Wednesday, June 5, 1996
Miami's hit-happy Hurricanes didn't get shortchanged in Wednesday night's meeting with the best college pitcher money will buy.
The Hurricanes hammered Clemson All-American Kris Benson for the second time in six days in a 14-5 College World Series victory that left them one victory from a national championship.
Benson, soon to be a rich young man after being the No. 1 pick by Pittsburgh in Tuesday's professional free-agent draft, gave up 13 of Miami's 17 hits and nine of the Hurricanes' runs. Six days ago, the Hurricanes beat Clemson 7-3 and collected eight hits and five runs off Benson, 14-0 with the country's best ERA of 1.42 coming into the tournament.
"Miami is swinging the bats as well as any team that I've seen in all my years," said Clemson Coach Jack Leggett, whose team finished 51-17. "They're going to be tough to beat."
Only one team - either sixth-seeded Louisiana State or fourth-seeded Florida - has that chance. In winning before a session-record 19,511 at Rosenblatt Stadium, the 50-13 Hurricanes earned the right to play for their first national title since 1985 as Bracket One's representative in Saturday's championship game.
LSU and Florida meet today at 2:35 p.m. in the Bracket Two championship game. If LSU wins, the Tigers play fifth-seeded Miami for the title. A Florida victory would set up a third game between the two teams at 2:35 p.m. Friday.
Whichever team advances, it will have its hands full with a Miami team that came to Omaha with a .340 batting average. In three games at Rosenblatt, the Hurricanes have riddled opposing pitchers for 10, 16 and 17 hits.
Asked how he would pitch to his team if he were facing them, Miami Coach Jim Morris just smiled.
"I don't know," Morris said. "And if I did, I wouldn't tell you because I wouldn't want to see it in the paper."
Miami's treatment of Benson, the consensus collegiate player of the year, left little doubt about Miami's offensive ability. Seven of the Hurricanes' hits off the Clemson ace Wednesday were for extra-bases, including home runs by Rick Saggese and T.R. Marcinczyk.
"Every guy in the lineup, at any time, can hit the ball out," Marcinczyk said. "Well, maybe not Cora."
Miami shortstop Alex Cora, the only Hurricane starter who's not hitting .300 and who lacks a homer, joined Burrell in leading the Hurricane hit parade with three apiece. Cora's double to lead off the eighth chased Benson and started a four-run inning that provided the final blow to Clemson's comeback hopes.
Burrell capped the inning with a three-run homer that carried over the bleachers in left-center field. It was his seventh homer in the past 12 games, his second of the Series and his 23rd overall.
"That ball that Pat hit is still rolling," Morris said.
Burrell got Miami started in the first inning with an RBI double that ignited a three-run inning. The quick start helped ease concerns that Miami might have lost its edge in the two-day rest that followed Sunday's 15-1 mauling of Alabama.
In the interim, Clemson had pulled off a pair of momentum-building wins and had a rested Benson to send out to face the Hurricanes.
"When we were in the regional, we lost the first game and had to come back and play four games in three days," Burrell said. "I think that helped us, constantly playing.
"I was worried about the two days off, getting away from our focus. That happened to me in Little League - we beat a guy and he came back to beat us in the same kind of deal."
Burrell has hit opposing CWS pitchers as if they were a bunch of Little Leaguers. He's 6 for 10, with seven RBIs, in the Series and has raised his nation-leading average to .489.
"He's an outstanding player, there's no question about that," Leggett said. "I can see some things happening to him, two or three years down the road, that might be happening to Kris right now."
The Tigers got Benson back within a run when Matthew LeCroy hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the first. Jim Gargiulo's RBI double in the second and Saggese's 14th homer in the fourth hiked the Miami lead to 5-2.
Clemson tied the game in its half of the fourth off Miami starter Denis Pujals, getting a solo homer from Jason Embler, a RBI double from Gary Burnham and Rusty Rhodes' run-scoring single.
"When we tied it up, I thought we still had a shot at winning the game," Embler said. "I thought the momentum would stay with us. Instead, it shifted toward them and they just took off."
Marcinczyk's 12th homer started a three-run sixth inning that also featured a run-scoring single by Saggese and Rudy Gomez's RBI double. Winning pitcher Allan Westfall ended Clemson's final threat when he got Burnham to pop out to end the seventh with runners at second and third.
The Hurricanes then punctuated their win with four runs in the eighth and two more in the ninth.
"They're on a roll right now, and any team on a roll like that is going to be hard to beat," a disappointed Benson said. "We tried to stick with them. I tried to do my best but it just didn't work out."