Miami (Fla.) 6, Florida State 5

Saturday, June 19, 1999 •  Box score

This Time, 'Canes Golden

This time, the curveball ended up in the catcher's glove instead of the right-field bleachers.

This time, Miami's players poured onto the field in celebration instead of scraping themselves off Rosenblatt Stadium's turf in dejection.

This time, Jim Morris' heart soared instead of broke.

This time came Saturday, when first- and second- ranked Miami buried Morris' painful memories of a near miss by the 1996 Hurricanes and presented him with his first national championship.

It came with a 6-5 victory over Florida State, with 23,563 at Rosenblatt and a national television audience watching the championship game of the 53rd College World Series.

What unfolded Saturday came three years too late for the '96 Hurricanes and Robbie Morrison, whose final-pitch curveball to Warren Morris wound up in the bleachers for a two-run homer that gave Louisiana State the national title with a 9-8 victory over Miami.

Saturday, Morris admitted his mind wandered back to that moment just before Miami closer Michael Neu broke off a curveball that Florida State's Kevin Cash swung through to finish the Hurricanes' championship season.

"Yes, it did cross my mind," Morris said, wearing a nervous smile. "And at that point, I wasn't designing a ring, I was hoping for a strikeout. There were no thoughts about a ring in my mind at all. The only thing I was thinking was we just need to get this over with.

"I did remember what happened and it was a flashback. Thank goodness, Mike made a tremendous pitch - a great curveball that was impossible to take but impossible to hit. Just a great pitch."

It was a pitch that finally knocked the gorilla off Morris' back and freed him from the demons. It was a pitch that presented Miami with its third national championship, but its first since 1985.

"I've thought about that thousands and thousands of time," Morris said. "I've had so many people ask me about it and how it affected me. I have to admit there were times when I had a very, very hard time answering that question.

"I don't think people can understand how traumatic that was to our team and our coaches. You're just crushed, you're just crushed."

Just one of the Hurricanes who celebrated Saturday - pitcher Darin Spassoff - was with Miami in 1996. But Warren Morris' homer left Miami's program and its coach with a wound that festered until Saturday.

"Growing up in Miami, I remember how it felt in 1996 just being a fan," Miami sophomore right fielder Manny Crespo said. "I remember '97 and last year, when we came here and failed to win.

"This year, we just had guys keep stepping up and battling and pulling off wins. We had so many guys do it. I've never seen a team play as, like, tight as we did this year. This is the best team I've ever played with."

The Hurricanes stepped up Saturday and overcame a gutty performance by third-ranked Florida State and its surprise starter, freshman Blair Varnes. Low on pitching after battling back through the losers' bracket, the 57 - 14 Seminoles called on the injured Varnes, who ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the postgame celebration following an Omaha-clinching win in the super regional.

Florida State Coach Mike Martin left Rosenblatt after Friday's 14-11, 13-inning win over Stanford uncertain who he would start in Saturday's game.

"At 11 o'clock last night, we made the decision to throw Blair," Martin said. "Gosh, did he pitch great.

"To have a guy start the ballgame and go six innings with a torn anterior cruciate ligament says a lot about the baseball team at Florida State."

Varnes actually lasted one batter into the seventh, exiting after he walked Bobby Hill to lead off the inning. He gave up eight hits and four walks, with half of each total coming in Miami's decisive fifth inning when the Hurricanes scored five times to erase Florida State's 2-1 lead.

Marcus Nettles led off the inning with a single, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored the tying run on Kris Clute's single to right field. Hill followed with a single, moving Clute to third.

Brian Seever's infield out scored Clute with the go-ahead run, and Varnes loaded the bases by walking Crespo and Lale Esquivel.

Kevin Brown, whose 22nd homer had given Miami its first run, delivered three more RBIs with his bases - clearing double into the gap in right-center field.

"They had been staying away on me all day," Brown said. "I figured he was going to come away again, and he came away with a fastball that I was able to drive into the gap."

The hit that gave Miami a 6-2 lead put a surge of confidence into Morris.

"When Kevin unloaded the bases and we got up by four, I thought we were going to win," he said. "Our bullpen hasn't blown a lead like that all year. I know how it ended up, but I didn't think anyone could catch us once we got a four-run lead late in the game."

The backbone of Miami's championship team is its defense and its pitching, particularly the standout bullpen work of freshman Vince Vazquez and Neu. Starter Alex Santos labored through 118 pitches and five innings in giving up four hits and Florida State's first two runs.

"We were hoping to get more than five out of Alex, but he threw so many pitches," Morris said. "He ran out of gas there, but I don't have a problem of going to our bullpen."

Vazquez pitched a scoreless sixth inning but Florida State got to him for two runs in the seventh to cut the led to 6-4. Neu, the Hurricanes' All - America closer, took over to start the eighth and promptly surrendered a leadoff triple to Ryan Barthelemy.

John-Ford Griffin followed with a sacrifice fly that cut Miami's lead to 6-5 and raised the Hurricanes' anxiety level. It jumped even higher when Marshall McDougall followed Griffin's fly ball with a high drive that Miami left fielder Mike Rodriguez caught on the warning track, three steps shy of a home run.

"When they got one - run down, I had '96 in my mind," said Hill, Miami's All - America shortstop and inspiration leader. "That club over there can put up 10, 15, 20 runs a game. We know those guys can score in a heartbeat."

For good reason, as Saturday's meeting was the seventh between the schools. Miami had won five of the first six, although four of its wins were by one-run margins.

Neu made sure the Hurricanes put a lock on victory No.6 over the Seminoles, striking out Sam Scott on a 1 - 2 pitch, getting Jeremiah Klosterman to pop up to third baseman Esquivil and then leaving Cash with no alternative but to hack at the 3-2 curveball that ended the game.


More games played in 1999 CWS


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