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CWS Flashback 1990 - Part 3

And then there were two.
The 1990 College World Series had begun with some of the usual suspects in the field like
Stanford, Cal State Fullerton, LSU and Mississippi State as well as some unexpected guests like
Georgia Southern and The Citadel. After eight days of competition, Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium staged a title tilt that still featured combatants from vastly different spheres: The University of
Georgia was making just its second CWS appearance ever against 16-time guest
Oklahoma State.
OSU boasted an intimidating baseball resume: the school had won the national title in 1959 and finished as national runner-up four times, most recently in 1987, the year UGA made its first trip to the CWS. Their disproportionate degree of experience compared to their counterparts was not lost on the Bulldogs.
"It's difficult just to get there and then once you get there, it's difficult to win," says
McKay Smith, Georgia's leadoff hitter and centerfielder. "OSU had been there seven times in 12 years."
OSU logged 53 wins in 1990, a victory total second only to Stanford among the teams in Omaha. The Cowboys advanced all the way through the winner's bracket at the CWS, with three wins versus no losses leading up to the winner-take-all championship game. OSU beat Cal State Fullerton by 11 runs in its series opener and subsequently sent LSU packing, beating the Tigers by six runs and 10 runs, respectively.
Georgia, meanwhile, had just endured an epic three-game series with Stanford after blanking Mississippi State on day one. The Bulldogs had alternated starts between All-American lefty
Dave Fleming and ace righthander Mike Rebhan, with Rebhan eliminating Stanford the day before with a gutsy performance.
"CBS interviewed me right before the Oklahoma State game and asked me if I would be ready just in case I got the call," says Rebhan. "I said 'I don't know if I can throw. They'll be fat watermelons, but I'll throw like there's now tomorrow.'"
Georgia Coach
Steve Webber handed the ball to freshman Stan Payne for the finale. The Athens native was one of two Bulldogs accorded Freshman All-American honors that season, along with leftfielder
Ray Suplee. After overcoming a mid-season bout with mono, Payne rebounded, recording six wins and four saves for the Bulldogs. Senior third baseman
Jeff Cooper says Payne's fastball was as good as any on the staff at that point.
"Flem topped out at 87," says Cooper. "Rebhan was 82-83. Stan could bring it at 86 or 87. We were playing behind pitchers that threw strikes. Our staff wasn't overpowering but they were guys that were going to locate and work fast and that makes it a lot easier to play defense."
Cooper's remarks bear weight in the fact that the team-record 85 double plays the Bulldogs turned that year were still 12 more than any other season total heading into the 2008 season.
Bruce Chick, who played right field for the Dawgs in '90, makes another observation.
"Any time you win a world series, you have to have guys step up and our 7-8-9 guys did.
Terry Childers probably did the best. He might have been under .200 during the season but had a great world series."
Childers, the Bulldogs' catchers and #8 hitter, hit a ton in Omaha: his .421 average included eight hits, two of them doubles. He already had been at the center of one high-profile play in the post season, getting knocked unconscious in a home plate collision in which a Rutgers runner scored at the regional tournament. That episode prompted Childers to pledge to teammates "that will never happen again." Little did he know that he would have the chance to prove it.
The first three innings of the championship game featured a stalemate between Payne and OSU's
Dennis Burbank. Georgia scored runs in the fourth and fifth and OSU pushed one across in the bottom of the sixth to make it 2-1. Payne started the seventh, giving up a double. He exited after striking out six and walking three. When Webber went to the bullpen, it was Fleming who got the call.
Fleming had absorbed the loss against Stanford earlier in the week. The junior lefty admits to having felt let down at not getting the start in the finale, but saw the relief opportunity as a chance for redemption.
"I told myself 'don't give them any more chances,'" says Fleming. "I figured it was back to me on two days rest and I was disappointed. I was just thankful that when I came in, the game was close and guys made plays. Stan had given me the one-run lead and I tried to hold it."
Fleming was facing his second hitter when Georgia experienced déjà vu all over again. It had been one week since Childers had been knocked out at the plate against Rutgers. With the tying run at second and Georgia's infield up, the OSU batter hit a chopper to Georgia shortstop
J.R. Showalter.
"I threw home and Terry had said before that no way was that ball coming out of his glove," says Showalter. "Nerves are going like crazy and you make this play a thousand times …then you make it then and there and I'm lucky I don't throw it over the backstop."
Bulldog first baseman
Doug Radziewicz also remembers the play vividly.
"We threw home and Childers had to hang in there because the Oklahoma State runner went barreling into him. It wasn't that we didn't expect him to hang on, but it was whether he was going to be in one piece when it was over. It was one of those cringe moments," says Radziewicz.
This time, Childers stood his ground and hung on for the out.
