Memo to Bill Bavasi, general manager, Anaheim Angels:
When you selected Seth Etherton as your No. 1 pick in the draft, you got his arm, but you also got his head.
The head might be more important.
On Thursday, Etherton used the research he gleaned from being pounded by Louisiana State five days earlier to pitch USC to a 5-4 victory over LSU and set up a rematch today to determine Arizona State’s opponent for the College World Series championship.
Etherton, who had given up six home runs against LSU on Saturday, struck out 10 batters Thursday.
“I saw some places in their swings that I thought we could get them out on,” he said.
In baseball’s vernacular, those places are “holes,” and Etherton filled them with inside fastballs and breaking pitches, a departure from his normal practice. Etherton has lived on the outside of the plate all season.
“He did a better job of coming inside on everybody today,” said LSU’s Eddy Furniss, a first-inning strikeout victim, Etherton’s 173rd of the season, a Pacific 10 record. “He almost stayed exclusively inside today. He was very prepared.”
And very poised. Josh Dalton hit a home run in the first for the Tigers, becoming the eighth LSU player to homer against USC in this series, and Etherton then walked Trey McClure. But he struck out Furniss and got Brad Cresse--to whom he had surrendered two homers on Saturday--to hit into a forceout and established that things were going to be different this time.
So did Mother Nature.
On Saturday, the wind was blowing out toward center field at Rosenblatt Stadium. On Thursday, it was blowing in the batters’ faces.
“It’s not debatable,” USC Coach Mike Gillespie said. “It was a different condition with the wind earlier in the week. I thought if somebody hit it today, it could go out. I just didn’t think we’d see the cheap home run drift out of the park.”
In that, he was wrong because Cedrick Harris’ homer in the seventh inning was pushed from right-center field to right, where the wall is closer. It barely eluded a leaping attempt by Brad Ticehurst to give LSU a 3-2 lead and was the 49th homer of the College World Series, a record.
The lead was short-lived. Seth Davidson and Wes Rachels led off the USC seventh with singles and Greg Hanoian dragged a bunt single that scored Davidson with the tying run.
Robb Gorr sacrificed Rachels and Hanoian, and Eric Munson was walked intentionally to load the bases.
Ticehurst hit a one-hopper to Furniss at first base, and he chose to throw to second.
“I was going for the double play,” Furniss said. “I thought I had a chance for that and just held onto it a little too long.”
Instead, shortstop Dalton took the ball on one bounce and had no one to throw to at first, because no one was covering the bag.
Rachels scored to make the score 4-3, and it became 5-4 in the eighth inning when Davidson’s triple drove in Jeff DePippo.
The extra run became important when Jack Krawczyk relieved Etherton in the ninth inning. Krawczyk picked up his 22nd save of the season and 48th of his career, tying NCAA records in both categories, but not without laboring.
He accomplished it, in part, with two strikeouts, one of them a rarity. Barbier took a fastball for a called third strike.
“It was maybe 82, maybe 78 mph,” said Krawczyk, who can throw no harder.
But between the strikeouts, Wes Davis was safe on third baseman Morgan Ensberg’s error and stole second. After Barbier struck out, pinch-hitter Jeff Leaumont singled home Davis before Danny Higgins flied to center field to end the game and set up another, today, with more pressure than LSU has seen in a while.
It also broke the Tigers’ 10-game winning streak at Omaha, most of it accomplished in winning the championship in the last two seasons. LSU shares the World Series record for consecutive games won with the 1972-73-74 USC teams.
“Like I told the boys after the game, we were living on the edge out there,” said Tiger Coach Skip Bertman. “We threw two men out at the plate, one of whom could have been safe.”
The plays closed out USC threats in the third and fourth innings.
“We had the bases loaded with nobody out and only scored one run,” said Bertman, referring to the LSU third inning, in which the run scored on a double play.
“We’ve won those games before, but today that wasn’t the case.”
It wasn’t because Etherton went to the school of hard knocks, administered by LSU hitters, and on Thursday, graduated with honors.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
No. 4 USC (47-17)
vs. No. 5 Louisiana State (48-18)
* Time: 12:30 p.m. PDT * TV: ESPN * Radio: KPLS (830)
* Story line: In a rubber game between the two schools, with a place in the championship game against Arizona State on Saturday on the line, USC sends out Mike Penney (7-4, 5.38 earned-run average), who has pitched twice in relief. One of those appearances was in the opening-game loss to LSU, when Penney faced two batters. The second was Trey McClure, who homered in a game in which the Tigers hit eight home runs. LSU counters with Doug Thompson (11-4, 4.14), who has not pitched in this World Series after shutting Cal State Fullerton down for eight innings in the Tigers’ South II Regional championship game. He is a College World Series veteran, though, having been the winning pitcher in relief in LSU’s championship-game victory over Alabama a year ago.