CWS: UT's Late Collapse Sends Fullerton To Title

OMAHA, Neb. -- On paper, Texas methodically dispatches a Cal State-Fullerton team whose record once stood at 15-16 including consecutive losses to the Horns last March. That, of course, is why they play they game. Now, if only Texas could replay that fateful seventh inning. That's when a trio of clutch Titan hits, combined with a pair of Longhorn wild throws, was all it took to erase a two-run Texas lead en route to a 3-2 Fullerton championship that once seemed earmarked for Austin.

Now, as college baseball's runner-up, Texas finishes the 2004 campaign at 58-15 while resurgent Fullerton claimed its fourth national title -- and first since Augie Garrido left the program for Texas in 1997 -- with a 47-22 mark.

"It's really a devastating loss for the players," a somber Garrido said after the game. "Their hopes, their dreams, their work ethic, their commitment has been tremendous all year long. But there's always a loser in athletics. This team lost two games in this tournament and it appeared, by the way we were playing, that we were the best team and would win this tournament, which makes it even harder for the players to understand, or accept. However, these tournaments are determined by the unexpected."

Unexpected? It was the third straight game that the Texas bullpen failed to complete the save after leading late in the contest. And despite some dazzling fieldwork, the Horns again opened the door for the opportunistic Titans by committing three errors on Sunday. And standout Fullerton C Kurt Suzuki, without an RBI during the entire CWS, drove in the winning run to cap a three-run rally.

Starting RHP Sam LeCure turned in a gutty performance in 6-1/3 innings of work, allowing one run on five hits while striking out five and walking none. RHP Buck Cody shouldered the loss after facing just two batters in that disastrous seventh.

Fullerton ace Jason Windsor, after pitching 27 scoreless innings, shook off a shaky first inning that saw Texas jump to a 2-0 lead.

"It was a Major League performance," Garrido said. "It was brilliant. "

The Oakland A's pick handcuffed the Horns in going the distance to finish the season at 13-4. On the day, he fanned 10 and allowed only five hits.

Friends, five hits against three errors usually doesn't get it done in the championship round of the College World Series.

Texas' offensive highlights were basically limited to the opening frame as the Horns loaded the bases with two outs via a leadoff double by Dooley Prince, a fielder's choice ground out and a walk before Hunter Harris delivered a base hit to center field. That gave UT an early 2-0 lead before the game settled into a pitcher's duel as both offenses were held to a combined five hits through the middle of the fourth.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Titans threatened by placing runners on the corners with two outs via a single by Bobby Andrews and a base hit from Ronnie Prettyman, but Justin Turner lined his first pitch off LeCure's right heel and saw David Maroul come up with a bare-handed throw to first to end the inning unscathed.

After the game, LeCure needed the support of an athletics official just to walk out of the stadium. But the sophomore hurler said he wasn't about to let the injury send him to the bench. "It was too minor a thing to take me out of the game," LeCure said.

Following a scoreless sixth, the game then moved into the bottom of that horrific seventh where, with one out and Andrews on first after a single off of LeCure, Brett Pill came through with a pinch-hit triple down the left-field line off of reliever Cody (before being lifted for a pinch-runner in Brandon Tripp). Tripp then scored on Cody's wild pitch to knot the game at 2-2. 3B David Maroul's throwing error and a single just through the right side that came in front of Suzuki's RBI base hit, gave the Titans all the cushion they would need at 3-2.

After a scoreless eighth, the Longhorns came to bat in the top of the ninth down to their final three outs. With one out, Texas put the tying run on first as Ryan Russ singled through the right side. However, Windsor struck out the next batter he faced and induced a fly out to end the Longhorns' threat and capture the national title.

"We did our best," Garrido said. "They did better. They won the game but our players are winners."

Over the last three seasons, the Horns have indeed largely been winners on the field, finishing as national champs in '02, tied for third in '03 and now as the national runner-up in '04. Not at all a bad run, but also short of expectation this year where the team spent a good portion of the year as the top-ranked team in the country and came into the CWS as the top-seeded team.

"There's a little bit of destiny in this thing," Garrido said. "The ball down the line, the errors... and really what we're looking for is blame. There really is no blame to it. It's a game where little things make big differences."

In a season where Texas did the little things well enough to win 58 games, a team with 11 less wins simply did those little things a little better for two straight games in Omaha. And that makes the Titans the champions, and the Horns bridesmaids again.

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