CWS: It's Texas vs. Cal State-Fullerton In Finals

It's <I>deja vu </I>all over again for top-seeded Texas (58-13) and head coach <B>Augie Garrido </B>as the Longhorns face Cal State-Fullerton (45-22) in the best-of-three final round for college baseball's national championship, starting at 6 p.m. Saturday. Garrido was the Titan coach for 21 years before arriving in Austin in 1997. The Horns also swept Fullerton in a two game series (6-2, 3-1) in early March at Disch-Falk Field.

The visitors limped out of the Lone Star State with an 8-9 mark and eventually fell to 15-16 on the season. But this is not the same Titan team that visited on March 5 and 7. Fullerton has rallied behind two ace pitchers who have combined for 25 wins, and arguably the best catcher in D-I baseball, to notch its 13th College World Series appearance overall. The California club claimed national titles in 1979, 1984 and 1995.

In Thursday's elimination game, the Titans advanced to the CWS championship round with a 4-0 victory over South Carolina after pitchers Scott Sarver (3-2) and ace Jason Windsor (12-4) combined for an eight-hit shutout. Sarver pitched six innings in just his second start of the season, allowing five hits, walking two and striking out seven. Windsor, who earned his first career save, limited the Gamecocks to three hits in three full innings to send Fullerton to their first finals since the Garrido-coached 1995 championship. Windsor had pitched a three-hitter last Saturday in beating the Gamecocks 2-0 in the first round. But South Carolina's 5-3 comeback win on Wednesday forced the elimination game and the right to face Texas.

The rub on the Titans is that they only have two pitchers (the best ERA coming out of the Fullerton bullpen is Mike Martinez at 4.27), but it's down to a two-game season for both the Horns and the Titans, so starting pitching could be key. Even before his three scoreless innings Thursday, Windsor boasted a 1.73 ERA in 20 appearances and you can bet Texas will see the third-round MLB draft pick on Sunday, 2 p.m. In Saturday's series opener, look for Garrido to go with All-American LHP J.P. Howell while the Titans will counter with LHP Ricky Romero. Romero brings a 13-4 record and a 3.34 ERA in 21 appearances.

Fullerton is the first team since Pepperdine in 1992 to post two shutouts in the same CWS and the first team since California in 1957 to shut out the same opponent twice. The Gamecocks, who had scored 35 runs in three previous CWS games, became the first team to be shut out twice in the same CWS in 22 years.

Catcher Kurt Suzuki bats .424 and has a team-high 16 homers and 86 RBI heading into Saturday's showdown. The Big West Player of the Year is also one of thee finalists for the Johnny Bench Award honoring the nation's top collegiate catcher. DH Felipe Garcia, a Cleveland Indians draft pick, brings a .350 average (including 8-for-17 at the CWS) into Saturday's contest. Overall, Fullerton owns a .328 batting average for the season, almost 40 points higher than the Horns' .291. Ten Titans own a .300-plus average. Suzuki leads the hitter's parade, followed among regulars by 1B P.J. Pilittere (.354), Garcia, CF Clark Hardman (.345), RF Sergio Pedroza (.333), 3B Ronnie Prettyman (.324), LF Danny Dorn (.321) and 2B Justin Turner (.302). Dorn is the team's second-leading RBI man with 57 while Pedroza is the No. 2 power threat, statistically at least, with his seven long balls for the season. (Bobby Andrews manned right in Fullerton's bracket clincher and cut down South Carolina's best scoring opportunity at the plate with a strike to Suzuki on a single to right field in the seventh.) Prettyman leads the team in steals with 13, but he was also gunned down seven times.

The Titans are a strong defensive team, committing just one error in four CWS games to date while fielding .973 for the season (and with their worst fielder, SS Blake Davis, replaced in the line-up by light-hitting but better fielding Neil Walton).

The finals will pit Garrido against his old team and former top assistant, George Horton. Garrido won 931 games and three national championships in two stints at Fullerton. Horton has since guided the Titans to four College World Series in eight seasons. Texas, meanwhile, advances to its tenth CWS finals and second in three seasons.

HOW THEY REACHED

TEXAS 13 - Arkansas 2
TEXAS 8 - Georgia 3
TEXAS 7 - Georgia 6

Cal State 2 - South Carolina 0
Cal State 6 - Miami 3
South Carolina 5 - Cal State 3
Cal State 4 - South Carolina 0


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