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Omaha Notebook

Complete CWS Index

by John Manuel
June 16, 2003

OMAHA--Wes Littleton is a factor again. And that makes Cal State Fullerton, already ranked second entering the College World Series, even more dangerous.

Littleton, who started the year as the Titans' No. 1 starter and a preseason second-team All-American, hadn't pitched since May 17 against Long Beach State until a two-inning relief outing Sunday against Stanford. He tossed two scoreless, hitless innings of relief, striking out two. He got the win in the 6-5 game to improve to 7-3 on the season and lower his ERA to 3.73.

"I was ready when needed," Littleton said after the game. "I warmed up the other day against LSU, and I was just so amped up to pitch. I was kind of calmer (Sunday). I'm kind of shocked that I wasn't too excited, but I feel I did a good job."

Not that it came as any surprise. After all, Littleton has talent--a fourth-round pick of the Rangers, Littleton works with an 88-91 mph fastball with excellent movement, a power breaking ball and a good changeup. But he had a tumultuous season, going from a 75-pitch complete-game shutout of Fresno State in his second start through a one-month suspension for violating team rules to a pair of poor starts upon his return from the suspension.

Littleton lost his job in the rotation, but has returned to being a contributor on the CWS stage. It means even more to him considering he missed the Titans' CWS travel roster as a freshman in 2001--"I was the ninth pitcher, and we only took eight," he said. Now, he just adds to the Titans' amazing pitching depth, giving pitching coach Dave Serrano another weapon.

"I told him two weeks ago, 'You'll make a difference in how we win a national championship,' " Serrano said. "And I found a penny heads up, a lucky penny, and I gave it to him. And he told me he's been carrying it in his back pocket. Then he comes out and gets some big outs for us in an important situation against the Cardinal. Now I think he feels like a part of the team again."

Littleton declined to say why he was suspended--"I'm trying to leave that behind," he said. Serrano and Fullerton coach George Horton haven't talked about it either, but they agreed that Littleton didn't lose his rotation spot just because of the suspension; he lost it because he didn't pitch well upon his return.

The junior admitted he let the draft get to him, from meetings with scouts where he had to explain his suspension to trying to make up for lost time. "He's a kid who made a mistake," Serrano said. "He put too much pressure on himself when he got back."

Littleton got a pair of losses down the stretch, giving up 14 runs (but only five earned) and 17 hits over 9 1/3 innings in starts against UC Riverside and UC Irvine in May. When he lost his starting role, he moved into the bullpen alongside his former rotation mates Darric Merrell and Travis Ingle. That trio was the Titans' projected rotation, but now all three are in the bullpen while righties Jason Windsor and Dustin Miller (who have started in Omaha) and lefty Ryan Schreppel hold down the rotation.

"We're so deep right now, it's unbelievable," Serrano said. "I mean, Wes could start in the championship series for us, but all of our guys are committed to each other. I think our guys realize that we have a lot of quality arms, and that we are all committed to doing what is best for the team."

What's best for Littleton right now is pitching in whatever role he's asked to play, he said. The draft is behind him, and he's pitching again. He has a chance to end a season that could have been considered a disaster in perfect fashion--with a national championship.

"The draft is probably the thing that bothered me the most," Horton said. "All of this probably cost him some money. We knew he would play a real big role for us and had predicted as a staff that he would be a big factor in the super-regional (against Arizona State). That didn't happen, but now he's a factor here.

"The saddest part is this may cost him some money, but we have told him that this is a bump in the road. He will pitch in the big leagues, and that's where he'll get that money back, and don't be surprised if he's in the big leagues soon."

Rosenblasts

ESPN's ratings for the College World Series won't be known for a while, but the network is pleased with its numbers from its first broadcasts of super-regionals. The highest-rated game was a Saturday afternoon (June 7) game between Miami and North Carolina State, which nabbed a 0.71 cable rating. Games Sunday night (Ohio State vs. Southwest Missouri State) and Monday afternoon (Rice vs. Houston) drew 0.68s, and all the super-regional games out-drew what the network had in the same time slot last year.

"We're very pleased with the ratings for a debut event," ESPN coordinating producer Ed Placey said. "It's a great lead-in to what we're doing here in Omaha. We were able to give our national audience an introduction to the players and these teams for four days before the College World Series."

NCAA officials did not have sales numbers for the College Grand Slam pay-per-view package.

Miami's win against SMS continued some impressive numbers for the program. Miami is 44-31 all-time in CWS play, with coach Jim Morris posting an 18-9 record in eight trips.

Texas Christian coach Lance Brown retired Monday, and Rice coach Wayne Graham was surprised to hear the news. Brown competed against Graham for years in the Southwest Conference and later in the Western Athletic Conference before the Horned Frogs left for Conference USA. Brown also is a former Rice assistant. "TCU is now a superior job," Graham said. "Lance did a great job in getting the ballpark (Lupton Stadium) built, and so now it's all there. The stadium is impressive. The Metroplex (Dallas-Fort Worth area) is loaded with talent. To my knowledge, there are no major restrictions admissions-wise. The structure is all there."

With every team having played two games, the first statistics report is in, and Rice appears atop a trio of important categories. The Owls are hitting just .242 but lead the field with 16 runs scored, four runs allowed (2.00 ERA) and 71 errorless chances defensively. The tournament field has combined for 19 home runs and just a .264 average; the records are 62 and .318, set in 1998. However, hits aren't necessary for scoring. CWS pitchers have given out 61 walks in 140 innings with 19 hit batsmen for a healthy aggregate .350 on-base percentage.

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