Notre Dame back in College World Series

Friday, June 14th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) _ Notre Dame needed 45 years to return to the College World Series, and coach Paul Mainieri plans to enjoy the stay.

The Fighting Irish, the last team to qualify for the eight-team field, open Saturday against Stanford in their first trip back to Omaha since 1957.

``The understatement of the year is that we're very happy to be here,'' Mainieri said.

The Irish (49-16) were 9-10 at one point, then returned to the form that had them ranked No. 1 for a short stretch last year. Notre Dame beat top-seeded Florida State on Monday in a super regional.

``Until you get here and do well, you're never going to have, and you don't deserve to have, the same credibility and the same stature as these teams that are doing it perennially,'' Mainieri said.

The Cardinal (45-16), back at the Series for the fourth straight year and 14th overall, hope to erase memories of losing in the last two title games.

Stanford and Nebraska are the only teams returning from last year's field. Texas and Clemson played in Omaha two years ago and Rice played in 1999. Georgia Tech and South Carolina are making their first appearances in a while.

The Cardinal won championships in 1987 and '88. They were close to adding another two years ago, but let a three-run lead get away in the eighth inning and lost 6-5 to LSU. Last year's 12-1 loss to Miami wasn't as much of a heartbreaker.

``Last year we were young and inexperienced. This is a different team,'' coach Mark Marquess said.

Nebraska, the clear crowd favorite, made its first trip to the Series last June and Rosenblatt Stadium was packed for its two games. The trip quickly soured _ the Huskers lost one-run games to Cal State Fullerton and Tulane.

``It was almost like it didn't happen because we were here and we were gone,'' Nebraska coach Dave Van Horn said.

The Series opens Friday with Georgia Tech (51-14) playing South Carolina (53-16), followed by Nebraska (47-19) and Clemson (52-15).

Clemson was knocked out two years ago by Louisiana-Lafayette when the Ragin' Cajuns scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth.

``I've seen a lot of funny things happen here,'' Tigers coach Jack Leggett said. ``You can throw anything and everything out at this time of year.''

South Carolina is in the Series for the sixth time, but this is the Gamecocks' first trip back since 1985.

Georgia Tech's only other appearance ended in a loss to Oklahoma in the 1994 title game. That Yellow Jackets lineup featured Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek and Jay Payton. This year the Yellow Jackets have 15 freshmen.

``They're not playing like freshmen anymore. They had a grueling schedule and they passed the test,'' said South Carolina coach Ray Tanner, whose Gamecocks beat the Yellow Jackets 8-3 in February.

On Saturday, Texas (53-15) and Rice (52-12) meet for the third time this year. Texas won both earlier meetings.

The Longhorns are in their 29th Series, eight more than any other school. Coach Augie Garrido also led Cal State Fullerton to titles in 1979, '94 and '95.