College World Series: Top 10 Moments in NCAA Men's CWS History
This weekend, the 2011 NCAA Men's College World Series began in Omaha, Neb. 2011 marks the first year the series will be played in Omaha's new downtown stadium, TD Ameritrade Park Omaha. The venue may have changed, but the College World Series is still one of the best events a fan could ever attend.
In honor of the start of the 2011 College World Series, here is a look at the 10 most memorable moments in the history of NCAA baseball's premier event.
10. Florida State and Stanford's 13-Inning Thriller in 1999 Semifinals
To say Florida State was a juggernaut in 1999 may be an understatement. The Seminoles posted an outstanding 53-12 regular season record and tore through their 24-game ACC schedule while suffering just two losses.
Still, head coach Mike Martin's squad seems to have trouble when they get to Omaha, and after losing to Stanford in the second round of the College World Series it looked like the 'Noles were in for more of the same.
However, Florida State bounced back to win its loser's bracket game to earn a rematch against the Cardinal with a trip to the championship game on the line.
FSU beat Stanford 8-6, but since it is a double-elimination tournament and Stanford had yet to lose, the two teams faced-off again the very next day.
Stanford posted two runs in the top of the first but Florida State answered by scoring in each of the first four innings to race out to a 7-2 lead. The Cardinal used a seven-run 7th inning to take a two-run lead. The Seminoles needed a two-run homer in the bottom of the 9th to send the game to extra frames.
In the top of the 10th, Stanford seemed to have the game in its grasp after scoring twice. However, Florida State hit two solo home runs in the bottom half of the inning to extend the game.
Finally in the 13th inning, Karl Jernigan hit a three-run homer to send the Seminoles to the championship game.
Florida State would ultimately lose in the championship to Miami, 6-5.
The Seminoles are still without a College World Series title despite having made 20 appearances in Omaha.
9. University of Nebraska Makes Its First CWS Appearance in 2001
Before 2001, the Nebraska Cornhuskers had a rich and storied tradition on the football field, but the same could not be said about the baseball diamond.
Nebraska had produced No. 1-overall draft pick Darin Erstad in the 90s, but as a team its accomplishments were nothing to write home about.
All of that changed in 2001 when the Huskers became the first local team in a decade to compete in college baseball's premier event.
While the people of Omaha have a reputation for latching on to random bandwagon teams or underdogs, there was no question what team the event's host city would be rooting for when Nebraska made it to the College World Series.
Even though the Cornhuskers lost the only two games they played in 2001, their very presence added an extra buzz to the College World Series and got the event off to an electric start.
Despite not having much baseball history, the Huskers proved not to be just a one-hit wonder in college baseball. Nebraska returned to Omaha in 2002 and 2005 in what would be the most successful stretch on the diamond for the Big Red up to this point in time.
8. Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns Invade Omaha in 2000
Every year the people of Omaha without a rooting interest in the College World Series seem to hop on the same bandwagon.
In 2000, the bandwagon team was the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns.
This phenomenon always seems random, but there are some definite identifying factors that play into becoming Omaha's darlings.
One of these factors is the overall obscurity of the school—the less well-known the school, the better. If the school is terrible at football, or does not even have a program, chances are good the people of Omaha will love them (no conflict of interest for Husker fans who relate everything back to football).
Another important factor is how cool the team's mascot or logo is. People want to buy gear of the team they are rooting for, and the cooler the gear is the more likely people are to buy it. That sounds like a ridiculous reason, but when you are only going to root for a team for two weeks, things like this become crucial.
The final and most important ingredient to becoming Omaha's team is being the underdog. The College World Series is basically March Madness mixed with the Major Leagues.
Just like in the basketball tournament, fans love upsets and will root for them without fail.
In 2000, the Ragin' Cajuns were the perfect storm of all of these factors. Most people had never heard of them, they had an awesome nickname with a great logo (a pepper with flames coming out of it), and they made a nice little run in the series.
After losing its opening round game, Louisiana-Lafayette played its way into the semifinals of the CWS. The marquee moment for Ragin' Cajun fever was when the team pulled off a huge upset over perennial power Clemson on a crazy play in the bottom of the 9th that involved the game ending on a walk-off throwing error.
For the record, I still have two Ragin' Cajun hats from this tournament.
7. College World Series Comes to Omaha for the First Time in 1950
The 1950 College World Series was noteworthy for a few reasons: Texas took home the national title for the second-straight year, and sometimes it feels like it has hardly looked back since; Jim Ehler threw the first no-hitter in CWS history; and 1950 was one of only a handful of years in which teams did not participate in preliminary rounds but were instead selected to play in the series itself.
All of these things are important footnotes in the history of college baseball.
However, the 1950 College World Series would be the one that changed the course of college baseball forever, and none of those things were the reason why.
1950 was the first year the College World Series was played in Omaha, Neb. It took place a Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium, where it would stay for another 60 years.
After being held in Michigan and Kansas the first three years of its existence, the CWS found a permanent home in Nebraska. Although the series will no longer be held at Rosenblatt starting this season, a contract has been signed that will keep the CWS in Omaha through 2035.
While being held at Rosenblatt, the College World Series transformed from a sparsely attended footnote in the grand scheme of college athletics into a two-week long tailgate party that can only be interrupted for sold-out baseball games.
It is now a must-see event for any die-hard sports enthusiast.
What still makes the College World Series unique among other NCAA championship events is it is the only one of the major four sports (baseball, basketball, football, hockey) that does not have a rotating site system for its championship tournament.
