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USC Powerless Against LSU’s Eight Homers

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Somewhere in Louisiana, there’s a printing press cranking out bumper stickers: “Honk If You Homered Against USC.”

Horns were blowing Saturday all over eastern Nebraska after Louisiana State hit eight home runs in its 12-10 victory over USC in a College World Series game that was decided on a hit that wouldn’t have been out of the park at the Little League World Series.

Trey McClure dumped a single into center field in the eighth inning, driving in Cedrick Harris and Josh Dalton for LSU’s final two runs, sending USC (44-17) to a Monday elimination game against top-seeded Florida, which had a ninth-inning rally fall short in a 14-13 loss to Mississippi State.

LSU, twice defending national champion and a four-time winner in the 1990s, will play the Bulldogs.

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“It wasn’t a great hit, but it counts,” said McClure, who perhaps relished his game-winning single more than his solo homer in the seventh that placed him among the LSU majority.

In all, seven Tigers (47-17) hit home runs--catcher Brad Cresse had two--in setting a school and series record. USC Coach Mike Gillespie has been calling for legislation to reduce the impact of the aluminum bats by making them heavier, but said, “I don’t want to take anything away from LSU. There’s a lot of thunder in that lineup.”

And enough lightning to allow LSU to overcome deficits of 5-1 and 10-5 and score seven runs against USC’s ace, Seth Etherton (12-4).

“It’s a small park, with the wind blowing out and nuclear bats,” Gillespie said. “I wasn’t comfortable with that lead.”

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He shouldn’t have been.

“Today didn’t really reflect anything on our hitting,” Cresse said. “The wind could be blowing in and we’d still hit home runs.”

And the dimensions of Rosenblatt Stadium (332 feet down the lines, 360 in the alleys and 408 to center) were no factor. The home runs the Tigers hit Saturday would have been out of any park.

Their chief victim was Etherton, who had a feast-or-famine day. He struck out 10, but gave up six of the homers. The sixth inning best depicted Etherton’s game. He struck out the side, but also surrendered Cresse’s two-run homer, a shot to center field that was kept out of Iowa only by hitting a television camera; and Clint Earnhart’s follow-up solo shot.

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“I’ve given up my share of home runs [19] this year,” Etherton said. “They [LSU] get all the credit. I didn’t keep the ball down and they capitalized on it.”

That was the plan. Etherton sailed through the Tiger batting order once and held a 3-0 lead after three innings, 5-1 after four.

Then LSU scouting paid off.

“We had a couple of videos of him pitching in the Pac-10, and we noticed that he throws a high fastball and gets people to chase it,” Tiger Coach Skip Bertman said. “He intentionally throws it out of the strike zone.

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“We knew if we didn’t chase it, he would have to bring it down to thigh-high.”

He did in the fourth inning when Eddy Furniss homered over the right-field fence for LSU’s first run. And Etherton served up a fat pitch to Wes Davis, who hammered it over the center-field fence in the fifth.

The Tigers tied the score, 5-5, in the sixth on the homers by Cresse and Earnhart, then fell behind in the bottom of the inning when USC countered with Robb Gorr’s grand slam. Eric Munson’s sacrifice fly scored Morgan Ensberg to make it 10-5, and order seemed to be restored.

“We were down, but only a short while,” Cresse said. “We had come back to tie and then were five runs down. But the way we hit home runs, we can’t get too down.”

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Harris homered to lead off the LSU seventh, and Danny Higgins hammered a ball over the center-field fence to make it 10-7.

You could make a case that the Tigers were doing it the hard way, a run at a time.

“It was an amazing ballgame,” Bertman said. “That’s what we do. We hit homers. We’d like to walk a little bit more up front, get some hits maybe, but that doesn’t seem to happen for us.”

LSU came into the World Series with the field’s worst batting average, .301, and trailed the rest of the Southeastern Conference in hitting. But the Tigers hit 140 homers before Saturday.

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Homer No. 7 was hit by McClure off USC’s Mike Penney and made it 10-8, and after Furniss walked, Cresse homered off Jason Lane to tie the game and set the stage for McClure’s heroics an inning later.

“It was a great spectators’ game,” Gillespie said. “It was a little hard for us to enjoy, but a good game to watch nonetheless.”

The best view was in the bleachers, where spectators became targets in an LSU shooting gallery.

Runs stayed cheap in the second game, in which Mississippi State, which had lost three games to Florida during the regular season, scored five times off Gator ace Brad Wilkerson in the second inning, then added five more runs in the fourth.

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But the Bulldogs had to score four more times in the top of the ninth and hold on because Florida scored five runs in the bottom of the inning and had the tying run on third base when Derek Nicholson bounced out to end the game.


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