Monday, June 3, 1996
Louisiana State is making its run for the College World Series championship at a trot - a home run trot.
The Tigers blew open a close game Monday with three homers in their final two innings to beat Florida 9-4 in a Bracket Two winners' game before an estimated crowd of 13,000 at Rosenblatt Stadium.
LSU, 2-0 in the CWS and 50-15 overall, advances to Thursday's 2:35 p.m. game against a yet-to-be determined opponent needing two wins to win its third national championship in the past six seasons. Florida, 1-1 and 49-17, must win tonight's 6:35 elimination game against Florida State to keep any title hopes alive.
Louisiana State Coach Skip Bertman is matter of fact about the Tigers' dependence on power.
"We don't win many without the home run," he said. "We need the home run and runners on. That's the way we play."
In 65 games, Bertman's team has answered his longball call 130 times.
"I hope we have that many in the next 10 years," Florida Coach Andy Lopez said, shaking his head.
Seventh-inning home runs from left fielder Chad Cooley, his 14th, and right fielder Justin Bowles, his 22nd, plus an eighth-inning blast from center fielder Mike Koerner, his 12th, helped LSU add five runs to what had been a 4-3 lead.
Cooley said his home run, a two-run shot that produced a 6-3 lead, might have been worth 10 runs mentally to the Tigers.
"I think it broke the ice," he said. "That's what this team needed today. We are a home run hitting team."
The power display has been important because LSU hasn't dazzled anyone in Omaha with excellence on the mound or in the field. Tiger pitchers have gone 18 innings in the CWS without recording a 1-2-3 inning. Their fielders committed four errors in a win over Wichita State and five more against Florida.
"We're a little disappointed in the five errors and giving up unearned runs," Bertman said. "But still winning is an indication that we are good enough to compete.
"Yet, we've got to play better when we get to the championship round."
One pitcher who has sparkled for Louisiana State is Kevin Shipp. The junior right-hander from Pride, La., has earned his first two saves of the season in the CWS. He allowed no earned runs Monday in 3 2/3 innings, and stopped any Florida comeback hopes in a showdown with Gators star Brad Wilkerson.
The all-purpose freshman from Owensboro, Ky., was the hero of Florida's first-round win over Florida State when he hit a grand slam home run and recorded a save. Against LSU on Monday, Wilkerson struggled on the mound, allowing the home runs to Cooley and Bowles that gave LSU a 7-3 lead.
Wilkerson, a .407 hitter, got a chance to redeem himself with his bat when Florida closed the gap to 7-4 in the top of the eighth, and had runners on second and third. But Shipp struck him out looking to end the inning.
"That was a great pitch to neutralize Superboy," Bertman said. "He's not from this planet. Check your phone booths. This kid's from Smallville, not Owensboro.
"He's one of the greatest players I've ever seen. I looked up and he was in the bullpen. Then he was in right field. Later on, he stole second. And it looked like he was doing it at warp speed. All I can say is thank God for the kryptonite we had in the dugout.
"That was the biggest pitch of the game. It was a dynamite play by Kevin."
Shipp needed no introduction to Wilkerson.
"The last time I pitched against him," Shipp said, "he hit a home run and a single off me.
"I realized if he hit a home run off me like he was capable of doing that it would be a big change in the game. I just wanted to keep the ball away from him. I knew if I got ahead of him that I could throw a good curveball and probably get him. And I did."
Shipp's work made a winner of Louisiana State senior starter Brett Laxton, who as a freshman set a CWS championship game record with 16 strikeouts.
Florida jumped to a 3-0 lead in the second inning off Laxton because the right-hander allowed two runners to score from third on wild pickoff throws to first. But he gave up only six hits and one earned run.
The victory was Louisiana State's first in five tries against Florida this season. But Cooley said there was no rah-rah revenge talk in the dugout before the game.
"As far as a grudge match or rivalry, I didn't think that," he said. "It wasn't a football-or hockey-type mentality. It's hard for any team, including us, to beat somebody five times in a row."
Florida had some chances to keep its streak alive, but the Gators went 2 for 13 with runners in scoring position.
"We had been very successful against them before today," Lopez said. "It was a very good game, but it got away from us a little in the seventh inning when they hit the home runs."