COLLEGE WORLD SERIES : Improved Tucker Pitches USC Past Miami

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The pitcher who started for USC on Wednesday night against Miami was the same senior right-hander who started and was shelled in the Trojans' loss to the Hurricanes in their College World Series opener.

Or was it?

"He didn't look like the guy who threw the other night," Miami Coach Jim Morris said.

"Two different pitchers," USC catcher Chad Moeller said.

No, that was indeed Ben Tucker who erased memories of his series-opening performance by pitching seven strong innings in the Trojans' 7-5 victory before 19,273 at Rosenblatt Stadium.

Tucker (7-2) gave up five runs, seven hits and struck out four as USC won its third consecutive game. The sixth-seeded Trojans (48-20) will play third-seeded Miami (48-16) again Friday for the right to advance to Saturday's championship game.

"That was a lot more fun than the other night," said Tucker, who last Friday gave up five runs and four hits before he was removed without retiring a batter. "It was kind of a blessing to be facing [Miami] again after embarrassing myself like that."

For the first time in the series, the Trojan bullpen did not embarrass itself. Freshman right-hander Jack Krawczyk retired six in a row for his second save.

"I wanted to redeem myself," said Krawczyk, who was charged with the loss in the Trojans' 15-10 series-opening defeat. "In that first game, I was conscious of the crowd. Tonight, I just focused on the plate."

USC's hitters continued to enjoy success at the plate, getting 11 hits against three pitchers. Greg Walbridge had two hits, including a two-run double in the second inning against starter Jason Adge (12-6). Ernie Diaz singled in a run in the second, drove in another with a groundout to short in the fourth and hit his eighth home run in the sixth. Moeller had two hits and scored three runs.

Trojan All-American Geoff Jenkins hit a solo homer in the third inning, his third home run in the series and 22nd of the season.

"He continues to provide us with an immense spark," USC Coach Mike Gillespie said of Jenkins, who is six for 12 with six runs batted in in the series. "He comes up with one big play after another."

On Wednesday, however, it was Tucker who gave the Trojans a lift. He pitched out of a jam in the first inning, gave up a run in the second on a sacrifice fly, then held the Hurricanes scoreless until a four-run seventh. Eddie Rivero hit a three-run homer in the inning that pulled the Hurricanes to within 6-5.

"I was a lot more aggressive tonight," said Tucker. "You just have to lay it on the line in a game like this."

Moeller scored USC's final run in the eighth on a bases-loaded, check-swing single by Wes Rachels. Moeller hit a double against Allan Westfall to start the inning, moved to second when Westfall hit Diaz with a pitch and advanced to third when Tessmer hit pinch-hitter Glen Carson.

USC now finds itself on the brink of playing for its first national championship since 1978.

If the Trojans get another pitching and hitting performance like they received Wednesday night, Jenkins said it may not matter what he does personally.

"We showed tonight that there are a lot of guys on this team that beat you," he said.

World Series Notes

Senior left-hander Tim Dixon (12-0) will start for top-seeded Cal State Fullerton (55-9) today against fifth-seeded Tennessee (54-15). Junior right- hander Scott Schroeffel (7-2) will start for the Volunteers. If Fullerton wins, it will advance to the championship game Saturday. If Tennessee wins, the teams play an elimination game against each other Friday. . . .

Today's Game

* CS Fullerton (55-9) vs. Tennessee (54-15), 12:36 p.m. PDT

* TV: ESPN

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