June 13, 2000
by Brett Sowell
Brett Sowell is the online marketing manager for ClemsonTigers.com and a former Assistant Sports Information Director at Clemson. In 1996, as a graduate assistant in sports information, he traveled with Clemson to the College World Series. Over the last week, he has been sharing some of his memories from that 1996 trip.
1996 College World Series Memories Tigers Were On Omaha’s Doorstep In 1999 The 1996 College World Series Was Also The Media World Series Kris Benson And Billy Koch Were The Media’s Center Of Attention In 1996 CWS
Like the 2000 Clemson baseball team, the 1996 version played in game nine of the College World Series. Game nine is the Tuesday afternoon elimination game for bracket one.
The 1996 and 2000 teams took different routes to game nine, however.
In 1996, Clemson had to battle back from a College World Series opening loss of 7-3 to Miami. The Tigers did this by avoiding the infamous exit route out of Omaha called “two-and-cue”, short for two and bar-b-cue. Two-and-cue means you lost your first two games of the CWS and received a quick trip back to campus.
Clemson steered clear of two-and-cue with a 10-inning 8-5 win over Oklahoma State in 1996. The win ended a streak of three trips to Omaha, dating back to 1980, where Clemson took the early exit option out of the CWS.
Clemson used a 10-6 win over San Jose State last Friday to take two-and-cue out of this year’s Omaha equation. Unfortunately, Sunday’s loss to number-one Stanford puts Clemson in the same position it was in 1996. Bracket one’s Tuesday afternoon elimination game.
Tuesday, June 4, 1996 has to go down as one of the most exciting days in Clemson baseball history.
I just remember how much of a beautiful sunny day it was when we arrived at Rosenblatt Stadium. Earlier in the day, Kris Benson and Billy Koch were made the first and fourth picks of the Major League draft. It marked the first time in draft history that two pitchers from the same college team were taken among the first 10 picks.
To me that was pretty exciting, but that was before the drama unfolded on the field between the Tigers and the Crimson Tide.
The two teams participated in an offensive battle that day. Clemson jumped out to an early 5-0 lead, but as I went to make the walk down to the field to coordinate post game interviews in the top of the ninth, Alabama led 12-10.
Like I mentioned in a story last week, as an SID you either hate that walk or you love it. As I walked out of the back of the Rosenblatt’s press box and took the elevator ride down to the concourse level, I hated the walk.
I walked through the stands and took a seat directly behind home plate, one row behind Barry Allen, the Alabama SID. I sat in depression, while Barry joyously asked the NCAA representative if he could bring five players to the post game interview room. The NCAA minimum was two.
I have to admit I was envious of Barry at that moment, but it was hard to be too envious because Barry is a great guy. We first met in 1995 when Alabama played in the NCAA East Regional in Clemson. Barry is probably one of the biggest baseball fans around. Each summer, he and some of his friends take time to travel around the country attending games in various minor league cities.
Barry is a big guy with a deep voice who can pound out a great rendition of “Take Me Out To The Ball Game.” In fact in 1995, he did just that at Clemson. Promotions director John Seketa was so impressed with Barry that he let him sing the traditional seventh inning anthem at one of the regional games in place of playing the usual tape of Harry Caray. To be honest, Barry’s live version was very good.
Barry was happy and I was happy for him, but just like things turned on the Tigers three years later in College Station, Texas, things began to unravel for the Tide.
Gary Burnham and Jerome Robinson led of the top of the ninth with singles. With one out, Rusty Rhodes singled to score Burnham and cut the score to 12-11. Robinson advanced to second.
Second baseman and leadoff hitter Doug Livingston came up next. Livingston delivered a double and as Robinson rounded third, Rhodes was right on his tail. Both Tigers crossed the plate and Clemson took back the lead.
As I sat there trying to contain my excitement and happiness and act as a professional SID should, I looked down at the row in front of me. Barry sat there with his head buried in his hands.
Clemson added one more insurance run when freshman shortstop Kurt Bultmann came through with an RBI single to score Livingston.
I thought the drama of the day was over, but Alabama still had one at bat remaining in the bottom of the ninth.
Alabama’s Brett Taft led off the inning with a double off reliever Brian Matz. Matz got Rusty Laflin to fly out to Livingston at second base, but Drew Bounds followed with a single to give the Tide runners on first and third with one out.
Jack Leggett went to his bullpen for the fourth time that day. Only this time he brought in a starter. Koch came on in relief despite pitching two days earlier as the starter in the Oklahoma State win.
Koch struck out David Tidwell to get the second out. Clemson just needed to retire Joe Caruso for the remarkable win.
The game looked to be over when Caruso hit a grounder to short, as the ball scooted across the Rosenblatt infield I remember thinking, Bultmann will scoop this, toss it to Livingston for the force and we are out of here.
But instead the ball went through Bultmann’s legs. Taft scored and now ironically the run Bultmann brought in during the top of the ninth proved to be pivotal.
Dax Norris came up with the tying run on third and the winning run on first. Norris hit a high chopper down the first base line. Clemson first baseman Jason Embler fought off a glaring sun to make the stab. Embler flipped to a sprinting Koch who made the catch and tagged the base. Koch did a fist pump that would make Tiger Woods proud and the Tigers escaped with an improbable 14-13 win over the nation’s number-one ranked team.
Even though the 1996 and 2000 teams took different routes to game nine of the CWS. I hope they take the same route out of it, with a win.
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