Not only was the second straight title unprecedented, but it also came as an unexpected prize to Cardinal mentor Mark Marquess.
“I honestly didn’t think it was possible for us or any other team to win back-to-back championships,” he said. “In this day of scholarship limitations and the parity of college baseball, I just didn’t think it could happen. It is truly an amazing feat for us to repeat.”
In a season that saw Stanford play inconsistently at times, the Cardinal managed to put it all together in Omaha to keep the championship trophy on The Farm.
In order to get to the title game for a second straight year, Stanford had to beat Fresno State (10-3, June 4), Miami (2-1, June 7) and Cal State Fullerton twice (4-1, June 9; 9-5, June 10) before meeting up with the Sun Devils. The Cardinal lost its second game of the CWS to Cal State Fullerton (5-3, June 6), before going on to win its final four contests en route to the championship.
Stanford, backed by a 13-hit attack and the pitching of freshman Stan Spencer and junior Steve Chitren, beat an Arizona State team in the title game that had won five-of-six contests from Stanford during the regular season. The Cardinal jumped on Sun Devil starter Rusty Kilgo for five first inning runs and led 8-0 after three innings.
In the first, Frank Carey led off with a single and, one out later, scored on Ed Sprague’s 22nd home run of the season. Paul Carey then singled and Doug Robbins walked, putting runners on first and second. Ron Witmeyer’s RBI single sent Paul Carey home for the third run of the inning. It also spelled a quick exit for Kilgo.
Brian Johnson greeted new ASU pitcher Blas Minor with a blast of his own, a two-run double off the left field wall. The Sun Devils, who handled Stanford very easily during the regular season, were suddenly looking uphill at a 5-0 deficit.
The Cardinal onslaught continued in the second frame when Frank Carey led off with a single and advanced to third on a single by Troy Paulsen. Linty Ingram replaced Minor on the mound and with one out Paul Carey’s sacrifice fly to center scored Frank Carey, putting Stanford on top, 6-0.
The score reached 8-0 in the third after Tim Griffin singled home Witmeyer and later scored on a wild pitch by Ingram.
Meanwhile, Spencer was working on a gem, limiting one of the top offenses in the country to just one run on six hits through six innings. Staked to the early lead, Spencer was able to pitch his type of game.
“I just wanted to come in and throw strikes, spot the fastball and go right at them,” he said. “Once you’ve got a lead you don’t want to walk anybody. You want to make them hit you.”
Spencer lasted seven innings before giving way to Chitren, who became the first pitcher in college baseball history to record the final out in two consecutive championship games. Chitren worked the final two innings, allowing no runs on one hit.
Stanford’s second College World Series championship took the college baseball world by surprise. The Cardinal accomplished what few thought they could.
“No one thought we would come back for a second title,” said Witmeyer. “So this one’s probably more satisfying than the first one. Everyone said we couldn’t do it.”
“It was harder for us during the season to win games,” said senior Lee Plemel. “At the end of the year, however, I think we knew we could win.”
Plemel received College World Series MVP honors after recording two complete game wins over Fresno State and Cal State Fullerton, allowing just four earned runs in 18.0 innings of work. Witmeyer and Robbins were also named to the All-CWS team. Witmeyer led Stanford in hitting during the CWS with a .400 average while Robbins drove in five runs and played superb defense.
The other mainstays on the club included a pitching staff that compiled an impressive 2.38 ERA in 53.0 innings of work at the CWS. Plemel, Chitren (8.1 innings, no earned runs), Spencer (1-0, 2.63 ERA), Brian Keyser (1-0, 3.38 ERA) and Mike Mussina led the way on the hill. Sprague, who was chosen in the first round of the 1988 MLB First-Year Player Draft, hit three home runs in the Series and drove in a team-leading six runs while Griffin batted .316.
Paulsen (shortstop), second baseman Frank Carey and centerfielder Eric DeGraw led a defense that proved to be one of the best in all of college baseball.
“There were times during the year where we could have quit,” said Marquess, “But, we just kept telling ourselves to keep working hard and maybe something good will happen – and it did. It happened at the right time.”
Future Major Leaguers (8): Steve Chitren, Ed Sprague, Mike Mussina, Ron Witmeyer, Paul Carey, Brian Johnson, Brian Keyser, Stan Spencer