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Carrillo settles down, stifles LSU

By Will Kimmey
June 19, 2004

OMAHA--Cesar Carrillo doesn't much like beginnings.

Once he gets settled in, however, proceed with caution.

His Miami team played the same way Saturday night in Game Four at the College World Series, rallying back from two early deficits before scoring the game's final seven runs for a 9-5 win against Louisiana State.

A all-time CWS record crowd of 26,530 (besting last year's Game Four crowd of 26,327) attended the first meeting between the two schools since the 1996 national title game--the one where Warren Morris hit a walk-off homer to earn LSU its third championship.

This time the script got flipped. Instead of a late-inning LSU comeback, Miami came from behind early on.

The Tigers (46-18) opened the game with a three-run first inning and then scored two more in the second, but the Hurricanes matched those scores in the bottom of each frame. DH Ryan Braun sparked Miami with a two-run home run in the first inning to pull within 3-2, and second baseman Adam Ricks (who collected a team-high three hits) smacked a two-run home run as part of a three-run sixth inning that extended the lead to 9-5.

"We knew that LSU had an outstanding club, and particularly hitting," Miami coach Jim Morris said. "They led the (Southeastern Conference) in hitting. They showed that early, really swinging the bat. To our guys' credit, we came right back."

LSU coach Smoke Laval opted to pull starter Nate Bumstead after he walked the first batter he faced in the third inning, but Morris knew he could bide some time. No one threw in the bullpen because the coach wasn't ready to replace Carrillo, who allowed four first-inning runs to North Carolina State in regionals and a run to Florida to open the super-regional game last weekend. What's more, 20 of the 46 runs Carrillo has allowed this season have been scored in the first inning.

"Cesar went through that before, so I didn't really get anybody up," Morris said. "He's shown that he can get it going. He's got great stuff and he showed great location . . . once he got his confidence. He settled in."

Carrillo allowed five hits in the first two innings, but just two more over his final six frames of shutout baseball.

"I gave up a couple of runs early, but my team was there to back me up," said Carrillo, who improved to 12-0. "I started getting in the flow of the game. (That's when) I tend to keep the ball low."

When that started happening, Carrillo was nearly unhittable and displayed the poise of a seasoned NCAA tournament pitcher. Not bad for someone making just his third postseason start. Though he's listed as a sophomore, Carrillo is experiencing college baseball for the first time after sitting out last year as a partial qualifier. He said he received a passing score on his ACT standardized test at Mt. Caramel High in suburban Chicago, but the school failed to send his score to Miami on time.

The NCAA would not accept a late score, making the start of his college career as difficult as most of his starts. He spent last season honing his low- to mid-90s fastball, changeup and inconsistent but at times above-average curveball in intrasquad games.

"Everything happens for a reason," Carrillo said. "I really believe that. If I would have been able to pitch last year, who knows what might have happened. I got to face one of the best-hitting college teams in the country in practice all the time and learn against them."

That experience helped Carrillo prepare for this year, when he became a third-team All-American and has led Miami (50-11) to wins in all 18 games in which he has pitched. Now, if he could just work on that first inning. Or is that part of his charm?

"To be honest with you, if he did well in the first inning, we'd be worried," Braun said.

Carrillo had his own joke, "Like what Braun said, maybe if I didn't allow some runs in the first inning, the offense might not get started."

LSU's pitching situation isnít quite as cheery.

Junior lefthander Lane Mestepey, who had allowed four runs in three postseason outings, missed his scheduled start because of stiffness in his neck and shoulder. He got caught under some teammates during the celebratory dog-pile after the Tigers won their super-regional, and didn't feel comfortable enough to pitch after throwing a bullpen session Thursday afternoon.

"He's better today, but wasn't close to pitching today," Laval said. "There's nothing wrong with it other than a bruise. But he can't get it up there, he's 75 to 80 percent."

The Tigers, who have lost three straight CWS games for the first time ever (including last year's 0-2 showing), probably need to win their next game, which comes Tuesday against South Carolina, if Mestepey is to take the mound against this season. Miami moved on to face Cal State Fullerton in the winner's bracket that same night.

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