THIS DAY IN COUGAR HISTORY: COLUMBUS STATE WINS THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP
JUNE 2, 2002
BY SCOTT MILLER
It only seemed like time was standing still 17 years ago today on a blistering hot Sunday afternoon in Montgomery, Alabama. Not only was Father Time marching on, but he also had Cougar nation by the throat and was slowly squeezing the life out of its baseball hopes and dreams. Tick tock...tick tock... in the broadcast booth I glance at my watch....6:01 pm (ET).....a glance back at the diamond at old Paterson Field and I see a sight that might cause me to pass out. It's the bottom of the ninth, Columbus State has a 5-1 lead over top-ranked Chico State and is three outs away from winning it's first national championship. However, the Wildcats have the bases loaded, and I'm starting to wish that I was loaded. I'm pleading for the listeners to grab a lucky spot.
Tick....tock....tick...tock....I glance at my watch....6:11 pm and CSU is now just one out away from winning the national championship, but Chico State has brought a possible winning run to the plate. A guy who has two doubles on the day and eleven home runs on the year is one swing away from making me throw up all over the microphone. An old cemetery is just beyond the left field wall. Hank Williams Sr. is buried there, and I'm pretty sure I'm about to join him. Tick...tock...tick tock...I glance at my watch....6:13 pm...a glance back to the field, and I see CSU pitcher, Jason Burdette about to deliver what seemed like his one-thousandth pitch of the game.
"...a ball and two strikes, two outs in the bottom of the ninth...two-run Cougar lead, potential winner at the plate. The one-two pitch....fly ball center field, Shawn Sewell's got it...he's got it...OHHH...HOH...HOH...COUGARS WIN...COUGARS WIN..THE COUGARS WIN...THE COUGARS ARE THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!!!!" Tick...tock...6:13:30 pm...at the very second I was losing my mind, the CSU players were on the crazy train with me. The dog pile in the middle of the field and the celebration was on, from Montgomery to all parts of Columbus, Phenix City, the four corners of Georgia, Adelaide Australia, and the rest of Cougar Nation. The Cougars had beaten Chico State, 5-3.
The Cougars, after losing their opening game in the College World Series, won five straight games to win the National Championship. No team had done that since 1989. Three of the wins were come-from-behind wins, and two were walk-off wins. The Cougars tied one game with two outs in the ninth, and they played a twelve inning game and a 13 inning game on back to back days.
On championship Sunday, Jason Burdette pitched a complete game, struck out three and didn't walk anyone, to earn his second win of the week. Jay Bayer homered, Taylor Groce went deep twice and drove in three runs.
The championship was a team effort in the truest sense of the word. Brian Baker won three games and saved another and was named the MVP. Taylor Groce, Chris Gilstrap, Josh Maner, Ladd Hammond, Shawn Sewell, and Jason Burdette were named to the All-World Series Team. Andrew Ginther caught every single inning, Buck Bradberry, Scott Sears, and Hurston Pittman turned in great pitching performances. Ben Sutter, Brian Koon, Larry Pittmon, Chad McConnell, Jay Bayer, Brad Hightower, Justin Demant all played essential roles. Even those players who didn't get to play were a big part of the team all season long.