Friday, June 9, 1989
Wichita State will play for the College World Series championship today because it got a boost Friday night from Mike Wentworth's "magical" home run.
Wentworth, a light-hitting senior walk-on from Canton, N.Y., got WSU's offense untracked with a game-tying three-run home run in the fourth inning that propelled the Shockers to a 12-9 victory over top-seeded Florida State. The game drew a session-record crowd of 15,667 at Rosenblatt Stadium.
The fourth-seeded Shockers, 67-16, will try for their first national championship in today's 12:05 p.m. title game against second-seeded Texas, 54-17.
Wentworth, batting ninth in the order, tagged Florida State starter Clyde Keller, 13-1, with his second home run of the season and only the fourth of his career to tie the game 4-4 in the fourth. Birthday Blasts
The Shocker designated hitter's first homer of the year - a two-run shot - helped WSU to a 6-4 victory over Fresno State in the elimination game of the West II regional. It came on his mother Christene's birthday.
Wentworth's father, David, celebrated his birthday Friday with the same present Mike gave his mother - another home run.
Mike Wentworth opened a package of bubble gum before the game with this prophetic fortune on the comic strip: "Something magical will happen today."
Wentworth put it in his pocket before the game for good luck.
"The home run by Wentworth was probably as excited as I've been in many years," Wichita State Coach Gene Stephenson said. "If you just knew what the guy has gone through the five years in this program - the things that have been asked of him and the things he's done to try to help the team.
"If there's any justice in this entire world, it happened tonight. I can't tell you how it makes me feel."
Wentworth, whose parents aren't in Omaha for the series, said each of his home runs produces a "very special feeling," but Friday's was the most gratifying.
"It's very much the biggest," said the 6-foot, 180-pounder. "There's not that many to choose from." Confidence Boost
Wentworth entered the game 0-for-3 in the series and 1-for-12 since the start of the NCAA regionals.
Wichita State, hitting .228 for the series, got a confidence boost from Wentworth's home run.
"From that point on there was no doubt," Stephenson said.
WSU pitcher Pat Cedeno, who boosted his record to 13-4, said the homer was the turning point.
"I don't think you can really describe how big that was," Cedeno said. "You can't say you have doubts in your mind. But you're down 4-1 and you're in an elimination game. When something like that happens, it changes the momentum completely."
The Shockers took the lead with two runs in the sixth on back-to-back RBI doubles by Todd Dreifort and Mark Jones. Then they added five runs in the seventh for an 11-4 advantage.
Dreifort, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs, knocked in two with a single. Jim Audley also contributed a two-run single to the uprising.
The Seminoles, 54-18, gave the Shockers a scare with a five-run eighth, powered by Brad Parker's three-run homer that chased Cedeno. Pat Meares hit a solo home run in the eighth to give WSU a 12-9 cushion, then relief ace Jim Newlin closed the door in the ninth. He struck out Brian Gilliland and Rob Bargas and retired Buddy Cribb on a grounder to second baseman P.J. Forbes to end the game.'Should Be Bronzed'
The Shockers' trip to the finals is a believe-it-or-not tale. Two of WSU's best players - All-America shortstop Mike Lansing and rightfielder Jeff Bonacquista, a four-year starter - have not played in the series. First baseman Bryant Winslow has played, hobbling at times, with a stress fracture in his right shin.
"Gene Stephenson should be bronzed for the job he's done," Florida State Coach Mike Martin said.
Stephenson said he's not surprised that the Shockers overcame the odds to reach the title game.
"After this season," he said, "there's nothing about this team that surprises me. All spectrums, I've seen it all - up, down, in and out. At times, we can be the worst in the world. At other times, I've never seen one
The Shockers will be making their second appearance in the championship game. WSU lost to Miami in the 1982 finals.
Wichita has been a crowd favorite, in part because of its proximity to Omaha and its membership in the Missouri Valley Conference. Creighton, the CWS host institution, also competes in the Valley. No MVC team has ever won the national championship.
Texas will be gunning for its fifth national title and third under Coach Cliff Gustafson.
Wichita State just missed an appearance in last year's title game.Strike Away in '88
The Shockers needed only one more strike on two batters with 0-2 counts for the victory against Arizona State that would have guaranteed a berth in the national championship game. The Sun Devils rallied for a 4-3 win in 10 innings, then beat the Shockers 19-1 the next night to reach the final.
Last year's disappointment, Stephenson said, makes this year's accomplishment even more rewarding.
"It's awfully sweet," he said. "I know it was the most devastating thing that ever happened to me in coaching - not being able to get that last strike in the winner's bracket final last year.
"That stayed with me many months. I've never had anything like that happen to me. And I assume it stayed with a lot of players.
"I know there's a quiet resolve among the players who were here last year. My God, they were going to find a way to get it done, and it's not through yet."
The Shockers advanced to the championship with back-to-back victories against Florida State to win the East Division. WSU is 4-1 in series play. Texas swept to the winner-takes-all championship game with a 3-0 record in the West Division.Keller's First Loss
Wichita State handed Keller his first loss of the season. The Seminole senior gave up singles to Meares and Jones before Wentworth unloaded over the right-field fence in the fourth.
"I pretty much knew it was going out," Wentworth said.
The Shockers received major production from the bottom of the batting order.
Meares, the No. 6 hitter, was 3-for-4 with a home run. Dreifort, No. 7, was 3-for-4 with three RBIs and a double. Jones, No. 8, was 2-for-3 with an RBI and a double. And Wentworth had the biggest hit of all.
"They had a little bit more pop in the lineup," FSU's Martin said. "That's the big key. I wish Wentworth would have picked another time to hit the second home run of his
career." 'Winding Down' Stephenson was asked about how the Shockers match up against Texas in the championship game today.
"We've got to feel optimistic," he said.
"All we're concerned about right now is getting back and winding down and getting some sleep, and coming out here bright and early and getting after it.
"I have ultimate confidence in these guys," he said. "We have a great pitcher going (Gregg Brummett).
"We have outstanding pitching from the bullpen - the best stopper in the game (Newlin).
Stephenson said his team is swinging the bat better now than it was earlier in the week.
"So, sure, I've got to feel real good about it," he said.
"But we still have to go out and get the job done."
Pitches Tipped? Was Louisiana State pitcher Ben McDonald tipping his pitches?
The question lingered Friday after the All-America right-hander was shelled for nine hits and 11 runs in a 12-7 loss to Texas Thursday night.
Scott Bryant, the Longhorns' designated hitter Thursday night, tripled in the first inning to drive in two runs and start the scoring.
If McDonald was tipping hispitches, Bryant said he couldn't detect it.
Bryant said Texas coaches said they could tell by something McDonald did in his windup whether he was delivering a fastball or a curve.
"But they were picking it up too late to tell the batter," said Bryant, who is scheduled to be the starting pitcher today.