Originally created 06/08/01

Huskers are fan favorites



OMAHA, Neb. - With home-state Nebraska making its first appearance in the College World Series, it's amazing the length some Cornhusker fans are willing to go to see their team play.

An Omaha radio station wanted to find out. As it learned, with some people, almost anything goes.

Some were bizarre, such as the man who offered to stand in front of Rosenblatt Stadium wearing nothing but a thong while singing the Cal-State Fullerton fight song.

It's been that crazy.

On Thursday, fans started lining up for a chance to purchase some of the remaining 1,000 reserved tickets scheduled to go on sale this morning.

Stanford (48-16) plays Tulane (55-11) in today's first game at 3 p.m., followed by Nebraska (50-14) and Cal-State Fullerton (.46-16) tonight at 7 p.m. Both games will be televised live on ESPN.

President Bush is scheduled to throw out the first pitch.

On Saturday at 1:30 p.m., Georgia (47-20) tangles with Southern Cal (44-17) on CBS-Ch. 12, with Miami (49-12) and Tennessee (46-18) squaring off at 7:30 (ESPN2).

"I think it's great, all the attention that Nebraska is getting," Georgia coach Ron Polk said. "The bad thing is, I wish they had 40,000 seats for that stadium, because I'm sure they could fill it up."

There's little doubt about that.

Once the ticket window at Rosenblatt opens at 11 a.m., each of the more than 100 fans who were already in line will be able to buy as many as four tickets for today's doubleheader, Saturday's two sessions and the June 16 championship game.

About 1,000 tickets are available for each session.

To accommodate the fans in line, stadium officials set up portable toilets and offered to sell concessions.

"I'm just glad we're in the opposite bracket," Southern Cal coach Mike Gillespie said. "Normally, in the College World Series, there is no home-field advantage. The people there are great, and they treat all the teams fantastic. But this year, with the home-state school in the picture, it could be a little disadvantage for those of us who have to play against them."

Cornhusker pitcher R.D. Spiehs said he is glad the majority of the crowds will be on his side, although with eighth-seeded Nebraska playing in its first College World Series, he won't need any extra motivation.

"Maybe I'm not the smartest guy out there," Spiehs said. "But I don't think anything is going to bother me about that environment. I'm going to be pumped up. I don't think I'll even notice the crowd once I get out there. I'm looking forward to having the time of my life."

But getting past Cal-State Fullerton won't be easy.

Cal-State Fullerton, the tournament's top seed, features pitcher Kirk Saarloos (15-2, 2.224) who has won 15 straight decisions. The Tigers won national titles in 1979, 1984 and 1995.

Second-seeded Miami is also one of the favorites.

The Hurricanes enter the series on a 13-game winning streak, the longest in the country, and have made an NCAA-record 29 consecutive regional appearances.

Shortstop Javy Rodriquez has a school-record 66 stolen bases, while outfielder Mike Rodriguez set a school record with 31 consecutive steals early in the season. Miami leads the nation in steals with 215.

Pitching is Southern Cal's forte as is evidenced by the season enjoyed by Mark Prior (14-1, 1.50), the No. 2 pick by the Chicago Cubs in Tuesday's amateur baseball draft.

Prior will face sixth-seeded Georgia Saturday afternoon.

"He's not undefeated this year," said Diamond Dog shortstop Jeff Keppinger, one of six regulars hitting above .300. "There's no reason we can't go out there and beat him."

Seventh-seeded Tennessee is the other SEC team in the eight-team field.

The Volunteers finished third in the SEC East and lost two-straight games in the conference tournament. They played well in the Knoxville regional before beating East Carolina to earn their third trip to Omaha.

After USC's record-20 appearances in the College World Series (12 national titles), fourth-seeded Stanford is Omaha's most frequent visitor, having appeared in 12 series and having won back-to-back championships in 1987 and '88.

Along with Nebraska, Tulane is the other team making its College World Series debut.

The nation's winningest team with 55 victories, the Green Wave won two straight against defending champion Louisiana State to spoil retiring Tigers coach Skip Bertman's bid for a sixth title in the past 11 years.