Wednesday, June 16, 1999 • Box score
Sam Bozanich's late-game heroics Wednesday at the College World Series kept Alabama pointed in the right direction and sent Rice headed for home.
Bozanich helped manufacture the game-tying run in the eighth inning, then blooped home the winning win with a two-out single in the bottom of the ninth as Alabama pulled out a 6-5 win over the Owls before an estimated 15,000 at Rosenblatt Stadium.
The victory in the elimination game advanced Alabama to today's 2:36 p.m. Bracket One championship game against Miami, which handed the Crimson Tide an 8-1 loss on Sunday. An Alabama victory today would force a third meeting between the teams on Friday, while a Miami win would send the Hurricanes into Saturday's national championship game.
"We're in the same situation we were two years ago," Alabama shortstop Andy Phillips said. "We came back then, and we're confident we can do it again."
Alabama lost the second game of the 1997 CWS to Miami, then posted back-to-back wins over the Hurricanes to reach the title game where the Crimson Tide lost to Louisiana State.
"It's a difficult position to be in," Alabama Coach Jim Wells said, "but we've done it before. We just need to focus on what we need to do. I feel we have the pitching to do it, and I think we're going to have breakout game hitting here soon.
"Hopefully, that will be tomorrow. It's going to be tough but it's tough on everyone. This win certainly gives us a lift, and I think we're going to do well tomorrow."
Alabama, which had led 3-0 after three innings and 4-1 after five, had to go down to Wednesday's final pitch to secure the win that improved the Crimson Tide, seeded fifth and ranked seventh and
eighth, to 53-15.
Meanwhile, second- and fourth-ranked Rice ended its season 59-15 in spite of getting two homers from Damon Thames, the second a three-run shot off the left-field foul pole that put the Owls ahead
5 - 4 in the eighth inning.
Both of Thames' homers came off Alabama starter Justin Smith, who took a no-hitter into the fifth inning. Smith, Alabama's first-round winner against Oklahoma State, limited Rice to four
hits and struck out 12 in his eight innings of work.
"He worked me over pretty good my first two at-bats," Thames said. "I just thought if I could get a good pitch that I could hit it. I wasn't trying to hit home runs but it just worked out that way.
"That put me on the top of the world there for a second but it came down quick."
Rice's downfall started when it allowed Alabama to score the tying run without a hit in the bottom of the eighth. Bozanich opened the inning by drawing a walk on four pitches and moved to second on Scott McClanahan's sacrifice bunt.
Rice Coach Wayne Graham replaced right-hander Jeff Nichols with left-hander Jesse Kurtz-Nicholl at that point. Bozanich stole third base, one of six successful steals in the game for the Crimson Tide, and raced home when Kurtz-Nicholl's fourth pitch skipped past catcher John Lukin.
"We had some missed opportunities early in the game," Wells said.
"Bozanich did a great job of picking some things up, stealing a bag and putting us in that position. Sam put us in position to tie, then he won it in the ninth. Those were some good individual performances there in the last two innings."
Alabama might not have needed Bozanich's final hit as it came close to pushing across the go-ahead run before the eighth inning was finished. Brent Boyd singled with two outs, stole second and came roaring home on Erik Smallwood's single to right.
Rice right fielder Will Ford fielded the ball cleanly and fired to Lukin, who blocked Boyd's path and then tagged out the Alabama player as he scrambled to touch the plate.
Rice stranded runners at first and second in its half of the ninth against winning pitcher Scott Murphy (8-0). Phillips then got Alabama started in its half of the ninth with a double off Rice ace Mario Ramos (13-3).
"He was rested, and we didn't want to lose with him sitting on the bench," said Graham, explaining why he brought Ramos in to pitch.
With first base open, Ramos intentionally walked cleanup hitter G.W. Keller, then turned Jeremy Brown's sacrifice bunt attempt into the first out when he gunned down Phillips at third base. Ramos got
Kelley Gulledge to ground out, advancing the runners and bringing Bozanich to the plate.
Bozanich, a .307 hitter with 56 RBIs, admitted he was surprised when Rice elected to pitch to him instead of putting him on to face McClanahan, a freshman who has had just 84 at-bats this season.
Said Graham: "We told Mario he had the option to pitch around him (Bozanich). If the hitter had been Phillips or Keller, we would have walked him. But you hate to put Mario in a position where he has to be too careful. We wanted him to make really tough pitches, but if he walked him, it was OK."
Ramos put Bozanich in a one-ball, two-strike hole before trying to finish the Alabama hitter off with his best pitch.
"His best pitch is a change-up, and he had just missed with a fastball," Bozanich said. "When I stepped into the box, he was shaking his head to the catcher. I thought maybe they'd go to the fastball again, but I knew I was going to go down swinging no matter what.
"He came back with the change, and I got a little bit of the bat on it. I saw their right fielder coming in and I thought he had a chance to catch it. Then it fell in, and I was very happy."
Bozanich's bloop hit dropped just in front of Ford, extending the Crimson Tide's stay in Omaha for at least another day.
"Hopefully, this is going to fire us up," Bozanich said. "We've played Miami once, we know what they've got and we should have a lot of confidence going into tomorrow's game. If we play like we can and hit like we can, we can still pull this thing out."