Former Southeast player, coach surface at Omaha
Friday, June 18, 2004
The two surprise teams in the College World Series that begins today in Omaha, Neb., both have a distinct local connection.
Arkansas pitching coach Dave Jorn was a starting pitcher on Southeast Missouri State University's 1976 squad that finished third in the NCAA Division II World Series and also featured current Indians' head coach Mark Hogan.
And Arizona assistant coach Mark Wasikowski was an assistant at Southeast under Hogan in 1997 and 1998.
"I'm thrilled for both of them," said Hogan. "They're both great guys who I still keep in close contact with. It's neat to see the success they're having and I think it also reflects very well on Southeast."
Arkansas was picked 11th among 12 teams in the Southeastern Conference's preseason poll but went on to win the league championship on its way to a 45-22 overall record.
Arizona has just a 35-25-1 record, the worst in the eight-team CWS field and the fewest wins of any CWS squad since 1992. The Wildcats went just 12-12 in the Pacific 10 Conference and are the lowest regional seed -- No. 3 -- to make it to Omaha.
"Both teams are really great stories for getting this far," Hogan said.
Jorn became a pitcher
Jorn, a native of O'Fallon, Ill., played two seasons for Southeast under legendary former coach Joe Uhls after transferring from Belleville (Ill.) Area College. He came to Cape Girardeau as an infielder but converted to pitcher for his senior season and ended up being one of the Indians' top starters, behind All-American Trey Hastings.
"I didn't have much to choose from and I got a small offer from SEMO. I had a great time there," said Jorn, whose career with the Indians actually didn't start out all that well. "After my junior year, I wasn't sure I was coming back because I was used to playing every day and I wasn't playing that much.
"I thought I might transfer to an NAIA school closer to home, but I didn't want to quit so I stuck it out."
It ended up being a wise decision as Jorn thrived after being converted to the mound.
"I had pitched about 20 innings in junior college and I pitched as much as I could after that junior year in the summer," Jorn said. "I learned as much as I could, then in the fall coach Uhls had me pitch against our No. 1 team and that's when I really developed.
"Mark also helped me a lot. Even though he was a player, even back then you could see he would make a really good coach because he would talk to me about attitude and approach. I didn't have much fire going, but he helped me and once I developed that, it was a different story. We ended up having a great year, and I still stay in touch with Mark. He and his family are like family to me."
Jorn was drafted by the Cardinals and wound up reaching the Class AAA level before finishing his playing career in 1981. He then got into coaching and spent the early part of his career as an assistant under Hogan at Wallace Junior College in Alabama.
Jorn was the Arkansas pitching coach from 1983 to 1988 -- he helped the Razorbacks reach the CWS in 1985 and 1987 -- and then went on to become a minor league coach and scout for several professional organizations before beginning his second stint with the Razorbacks in 2002.
Last year's Arkansas pitching staff recorded the program's lowest earned-run average since 1991 -- 4.08 -- and this season's hurlers bested that with a 3.78 mark.
"We're not as deep as I'd have liked, but they've done a good job," Jorn said of his hurlers.
As for the Razorbacks being a surprise team, Jorn said, "Nobody gave us any respect. Nobody in the league thought we had any good players. We don't have great players, but we have good players. And once you get this far, everybody has a chance."
Wasikowski gets his start
Wasikowski, a California native, spent two of his earliest coaching years at Southeast and in 1998 he helped lead the Indians to their first NCAA Division I regional berth as they set a school record with 90 home runs.
"Mark was a fabulous coach for us and I hated losing him, but he did a great job for us," Hogan said.
Said Wasikowski, who met his wife -- the former Lori Crites of Jackson -- while coaching at Southeast, "The two years I spent there were unbelievable. I still stay in touch with coach Hogan. I love him and respect the heck out of him."
After leaving Southeast, Wasikowski, 33, spent three seasons as an assistant at Florida under Andy Lopez and then went with Lopez to Arizona when he took over the Wildcats' program in 2002. Wasikowski is Arizona's recruiting coordinator and has helped bring in some of the nation's top recruiting classes the last few years.
As for the Wildcats being one of the CWS's surprise teams, Wasikowski said, "It hasn't really been a surprise, but it's been a surprise how quick it's happened. Most of our team is freshmen and sophomores. We knew they were talented, but the consistency wasn't always there.
"It was kind of a funny regular season for us. We beat some really good teams, but then we'd lose to some teams that weren't very good. But things have just come together for us late in the season."
Wasikowski is no stranger to the pageantry of the CWS as he was the starting third baseman for Pepperdine when it won the 1992 national title.
"It never gets old coming here," he said, and added with a laugh, "This place is awesome. Our young guys have no idea what this place is about."
Wasikowski, who helped lead the Wildcats to their first CWS berth since 1986 and their 14th appearance overall, would appear to be on his way to a head coaching job somewhere down the line but he's in no hurry to get that done.
"I'd love to be a head coach some day, but I'm not sending out resumes to any job that opens up," he said. "I've always thought if you're good enough, somebody will come looking for you."