"I still remember the ball in Terry's glove," says Showalter. "It was a relatively easy play but with a whole lot of forces working against you."
Georgia gained momentum from Childer's gutsy play and Fleming held the Cowboys at bay through the eighth. Through two innings of relief, he had given up one hit, struck out one and walked one. He had to face the 3,4 and 5 spots in the order to start the ninth.
First up was Cowboys shortstop
Brad Beanblossom, who had one of OSU's five hits in the game. Fleming struck him out. Next up was catcher
Michael Daniel, who like Beanblossom, was named to the All-Tournament team. Fleming struck him out, too.
With one out to go,
Jeromy Burnitz represented OSU's last hope. It was pucker time at Rosenblatt.
"When you're not in the game, there's nerves," says Rebhan. "I'm suddenly religious; being a pitcher I'm superstitious anyway. I was on the ground closing me eyes."
Fleming, who quickly got the advantage on Burnitz, remembers the strategy at that point.
"Being ahead in the count, we went to the outside of the plate," says Fleming. "The point was to hit Terry's glove and hope the umpire would give us a few inches. It was a fastball away."
Called strike three.
As pandemonium ensued, each Bulldog captured a unique perspective of the events that unfolded.
Fleming: "Just relief. To get that close, you don't want to be the guy that ruins a lifelong memory for guys. I was exhausted. Then I remember getting tackled by David Perno. Perno was a different breed; a football player who liked being at the bottom of the pile."
Showalter: "My stomach was in knots until that final out. Until that third strike happened, there was no sense that it was over. Dave painted black. I kind of froze and then it was a mad dash to the mound."
Radziewicz: "The third strike was called and I don't know that I really believed it, because you are right there in the moment. But it really hit me as I was running to the pile and basically saw the dugout pass me. I had never seen us as a team or individuals that happy during my time at Georgia. That's when it hit me that we won the national championship."
Smith: "Bruce and Ray and I were in the outfield and Bruce was yelling 'meet at second' so we followed that tradition and then I tackled my buddy Jester. I remember the melee and the excitement of hugging each other and high-fiving each other. It was a lot of fun meeting my mom, sister and aunt down on field."
Chick: "The most meaningful moment for me was running up to the mound. You're out of breath and excited and you embrace…that moment I just can't articulate. My dad came out of the stands and we embraced. It was an incredible moment."
Rebhan: "It was incredible and I look around at the OSU dugout and see them looking at us and clapping. Time stood still. It was definitely a moment I will never forget."
Cooper: "Ultimate excitement, initially. You wake up the next morning and think 'my gosh, I just won a national championship.' The excitement level was so great. To close out a season in such poor fashion and have our fire rekindled…no better excitement in my life at all."
In the years that followed, the men who fondly recall Omaha went their separate ways.
Radziewicz, who played five years in Cardinals organization, now teaches full-time at a baseball academy in Hutto, Texas.
Cooper played one year of minor league ball before becoming a math teacher. He is now principal at his alma mater, East Hall High School in Gainesville.
Chick played five years in the minors before entering Christian service full-time as a pastor. He has six children and lives in Roanoke, Virginia.
Showalter played in the Angels organization for two years. He is an independent financial planner living just outside Charlottesville, Virginia. His clients include Chick.
Smith often alludes to his college baseball experience as part of team-building exercises in his role with Morgan Stanley. He has lived in Memphis, Tennessee for the past 12 years.
Don Norris, who redshirted in '90 as a backup to Showalter, later coached at Georgia and just completed his second season as an assistant at Florida.
Rebhan, who never pitched beyond the college level, now lives outside Orlando, Florida where he works as a software engineer for Semantic Corp. He visited Athens for the 2008 Super Regionals, along with his 11-year old son, Marc and witnessed
Gordon Beckham's two home runs.
Fleming made it all the way to the majors, spending five seasons with the Seattle Mariners. He posted a 38-32 career record while appearing in 116 games. He is now an elementary school teacher in Southbury, Connecticut, where he also serves as an assistant baseball coach working with high school pitchers.
Webber remained at Georgia through 1996 and has spent the 12 ensuing years as a minor league instructor. He is currently the pitching coach for the San Antonio Missions of the Texas League.
There were others, of course, who contributed to the success of the 1990 Diamond Dogs, who, like the aforementioned players, no doubt carry the greatness of that moment in perpetuity.
Between Perno, who is making his third trip to Omaha as UGA's head coach, and Jester, the team's Director of Operations, the pair now boasts a combined 10 College World Series trips and have a lot of championship-level experience to offer the new breed of Bulldogs. For what it's worth, they can also take heart knowing several of their old pals are out there sending up good vibes in hopes of a repeat at history.
"We wish Dave and Jester the best of luck," says Showalter. "Bring home another ring."