THE FINAL SCORE -- and the opponent -- sounded like a football game: USC 21, Arizona State 14.
But the sport was the national pastime, and the game was a slugfest spring classic at the College World Series. USC won its 12th NCAA baseball championship by beating ASU June 6 in Omaha, Neb.
No other university has won more collegiate baseball titles, but it was a long dry spell between USCs 11th championship and number 12. The last one came in 1978, when the Trojans defeated, coincidentally, the Sun Devils, 10-3. Freshman pitcher Rik Currier was 13 days old then.
Currier started this years duel between the Pac-10 rivals, but was pulled in the second inning after giving up five earned runs. He was replaced by junior Jason Lane, who picked up the win even though he only pitched two and two-thirds innings. Lane also was the designated hitter, going three-for-six with a grand slam in the ninth inning that finally put the Sun Devils away. Lane set a College World Series record with 15 hits overall.
Senior pitcher Jack Krawczyk came on after Lanes grand slam to close out ASU. With that save, Krawczyk established NCAA records for career saves (49) and single-season saves (23).
Trojan bats launched a 23-hit assault in a game in which some 29 NCAA records were broken and 18 others were equaled. Senior second baseman Wes Rachels set a record for most runs batted in in a College World Series championship game with seven. Rachels, who was selected as the series most outstanding player, also homered, as did teammates Lane, junior right fielder Brad Ticehurst, and junior first baseman Robb Gorr, who hit two out of the park.
THE FINAL-OUT CELEBRATION by the Trojans made the front page of the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times. At a rally held a few days after the team returned home, the latest NCAA trophy was enshrined in Heritage Hall. The rally was delayed a half-hour because President Steven B. Samples plane was late in arriving in Los Angeles.
I cant tell you guys how glad I am to be here, Sample said.
The players and coaches felt likewise. The Trojans thrust themselves into the final game with a 7-3 win over Louisiana State that completed an unlikely four-game win streak after a first-game, 12-10 loss to the Tigers, the two-time defending champions.
USC made a similar recovery in 1995, only to lose to Cal State Fullerton in the championship game.
I thought, Oh no, not again, coach Mike Gillespie said. This is not the script we wanted to follow, and I certainly wouldnt recommend it. But now that weve gotten through it, we can look back at great memories and a lot of excitement.
THE USC-ASU title game continued a baseball rivalry that has become one of the fiercest in the Pac-10. Like USC is with Notre Dame ... UCLA in football, thats what its like with ASU and USC in baseball, Rachels told the Times.
Arizona State came into the game as the only undefeated team in the tournament, and with two days of rest. USC was playing for the third day in a row and the sixth time in eight days.
THE NATIONAL TITILE caps the collegiate careers of several Trojan players, but their professional days may soon begin. During the series, 11 members of the team more than from any other school were selected in the Major League Baseball draft.
Senior pitcher Seth Etherton, chosen as 1998 National Player of the Year by The Sporting News, was drafted in the first round at number 18 by the Anaheim Angels.
The other players selected in the draft were Rachels (Philadelphia Phillies), Gorr (Los Angeles Dodgers), Ticehurst (Texas Rangers), Krawczyk (Milwaukee Brewers), Jason Saenz (New York Mets), Mike Penney (Milwaukee Brewers), Morgan Ensberg (Houston Astros), Craig Jones (Kansas City Royals), Jeremy Freitas (Kansas City Royals) and Jeff DePippo (Cleveland Indians). Gorr, Ticehurst, Penney and Jones are juniors and have the option of turning pro or returning for their senior year.