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Sarver sparkles to make Horton's gamble pay off
OMAHA--George Horton might want to take Interstate 80 across the Missouri River to Council Bluffs, Iowa. That's how you get to the riverboat casinos from here, and we know Cal State Fullerton's coach knows how to collect on a gamble.
After losing to South Carolina the night before to force a final meeting for a berth in the championship round of the College World Series, Horton said his team came to Omaha to win the title, not just to make the final.
So Horton called on junior lefthander Scott Sarver to make his second start of the season on Thursday rather than bring back ace Jason Windsor, who threw a three-hit shutout against the Gamecocks on Saturday.
The move worked.
Sarver, making his second appearance since May 11, held South Carolina without a run for six-plus innings before Windsor recorded the final nine outs of a 4-0 win. It marked the second Titans shutout of the Gamecocks, a team that hadn't gone scoreless this year prior to the CWS.
"Scott Sarver, what a great story that kid is," Fullerton coach George Horton said. "Not in our wildest dreams did we think he would shut out South Carolina, a team that's swings the bat real well. He looked like he was an All-American."
Actually, Fullerton finished with its All-American. That's something the Titans hadnít done since Chad Cordero signed with the Expos last summer after netting 34 career saves. The bullpen remained a question mark all year until Fullerton found a one-night solution in Windsor.
He earned his first career save a day after telling the coaching staff he was still too tender to start after his 146-pitch outing Saturday. But he said he could go two.
Pitching coach Dave Serrano told the senior righthander before the game to let him know how to work out his appearance. Sarver led off the sixth inning with a walk, and Windsor jogged down to the bullpen, where he had loosened up a little when South Carolina got back-to-back hits during the fourth inning.
"Jason got up on his own," Serrano said. "That told me he was ready, so we brought him in."
Windsor finished up for Sarver after Sarver threw a game against South Carolina much like the one Windsor had. The Gamecocks out-hit the Titans eight to seven, but didn't get a runner to third base until the seventh inning. Fullerton made several other plays to snuff out potential rallies.
Second baseman Justin Turner made a diving stop on a ball up the middle to gain a force out at second base in the fifth inning to prevent a first-and-second situation with one out and the top of the order looming. Right fielder Bobby Andrews threw out Steve Pearce at the plate to end the eighth inning.
"When you're struggling to get hits and get into scoring situations, that hurts," South Carolina coach Ray Tanner said. "That was sort of how the whole night went."
Fullerton made good on its fourth-inning opportunity. The Titans got three hits and a sacrifice bunt in four at-bats to go up 2-0, then shortstop Neil Walton executed a perfect safety squeeze to get Felipe Garcia home from third. Garcia, who drove in the game's first run, made an smart slide around Powell, who was standing in front of the plate, and then touched the dish with his left hand.
The Titans added an extra run on a solo home run by third baseman Ronnie Prettyman in the seventh inning. It was the small ball-loving team's first homer of the CWS.
And it was more than enough support for Sarver. He struck out a career-high seven batters in his six innings. The lefthadner threw three pitches for strikes, pounding the zone and letting his defense work behind him, something he now knows he didn't do often enough early in the season.
"Sarver did a good job of coming in on us," Gamecocks catcher Landon Powell said. "A lot of lefthanders, especially ones that don't throw that hard, don't throw inside in college because they are worried about aluminum bats. He came in hard with the fastball and then got you away with a changeup."
Getting the ball with the season on the line wasn't such a new experience for Sarver, who took the mound on the final day of regionals against Pepperdine with Fullerton needing to wins to advance. Sarver threw a complete-game against the Waves, allowing a run on six hits.
"I told him, 'Scotty, I didn't think you could do anything to top what you did against Pepperdine three weeks ago to get us here,' " Serrano said. "I said, 'You just did, young man.' "
Serrano didn't tell Sarver about his start against Pepperdine because he knew Sarver might get nervous overnight. He informed Sarver of this start the night before, and the lefty spent the day with Fullerton sports psychology consultant Ken Ravizza working on his mental preparedness and relaxation devices through visualization.
"He was still anxious before the game," Serrano said. "He was pacing and asking when he needed to start warming up."
The anxiety fled after Sarver worked through the first inning despite allowing a leadoff single. He retired the next 10 batters he faced and cruised until handing the ball off to Windsor.
"It was awesome," Sarver said. "What a wonderful experience for me and my team. My goal was to go deep into the game and try give Windsor some rest for the Texas series."
Sarver did that and more, helping Fullerton become the first team to throw two shutouts in the CWS since Pepperdine in 1992. California is the only team to shut out the same team twice in Omaha, with those contests coming against Penn State in 1957. Both of those teams won national titles.
Fullerton (45-22) will have a better chance to do so now that it starts the best-of-three series against Texas with its pitching somewhat in order. Windsor threw 48 pitches against South Carolina, but likely will start Sunday in the second game after lefthander Ricky Romero goes in game one against Texas lefthander J.P. Howell.
"It worked out good," Serrano said. "We got three out of Jason and he told me he'd be ready for Sunday. So we have to flip our rotation, but that works out because Sunday's such a pivotal game."
The gamble paid off.