This can be credited to the legacy created by the city of Omaha and Rosenblatt Stadium that began way back in 1950.
6. Oregon State Tears Through Postseason to Repeat as Champs in 2007
College baseball is usually dominated by three parts of the country: California, Texas and the Southeast.
That fact alone makes what Oregon State did in 2006 and 2007 incredible.
The Beavers became just the fifth team in College World Series history to repeat as champions, and in 2007 they did it by going on an 11-1 run through the postseason, including an undefeated stretch in Omaha.
Normally, it may not be terribly unusual for a defending champion to dominate the next season as well. However, when that team is not a traditional baseball powerhouse, and it limped through its conference season, then it becomes borderline-shocking.
Oregon State had an incredible non-conference regular season, losing just three games out of 31. However, once the Beavers got to conference play, they played sub-.500 baseball and likely only made it into the NCAA field of 64 because they were the defending national champions.
Being named a No. 3 seed in the regional round (out of a possible four) must have been a wake-up call for the squad from Corvallis as it overwhelmed its competition and cruised to a second-straight national title.
It is not often that a team coming off a championship can be Cinderella, but Oregon State found a way.
5. Southern Cal Clinches National Title in 1998 Slugfest
The mid-to-late 1990s in college baseball was marked by what many people came to call "Gorilla Ball."
Rather than counting on strategy and small-ball as baseball teams had in the past, college baseball's most successful teams began relying almost exclusively on the home-run ball.
The epitome of the "Gorilla Ball" era was the 1998 championship game between Southern California and Arizona State. These two Pacific-10 rivals put up a score much more fitting of a football game as the Trojans outlasted the Sun Devils 21-14.
While as a 10-year-old I found this game to be wildly entertaining, the NCAA was not nearly as happy about the result. This game was the unofficial reason for the first wave of major bat regulations by the NCAA.
Today, college baseball much more closely resembles the professional game and you can point to the 1998 championship game as the day "Gorilla Ball" began to die.
4. Creighton Makes the Short Trip to College World Series in 1991
1991 marks the only time in College World Series history that Omaha's hometown team, the Creighton Bluejays, have made it to the biggest stage of college baseball. Led by future first-round pick Alan Benes, Creighton officially finished as the third-best team in the country that season.
It is actually probably a good thing local teams do not make it to the College World Series more often because it frees the residents of Omaha to embrace the teams visiting from all over the country. One of the biggest reasons the CWS has turned into such a successful event is because of the way the city has made participants feel right at home year after year.
Still, I am sure that after 20 years, Creighton fans feel as though they are more than overdue on making a return trip to the College World Series. If the Bluejays ever do make it back, they should have a decided advantage as the series is now played on their home field.
3. South Carolina Closes out Rosenblatt in Style in 2010
The last College World Series game at Rosenblatt Stadium was an extremely emotional event for fans who have spent every June for most of their lives at the old ballpark watching a national championship decided. It was only fitting the final CWS game at the 'Blatt ended up being one of the most dramatic finishes in the history of the sport.
With the national title on the line, South Carolina trailed UCLA 1-0 until the Gamecocks tied it up in the 8th inning. The game remained tied until the bottom of the 11th when Whit Merrifield smacked a walk-off RBI single to deliver the title to South Carolina.
Many people in Omaha were not ready for Rosenblatt to be shut down, and at the end of nine innings, apparently college baseball was ready for Rosenblatt to be done either.
I can't help but think those extra couple of innings helped people feel like they got to hang on to their old friend, Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium, for just a little bit longer.
2. Fresno State Becomes the Most Unlikely Champion Ever in 2008
The Fresno State Bulldogs were not supposed to make the NCAA tournament.
They did so only by winning the WAC's automatic bid. The Bulldogs were certainly not supposed to make it out of the regional stage, as they were a No. 4 seed (essentially as low as a team can get).
Somehow they managed that as well.
There was absolutely no way Fresno State was going to beat national power Arizona State in the Super Regionals to qualify for a trip to Omaha. However, after a blowout loss the Bulldogs earned two close victories and they were on their way to Nebraska.
Just by making it to the College World Series, Fresno State had clinched its place as one of the greatest Cinderella stories in the history of college athletics, but of course the Bulldogs did not stop there. They just kept on finding ways to win until they found themselves in a dog pile with a trophy coming their way.
Fresno State is the lowest-seeded team to win a national championship in any NCAA sport and will probably hold that distinction for quite some time.
1. Warren Morris Hits a Walk-off Homer to Win It All for LSU in 1996
Every kid who has ever picked up a baseball bat has dreamed of doing exactly what Warren Morris did.
Louisiana State was down 8-7 against the University of Miami in the bottom of the 9th. The Tigers had the tying run on base when Morris came up to bat.
Morris was an All-American second baseman in 1995 but sat out most of the 1996 campaign with a wrist injury. He returned in time for LSU to make a run at the national championship but still did not have enough strength in his wrist to hit with much authority.
Whether it was his adrenaline, good timing, the advantage of a metal bat, or just plain dumb luck, Morris found his power just in time to smash a game-winning, series-ending, title-stealing, walk-off home run.
As someone who was standing less than 20 feet from where Morris' home run ball landed, I can attest to the fact that Rosenblatt Stadium was quite literally shaking. There were moments when it genuinely felt as though the bleachers were going to collapse, but no one seemed to care.
That home run was everything we want as sports fans.
It is the epitome of why we watch games. We want to see something that is seemingly impossible, and Morris provided just that.
Morris only hit one home run during the 1996 season, but even if he had led the country in dingers people would still only remember this one.