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Tuesday, June 17, 2003



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ASSOCIATED PRESS
Cal State Fullerton catcher Kurt Suzuki, a Baldwin alumnus, can get so excited that his coach has a sign for him to relax.



Baldwin alumnus Suzuki
living his dream at CWS



Letting Baldwin product Kurt Suzuki play in the College World Series is a little like filling a kid with cotton candy before sitting him down to watch Sesame Street Live.

Suzuki is bouncing off the walls of his field of dreams, playing in both of Cal State Fullerton's wins to open the tournament in Omaha, Neb., this week. He is scheduled to continue his show tomorrow at 8 a.m. against either Stanford or South Carolina.

Considering that Suzuki gets a little hyper playing in preseason games, it isn't hard to imagine where his mind is at the pinnacle of the sport on his level. But Suzuki's passion is what got him to Rosenblatt Stadium in the first place.

"What I noticed about Kurt was his enthusiasm," Fullerton coach George Horton said. "He walked in here not intimidated by the clutch at-bat because for him, just playing baseball thrills him so much that it is hard to top.

"Sometimes he gets racing so much that I have a special sign for him to relax."

Suzuki dropped a bunt single off Louisiana State's Nate Bumstead in his first at-bat of the Series, and broke a CWS record by being plunked three times in his next game. That was more than enough to chase the butterflies away.

"I was just standing there looking at the stands with the crowd, every seat was full," Suzuki said. "As soon as that first pitch came, though, it was like it is just baseball. I get nervous every time I hit, but usually it is about the pitcher, not the crowd."

Suzuki's parents, Warren and Kathleen, are in Omaha to help Horton keep Suzuki grounded. When they take their seats before each game, they see a different Suzuki than the one Hawaii high school baseball fans know. Suzuki hit only .328 as a senior at Baldwin, which explains why he had to walk on to the program at Fullerton, but is hitting .353 in his second season of college baseball.

"I don't know why I am hitting so well," Suzuki said. "Maybe because I get a lot more reps up here, we practice a lot more than we did in high school; maybe it is seeing better pitchers that makes me a better hitter. I try not to think about it though, I like to just let things happen."

Suzuki says that is just how he likes it. His pitching coach calls pitches for him, allowing him to just play the game. Suzuki says that thinking too much in a simple game only gets him in trouble.

When Suzuki tried out for the team, Horton saw a defensive genius who he could platoon with his regular catcher. Suzuki played part-time for much of the season because he is only a sophomore and the starter, P.J. Pilittere, is a junior. But when the regional came along, Suzuki found himself in the lineup every day when Horton decided he needed to go with whoever was hotter. Since winning the regional for his team with a walk-off home run against Long Beach State, Suzuki is hitting .321.

"He probably isn't a .350 hitter, but he is certainly a .300 hitter," Horton said. "I just hope he doesn't ever wake up. Pro scouts have told me that he is already the best defensive catcher in the country, which I agree with, so he will play for us regardless."

Which, at this time of year, is all that Suzuki has ever wanted. The man simply plays baseball -- he will return to Hawaii for a few days after the CWS before stepping down to the real world of summer league baseball in Alaska -- and is living out the visions he had for himself even when he wasn't flooded with offers coming out of high school.

"Oh yeah, this has been my dream since I've been a kid," Suzuki said. "There are cameras everywhere; it is unbelievable," Suzuki said. "We get off the bus and there are cameras waiting for us, kids looking for autographs ... I am still in shock."


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ASSOCIATED PRESS
Rice's Jeff Jorgensen, center, celebrated with teammates after scoring against Texas in the fourth inning yesterday. The Owls won 12-2 to improve to 2-0 in the CWS.



Owls take control
of CWS bracket

Rice blows out Texas to
improve to 2-0 in the tournament


OMAHA, Neb. >> Rice pitcher Wade Townsend was virtually unhittable for six innings. The Owls' offense was almost unstoppable for one.

The combination last night produced a 12-2 victory over Texas that goes down as the Longhorns' second-worst loss in their 119-game history at the College World Series.

Townsend struck out 10 and gave up two hits in the last six innings, and Rice used a seven-run sixth inning to pull away.

"It was a case of a very good team on a good day and a very good team on a bad day," Rice coach Wayne Graham said.

Texas (49-19) and Miami (45-16-1) will meet in as elimination game today, with the winner playing Rice (55-11) tomorrow.

The loss was the first in six CWS games for the defending national champions, who won four straight here last year and beat Miami 13-2 in their Series opener on Saturday.

Yesterday's loss came within a run of equaling their most lopsided defeat ever in Omaha -- a 19-8 loss to Arizona in 1963.

"I don't think this redefines us," Texas coach Augie Garrido said. "We still have the will of a champion and the spirit of a champion."

Texas started its CWS run to the championship last year with a 2-1 win over Rice. It marked the third time the Owls lost their first game in Omaha.

This year, in their fourth trip to the CWS, the Owls are in control of their bracket. Getting back at the Longhorns brought much satisfaction.

"Any time you beat a team of that caliber, it's a good feeling," said Justin Ruchti, who was 2-for-4 with two RBIs. "Getting revenge is always nice, but we may have to meet them again."

Townsend (11-1) gave up two runs in the opening inning, then settled down and dominated the Longhorns. He allowed seven hits and walked four while coming within one out of pitching his first complete game.

The 6-foot-4, 225-pound sophomore retired eight straight batters in one stretch. After Taylor Teagarden's sixth-inning double, Townsend set down 10 more in a row before pinch-hitter Michael Hollimon's ground-rule double with two out in the ninth.

Townsend left after walking Tim Moss. David Aardsma came on and needed only one pitch to get the final out.

"I'm just glad I got out of the jam in the second inning, and I'm glad our team got the big inning," Townsend said. "I was confident I would find a rhythm tonight, and I was hoping we'd score some runs. We did in a big way."

Texas scored the game's first two runs on Curtis Thigpen's double in the first inning.

The Owls got a run back in the third when Chris Kolkhorst scored from first after Texas starter Justin Simmons (5-6) threw wildly to first after fielding Craig Stansberry's bunt.

Simmons lasted four innings, giving up three hits and two earned runs.

"Game over. Game goes to the Owls," Garrido said. "They played a brilliant game."

Miami 7, Southwest Missouri State 5: Joey Hooft and Jim Burt homered, and reliever Shawn Valdes-Fauli shut down Southwest Missouri State, leading Miami in an elimination game.

Miami (45-16-1) will play Texas today in another elimination game.

SMS (40-26) went two games and out in its first trip to the College World Series.

Miami took a 6-2 lead into the eighth inning, but it was a one-run game after Shaun Marcum's three-run homer into the left-field bleachers off George Huguet.

Vince Bongiovanni (8-4) got the win after giving up two runs on nine hits in six innings. Valdes-Fauli earned his fifth save. Brad Ziegler (12-2) allowed seven hits and four runs -- two earned -- in six innings.

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