Owls take big bats into championship

Sunday, June 2, 2002

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Florida Atlantic University came into the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional as one of the least heralded teams in the field.

But the third-seeded Owls are now the only squad that can win the tournament in three games, that courtesy of Saturday afternoon's 12-6 victory over fourth-seeded Southeast Missouri State University in the winner's bracket final.

The Owls (45-18), who handed Southeast (37-19) its first tournament loss, advance to today's 2 p.m. championship round as the only team without a defeat in the double-elimination event.

"We came here with the idea that we needed to win three games," FAU coach Kevin Cooney said. "It doesn't mean we can't win it in four, but it would be great to win it in three."

FAU can thank a high-powered offense for the shape it's in. The Owls, who had 16 hits and five home runs during Friday's 16-11 win over second-seeded Auburn, came back with 14 hits and three more homers against the Indians.

"Congratulations to FAU. What a solid game they played," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said. "They continued the offensive barrage they started against Auburn. They have some high-level hitters.

"We didn't play our 'A' game and that's what you need in the 3 p.m. game Saturday."

Southeast helped the Owls with three errors that led to four unearned runs. And the Indians, who had seven hits, failed to capitalize on their numerous chances as they stranded 12 runners.

Things looked good for the Indians early. After falling behind 2-0 in the second inning, Southeast got a run back in the third and then went ahead 5-2 with a four-run fourth, the big blow being redshirt freshman Eric Hoffman's three-run homer, his fourth of the season and second of the tournament. Hoffman also homered during Friday's 7-4 win over top-seeded Alabama.

FAU tied things with three runs -- just one earned -- in the bottom of the fourth. The Owls then went ahead for good with a two-run fifth.

Clemente Bonilla's RBI single in the sixth pulled the Indians to within 7-6, but FAU got three runs in the seventh and tacked on two more in the eighth to win going away.

Southeast ace Brad Purcell (12-3) took the loss, allowing seven runs (five earned) and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings. He struck out three and walked one.

Mark Frazier gave up five runs (three earned) and seven hits in three innings, with five strikeouts and one walk. Andy Davidson allowed no runs and no hits in 2/3 of an inning.

"I felt we had gotten what we could out of Purcell," Hogan said. "Frazier is a completely different kind of pitcher and I thought it would be a good change for FAU."

Bonilla led the Indians with two hits and he matched Hoffman with three RBIs.

Rusty Brown and Matt Pali both had three hits for FAU. L.J. Biernbaum hit his 15th homer of the season, Brown got his 10th and Shaen O'Connor added his second.

Chris Pillsbury (10-2) allowed six runs and six hits in six innings for the victory. Three FAU relievers held the Indians to one hit and no runs over the final three innings.

"The bullpen did a heck of a job," Pillsbury said.

Making the Owls' situation even more attractive today is the fact they still have not used their ace pitcher, Danny Core, who is 8-4 with a 2.98 earned-run average.

"He's won a lot of big games in his career and this might be the best hitting team he's pitched for," Cooney said. "It's the spot we want to have him in."

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