Thursday, June 6, 1996
The Bayou Bombers from Louisiana State rolled out a different weapon Thursday to advance to the championship game of the College World Series.
It was a silencer, in the form of All-America pitcher Eddie Yarnall.
The junior left-hander held Florida to seven hits in 7 2/3 innings, then watched three relievers get the last four outs in order in a 2-1 win before 17,212 fans at Rosenblatt Stadium.
Yarnall (11-1) needed to quiet the Gator lineup because Florida starter John Kaufman and reliever Paul Rigdon limited Louisiana State - which has clubbed 130 home runs this season - to five hits, including two infield singles.
"That was a great pitchers' duel," LSU Coach Skip Bertman said. "You don't get too many of those.
"With all the talk about aluminum bats and home runs, the truth is when pitchers locate the way that John and Ed did, it's tough to hit. Both of them pitched magnificently."
The only lower-scoring CWS game in the past 11 years was Georgia Tech's 2-0 victory over Cal-State Fullerton in 1994.
Louisiana State finished Bracket Two play undefeated and has earned the right to try for its third national baseball championship in the past six years.
The fifth-and sixth-ranked Tigers (3-0 in the CWS, 51-15 overall) will face Bracket One qualifier Miami in Saturday's 12:10 p.m. winner-take-all game. The fourth-and seventh-ranked Hurricanes (50-13) also are 3-0 at the CWS.
Yarnall said knowing that LSU could have lost Thursday and still been alive in the double-elimination portion of the tournament didn't change his pitching approach.
"This is a big win even though we could afford to lose," he said. "But you don't ever want to lose.
"I took this as I would the national championship game."
One element that did affect pitching plans Thursday was the weather. For much of the game, the wind blew directly toward home plate at 10 to 18 mph.
"Once the game went on and I saw a lot of balls hit well that weren't carrying," Yarnall said, "I just tried to get ahead of the batters and challenge them."
The weather also forced the LSU hitters to adjust, said right fielder Justin Bowles, whose sixth-inning single drove in the eventual winning run.
"We are a home-run hitting, big-swinging team," Bowles said. "But when the wind is blowing in, you can't try to get under the ball. On a day like today, you've got to cut your swing down and hit it on the ground."
Thursday's win was the first of LSU's 51 victories this season in which the Tigers scored fewer than three runs.
"If you had told me before the game that the score would be 2-1, I wouldn't have believed you," Bowles said. "And I wouldn't have thought two runs would have been enough against Florida."
The second-and third-ranked Gators (2-2, 50-18) looked ready to score more than two in the top of the first inning.
With one out, third baseman Mark Ellis walked and right fielder Brad Wilkerson singled.
Designated hitter Chuck Hazzard, who homered twice in the Gators' Tuesday win over Florida State, followed with a high, deep drive into the left-field corner that LSU's Chad Cooley overran while trying to field. But umpire Tony Thompson ruled the ball foul.
Television replays appeared to indicate that the ball was fair. After the game, Yarnall first said he thought it was foul, then said it might have been fair.
"That call helped me get through the first inning," Yarnall said.
When Hazzard returned to the batter's box, he lined out to center and shortstop John Tamargo struck out to end the inning without runs scoring.
"The first inning, we showed up and really spanked the ball," Florida Coach Andy Lopez said. "We hit it right on the screws and did everything we wanted to offensively.
"But that's the hard thing about baseball - there are guys out there with gloves. Things did not go our way."
Louisiana State went ahead 1-0 in the second on first baseman Eddy Furniss' single, a ground ball through the legs of first baseman Duncan and designated hitter Brad Wilson's full-swing dribbler that trickled 10 feet in front of home plate, allowing Furniss to score.
Florida tied the game 1-1 in the top of the fifth. Duncan reached on a forceout and left fielder Brian Haught, a .190 hitter, walked. With two out, second baseman David Eckstein singled in Duncan.
The Gators lost a chance to go ahead in the sixth when catcher Eric Castaldo struck out with runners on second and third and Haught flied out with the bases loaded.
Bertman said Yarnall's strikeout of Castaldo resulted from a strategy change.
"That was a 3-2 pitch, and he threw a breaking ball," Bertman said. "That's not usually Eddie's style. He'll challenge you with the fastball and really pour it in there.
"But Castaldo has more strikeouts than walks, and first base was open, so Eddie went with the breaking ball and it was a great pitch."
LSU, held to one hit through five innings by Kaufman (11-5), got three hits in the sixth to regain the lead.
Third baseman Nathan Dunn beat out a grounder to short, then with one out Cooley singled. After Wilson was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Bowles lined a ball off the wall in right. He was held to a single when the runners delayed to see if it would be caught. But his hit put LSU ahead 2-1.
"I just wanted to put the ball in play and get us the lead," Bowles said. "It would have been nice to get more than a single off a ball hit that far, but it did the job."
Florida's final threat came in the eighth when Castaldo doubled with two outs. Patrick Coogan came on in relief of Yarnall and struck out Duncan. Then Chris Demouy and Jake Esteves combined on a perfect ninth inning.
In an earlier game this season against Florida, Coogan said, he blew a four-run lead for Yarnall.
"I felt I owed something," he said. "Not just to Ed, but to Florida, too."
Louisiana State, which won CWS titles in 1991 and 1993, will face Miami, which earned championships in 1982 and 1985.
"We don't know much about Miami because we've been focusing on the teams in our bracket," Bertman said. "We'll get the tapes out as soon as we get back to the hotel."