No Better Place to Be for Eight CWS Teams

June 7, 2001

AP Sports Writer

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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) - For the eight teams in the College World Series, Omaha isparadise.

Some - like Nebraska and Tulane - are here for the first time. Others - likeStanford, Southern California and Miami - have been here many times. They allagree there's no place they'd rather be.

'Something I hear at practice from our players is the word `Omaha' at leastonce every day,' Miami coach Jim Morris said. 'It's something our playerstalk about and think about from Day 1.'

The road to the College World Series has gotten increasingly difficult, withteams having to win a double-elimination regional and best-of-three superregional to get to Omaha.

'This is the pinnacle,' Southern California coach Mike Gillespie said.'It's been our experience that it's hard to get here. This is not a given.This is not easy. This is not to be taken for granted. This is special.'

The event will also have a special fan, as President Bush will throw out thefirst pitch in Friday's College World Series opener between Stanford (46-16)and Tulane (55-11). Opening ceremonies and the home run challenge were Thursdaynight.

Tulane, the nation's winningest team, spoiled retiring Louisiana State coachSkip Bertman's bid for a sixth national title in 11 years by beating the Tigersin the super regionals. Now, the Green Wave are having their own Omahaexperience.

'To have the opportunity to advance and get to the College World Series isa thrill for me, but a feeling of euphoria for our fans,' Tulane coach RickJones said.

Stanford won four elimination games during the first two rounds to get tothe College World Series. The Cardinal lost their top three starting pitchersand have no seniors on their roster, making this year's trip unexpected - evento coach Mark Marquess.

'This is probably the biggest surprise that we've ended up in Omaha,'Marquess said. 'It's the youngest team I've ever had in my 25 years atStanford.'

The second game Friday night pits local favorite Nebraska (50-14), also inthe CWS for the first time, against Cal State-Fullerton (46-16).

Huskers fans have firmly made their presence felt. A sea of red T-shirts,hats and shorts dominated the huge ticket line outside Rosenblatt Stadium onThursday. Nebraska's campus in Lincoln is located about 50 miles from Omaha,and the Huskers are in the College World Series for the first time in theprogram's history.

'We get to take this road to Omaha a lot, but it's usually to catch a planeto head South to play,' Nebraska coach Dave Van Horn said.

The Titans, the tournament's top seed, started the season 8-8 but have gone38-8 since.

'I was kind of wondering if we'd even get to the playoffs,' coach GeorgeHorton said. 'But something happened with this group of young men. They gotbetter, they got confident. But the one constant we've had is very solidpitching.'

Right-hander Kirk Saarloos has won 15 straight decisions, struck out 150 andwalked just 23 in 144 2-3 innings as the ace of the staff.

In Saturday's games, Southern California (44-17) plays Georgia (47-20) andMiami (49-12) takes on Tennessee (46-18).

The Trojans are no strangers to the College World Series. Their 21appearances rank second to Texas' 28. Right-handers Mark Prior and Rik Curriergive USC perhaps the best starting duo in the nation.

Prior, the No. 2 pick by the Chicago Cubs in Tuesday's draft, is 14-1 with a1.50 ERA and has a school and Pac-10 season record 189 strikeouts. Currier is12-2 with a 2.39 ERA and is the school and conference leader with 444 careerstrikeouts.

Georgia coach Ron Polk is just the second coach in NCAA history to bringthree schools to the College World Series. He brought Georgia Southern to Omahain 1973, Mississippi State five times and is back in only his second year atGeorgia.

Polk retired from coaching after Mississippi State lost in the College WorldSeries in 1997, but was convinced by Georgia's athletic department to givecollege coaching one more try.

'After we lost here at Omaha, I turned it over to my good friend PatMcMahon, never dreaming that I would return as an active coach,' Polk said.'But lo and behold, this team got here in two years time, not because of whatI did but because I inherited some very fine players who bought into a new planand a new system.'

Miami enters the CWS riding a 13-game winning streak, longest among allparticipants. The Hurricanes lead the country with 215 stolen bases, led byJavy Rodriguez's Division I-leading 66.

'We're built by speed,' Morris said. 'We try to run whenever we have achance to.'

Tennessee has won 10 times in its last at-bat, including both super regionalvictories. The Volunteers, like the Hurricanes, also rely on their speed to putruns on the scoreboard. They led the Southeastern Conference with 148 stolenbases, including 43 each by shortstop Chris Burke and second baseman StevieDaniel.

The College World Series is a double-elimination format tournament that runsthrough June 16.

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