Saturday, June 10, 2000 • Box score
The hottest team in the country served notice it has no intentions of cooling off at the College World Series.
Southern California, ranked fourth in the nation by Baseball America and fifth by Collegiate Baseball, opened its bid for a 13th national championship with a 6-4 first-round victory Saturday over Florida State.
USC ran its national-best winning streak to 16 games. The Trojans advance to face Louisiana State in a 2 p.m. winners' bracket game Monday.
The win, before 19,516 fans at Rosenblatt Stadium, improved USC to 44-18 and boosted the Trojans' already soaring confidence.
"Every one of us believes we're going to win this thing," USC shortstop Seth Davidson said. "So we're just going to go out (Monday) and get the pitching, get the hitting and get the defense, win that game, and then we'll do it again."
The Trojans won Saturday with a performance that was far from dominating. The pitching of Rik Currier and Ronald Flores was good, but not great.
The USC offense produced 16 hits, but failed to fully capitalize on its opportunities. The defense, steady throughout, added a dash of the spectacular in the closing innings.
"It was a little of this and a little of that, plus a big play to end the game," USC Coach Mike Gillespie said. "It was a really good win, an important win against a very good team."
It was Davidson who supplied the game-ending defensive gem, thwarting a potential Florida State rally by spearing Blair McCaleb's rocket that was headed for the gap in left-center field. After making sure he had caught the ball, Davidson then flipped to second baseman Anthony Lunetta to complete the game-ending double play.
Lunetta and Davidson also combined to rob McCaleb of a hit in the seventh inning. Lunetta backhanded the Florida State hitter's grounder that was headed for center field. Moving away from first base, Lunetta flipped the ball to Davidson, who pirouetted and fired the ball to Alberto Concepcion to get McCaleb.
"We practice that play every day," Davidson said, tongue in cheek. "Actually, it's one of those plays that Coach loves to talk about. He's just been waiting for the day that it happens. I'm glad it happened today for him."
Gillespie was equally pleased that Davidson came up with his leaping grab that brought a stunning end to the game for the 51-18 Seminoles. Trailing by two runs, Florida State threatened to rally after one-out singles by Brett Groves and Mike Futrell. McCaleb followed by lining a 2-2 pitch from Flores toward left-center field.
"That was just a good play by a good athlete," Florida State Coach Mike Martin said. "I thought it was over (Davidson's) head. He made a great play on that ball."
It appeared briefly that McCaleb's shot might pop out of Davidson's glove.
"When I jumped up and caught it, it was a scorched ball," Davidson said. "I caught it right in the pocket, but it turned me a little to the right. As I looked into my glove, it started to squirt out a little. I had to turn my glove upside down to make sure that I had it.
"It wasn't a snow-cone, but it almost put a hole in my glove."
Instead, Davidson's play put Florida State in a CWS hole by sending the Seminoles into Monday's Bracket Two elimination game against Texas.
"I remember USC in 1998 losing the first game here and showing tremendous courage to come back and win the whole enchilada," Martin said. "That's a tough act to follow. We're just hoping that we can play as well as we played today. Currier pitched a great ballgame."
Currier held Florida State to six hits in 7 2/3 innings, with Ryan Barthelemy collecting three of his four hits off the USC ace. Barthelemy hit solo homers in the third and sixth innings, and drove in Florida State's last run with an eighth-inning single off Flores.
"I'd trade all four hits for a 'W,' " Barthelemy said.
Flores had replaced Currier after Marshall McDougall's two-out double in the eighth. Barthelemy worked the count full against the USC reliever, then delivered a single to center field that cut the Trojans' lead to 6-4. Flores escaped additional damage by striking out Karl Jernigan.
Currier (15-3) and Flores surrendered a total of nine hits. USC, meanwhile, collected 16 hits off five Florida State pitchers, who also served up six walks.
Of its 22 baserunners, USC stranded 14. The Trojans left the bases loaded in the fifth inning, and stranded two runners in the second, third, fourth and sixth innings.
"I thought we had it all the way and there was never a doubt," Gillespie said facetiously. "Actually, I was frustrated and I think we all were. We had a number of opportunities to break it open, but we either failed to exploit them or their guys made some good pitches to get out of trouble."
USC's offense was efficient enough to overcome the 2-0 lead Florida State built in the first three innings. Lunetta's homer and run-scoring singles by Abel Montanez and Davidson produced three runs in the fourth against losing pitcher Blair Varnes (11-3) and Robby Read.
The Trojans added two runs in the fifth off Read when Beau Craig led off with his 17th homer and Concepcion singled in a run. Davidson brought home USC's final run with a ninth-inning sacrifice fly.
"We had a little bit of everything in this game," Gillespie said. "Currier gave us a competitive performance. He hung in there and didn't get rattled when we got behind. We got a couple of big home runs and a clutch sacrifice fly. We got a little luck."
And added another win to the Trojans' streak.
"We don't really think about the streak," Davidson said. "It's not going to be a big deal if it's broken. The big deal is to go out and win every game, because that's how we're going to win this thing."