Saturday, June 6, 1992
A young boy's January prediction became reality on a sunny June afternoon for the Pepperdine baseball team.
Relying on standout pitching and stellar defense - particularly by second baseman Steve Rodriguez - the Waves pulled out a 3-2 victory over Cal State Fullerton Saturday before 17,962 at Rosenblatt Stadium and a CBS national television audience. The crowd pushed total attendance at the nine-day College World Series to an all-time record 154,216.
The seventh-seeded Waves finished their championship season 48-11-1. Afterward, Pepperdine Coach Andy Lopez and his players paid tribute to arguably their No. 1 fan - 11-year-old Fred Evander of Ralston.
"Fred sent us a photo in January of himself standing in front of Rosenblatt Stadium with a letter telling me that we were going to win the national championship," Lopez said as the boy sat at his side at the postgame press conference.
"We're thinking about taking him home with us."
The Waves will have to be content simply to cart back the national championship trophy to Malibu, Calif., as Fred, son of Rich and Kim Evander, will remain here.
Fullerton Coach Augie Garrido said the Waves' pitching and defense swamped his team's chances of winning the first championship game matching teams from the same state. Fullerton and Pepperdine are located about 40 miles apart in the Los Angeles area.
"Their pitching and defense cut down our momentum," Garrido said, "and cut down our chances to win."
Pepperdine pitchers Patrick Ahearne, Derek Wallace and Steve Montgomery held 46-17 Fullerton, a team with a .322 batting average, to four singles.
Ahearne, who shut out Wichita State in Pepperdine's opening-round win, checked Fullerton on three hits and one unearned run for the first 6 2/3 innings in improving to 15-2. Wallace, the winner in the Waves' second-round win over Texas, gave up the other hit and struck out one.
Montgomery, the Waves' All-America reliever, didn't allow a hit in the final two innings in notching his ninth save. But Montgomery needed a dazzling fielding play by Rodriguez to keep Fullerton from tying the score in the eighth.
The Waves were protecting a 3-1 lead when Montgomery came in to pitch. He hit Nate Rodriquez with his third pitch, then hit Jeremy Carr with his fourth.
A sacrifice advanced the runners to second and third to set up Phil Nevin, the outstanding player of the tournament who had 10 hits in his first 19 at-bats (.526 average).
Lopez never hesitated in ordering Montgomery to walk Nevin intentionally.
"That was a gutsy move," Garrido said.
A predetermined one, Lopez later explained.
"I was sitting in my room this morning, going over their hitters and our pitchers," Lopez said. "I made the decision then that he wasn't going to beat us. If we got into that situation, I would pitch around him and go to someone else.
"I had a funny feeling that he would come up late in the game in a crucial situation."
After walking Nevin, Montgomery got Jason Moler, the Titans' cleanup hitter, to fly out to right field, scoring Rodriquez and moving Carr to third.
It was then that Rodriguez came up with the play of the Series for Pepperdine. Fullerton left fielder Tony Banks, on a 1-1 pitch, ripped a hard grounder toward right field.
"From where I was sitting," Garrido said, "I thought it was going to get through."
Rodriguez made sure it didn't. Diving, he snared the ball on the edge of the infield, then scrambled to his feet to throw out Banks by a step.
"When he hit it, I thought I had a chance to get in front of it," said Rodriguez, whose grand-slam homer Thursday beat Texas 5-4 and put Pepperdine into Saturday's game.
"It took a hop on the grass and then skidded on the dirt," Rodriguez said. "I thought, 'Oh, my God, it's going through.'
"I dove and I felt the ball hit my glove. Then I heard this roar before I even hit the ground. I got up and threw it, and then I saw everybody go nuts. I can't even describe the feeling."
Bailed out of the jam by Rodriguez's gem, Montgomery pitched a perfect ninth to finish off the Titans.
"Once again," Lopez said, "we performed extremely well in clutch situations."
Pepperdine, which earned its spot in the title game by defeating Wichita State and Texas twice, wasted no time in getting the lead Saturday against Fullerton ace Dan Naulty, 13-4.
Naulty, who had pitched Fullerton to wins over Florida State and Miami, gave up a walk and three hits in the first inning. David Main's RBI double and Mark Wasikowski's run-scoring single put the Waves ahead 2-0.
"Dan was wild out of the strike zone, and he was wild in the strike zone," said Garrido, who brought in reliever Paco Chavez to start the second. "Maybe we were asking too much to have him come back on two days' rest."
Fullerton cut the lead to 2-1 in the fourth. The Titans might have scored more, but a base-running mistake cost them an out at third.
Carr led off the inning with a single - the first hit off Ahearne - and moved to second on Chris Powell's single. With Nevin up, Carr was thrown out at third trying to advance on a pitch that momentarily got away from Pepperdine catcher Scott Vollmer.
"We've advanced runners all year on pitches in the dirt," Garrido said. "It's set up a lot of innings for us. Today it didn't work out."
Nevin singled, sending Powell to third. Powell then scored on a wild pitch by Ahearne. The Pepperdine pitcher walked Moler, then got Banks to hit into an inning-ending double play that included a slick throw by Rodriguez.
"You see that ball thrown away in college baseball all the time," Garrido said. "That's a Double-A or Triple-A play."
The Waves took a 3-1 lead in the fifth when junior Eric Ekdahl hit his first home run of the season into a 15 mph wind blowing in from left field.
"I hit one a year, every year," said Ekdahl, who had just one hit in his first 12 CWS at-bats. "If you're only going to hit one a year, there's no better time to do it than in the championship game.
"When I hit it, it was almost like I went numb."
Four innings later, Ekdahl and his teammates were feeling like champions.
"This is a storybook ending for us," junior first baseman Dan Melendez said.
For Fullerton, the end had a different twist.
"We're disappointed, bitterly disappointed," Garrido said. "But we're not surprised. They are the national champions.
"They won the game they needed to win. We could have won that game as well to be the national champions. But we aren't."