress and challenge of playing in front of all but about 300 Nebraska
You can bet that Fullerton will do whatever it takes to pounce on Nebraska
to silence the partisan crowd, and send those red-clad, pasty-faced fans
to get in line for Rosenblatt funnel cakes.
And if Kevin
Costner shows up as scheduled, perhaps the Husker faithful will be too
to pay attention to the game.
Fullerton (46-16) will send senior left-hander Jon
Smith (10-2) to the mound against Nebraska (50-14), which advanced to
with a Super Regional victory at home over Rice.
Smith had last weekend off thanks to the Super Regional sweep
of Mississippi State, and Horton has supreme confidence in his academic
"He's a fast ball pitcher and having the weekend off will bring the
to his fastball back," Horton said. "It'll take a special effort
the opposing team to break him down."
The Huskers will counter with ace right-hander Shane
Komine (14-1), who tossed a three-hitter last weekend against Rice.
Smith's selection (instead of ace Kirk
Saarloos) was a brilliant stroke by Horton and pitching coach Dave
Smith can shut down the Huskers' speed (124 stolen bases in 137 tries) - led
by shortstop and leadoff man John
Cole (.417 and 28 stolen bases).
And Smith should be able to battle an abundance of Nebraska left-handed bats
-- center fielder Jeff
Leise (.387, 7 HR, 47 RBI), left fielder Justin
Seely (.362, 4, 28), catcher Jed
Morris (.346, 6, 41), right fielder Adam
Stern (.297, 5, 45) and backup third baseman Brandon
Eymann (.307, 3, 31).
The Huskers' biggest bats are first baseman Dan
Johnson (.360, 24, 85) and DH Matt
Hopper (.387, 11, 84).
Starting Smith in the opener, also sets up Saarloos to put away the
second win of a four-team bracket and to pitch on Championship Saturday.
As impressive as Komine's numbers are, the Titans have hit good pitching of
late, as evidenced by back-to-back three-homer games by shortstop Mike
Rouse and first baseman Aaron
Rifkin against Mississippi State.
If the Huskers have a weakness it might be defense, with 101 errors and a
fielding percentage. By comparison, the Titans made 73 errors for .970
So don't be surprised to see the Titans challenging an anxious Huskers
with Augie-style little ball.
Nebraska third baseman Jeff
Blevins (16 errors and .885 fielding percentage) might be tested by a few
And if the Titans don't rush out of the gate, don't expect any nervousness
from the third base dugout.
While the Huskers have never seen CWS action without buying a ticket,
has plenty of Omaha experience from the 1999 team. They include Smith,
second baseman Bacani, third baseman Murph
Norris, outfielders Chris
Stringfellow and Robert
Guzman and of course, The Man - Kirk
PROPS TO THE HUSKERS
As much as we hope that Nebraska goes two-and-out, you have to give it up for
Coach Dave Van
Horn and what his Huskers have done this season.
They've built a big-time program in the shadows of a football factory that
poor Danny Nee (who compiled a very respectable 254-189 record as NU
coach before his unceremonious dumping in 2000, after 14 seasons, 5 NCAA
and 6 NITs) look like a loser.
We might not have many resources at Cal State Fullerton, but it's clear that
one program gets all the applause and attention -- and it ain't women's
So while George Horton rides first class in a Titans puddle jumper, Van Horn
sits in the last row (you know, right next to the rest room - ewww) of his
The Huskers should also be commended for being the first superpower team from
the quasi-North, since we all know these recent Notre Dame and Ohio State
were total frauds exposed in the playoffs.
If college baseball is to ever spread beyond its current regional boundaries,
it has to go north and Lincoln, Neb., could be the gateway.
FINAL MENTION OF TV
Nebraska's dramatic rise would have been a great story line for the CBS
first-round game on Saturday. It would have been the Heartland (Nebraska) vs.
Hollywood (Kevin Costner U.), overachieving local guys vs. big, bad No.
Great TV, right? So of course, CBS drops the ball and went with
Sure, that game gives CBS two big names and a foothold into the Nos. 2 and 10
TV markets. Unfortunately, for CBS to make a blind grab for pure numbers over
a good story is both short-sighted and par for the course.
Before CBS lucked into Survivor, the likes of network prez Les Moonves
and his sports lackey Sean McManus wouldn't recognize an 18- to-49-year-old
viewer if he skate boarded through their manicured front lawns.
While CBS won the overall 2000-2001 TV season, it finished a humiliating
(behind NBC, Fox and ABC in that order) -- even with Survivor -- among
crucial 18- to- 49-year-old viewers.
How could a network do so poorly among young viewers (and thus be far less
? Because CBS lacks vision for any real story lines or quality
As a result, USC-Georgia will be on Channel 2, while the Titans and Huskers
are relegated to cable.
In the final analysis, this probably wasn't suprising. These CBS hacks have
lost football, the Olympics and pro basketball in recent history. And event
the network's sports crown jewel, the NCAA Basketball Tournament, is brutally
butchered every season.
The consolation for Titans and Huskers fans is that ESPN
will put on a better show than the minor leaguers at CBS ever could.