ORONO, Maine -- Towson State's bid to earn a berth in the College World Series ended yesterday, thanks to a winning gamble by the University of Maine.
Maine coach John Winkin gambled that senior relief pitcher Rob Higgins was capable of making his third career start and first in two seasons. Higgins, normally a closer, responded with a six-hit shutout to carry Maine to an 8-0 win and eliminate the Tigers from the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament's Northeast Regional.
"When I heard Higgins was going to pitch, I looked at hi numbers and saw he hadn't started and apparently he hadn't gone too many innings," said Towson coach Mike Gottlieb, whose team finished 28-23-1 overall and 1-2 in the regional. "I'm thinking, it's hot, I don't know how many innings he can go. Obviously, they made the right choice."
Higgins gave up only one extra-base hit, a seventh-inning doubl down the left-field line by Alex Yost (2-for-3). Yost was the only Towson State runner to advance as far as third base, but was stranded when Tom Coleman struck out on a 3-2 fastball, one of Higgins' 10 strikeouts.
"I just threw strikes," said Higgins (6-1), who threw 117 pitches "If you throw strikes, you keep the pitch count down. I wasn't worried about going nine. If you keep the pitch count down, you can go nine. I threw strikes, they hit the ball, we made the plays."
Said Gottlieb: "He pitched the best game against us all year."
While Higgins was setting the Tigers down, Maine was gettin 13 hits against three Towson pitchers.
The third-seeded Black Bears (47-17) scored twice in the first inning against left-hander Jase Morris (1-3), who got the start because No. 3 starter Jay Baker still was sidelined with a sore arm. Brian Seguin's double to left was followed by Maine All-America Mark Sweeney's 22nd home run of the season, an opposite-field shot over the 330 mark in left.
Towson gift-wrapped an unearned run for Maine in the thir inning, committing two of its three errors. Sweeney walked and was caught off first base by Morris, but first baseman Erik Sheetz's throw to second skipped into the outfield, enabling the runner to advance to third. The run scored when Shawn Tobin's grounder went through the legs of Towson third baseman Chris Masella.
"I don't think we played well," said Gottlieb. "They too advantage of the opportunities they got."
Maine scored a run in the fourth to go up, 4-0. Gary Taylo singled, Paul Kelliher walked, an errant pickoff throw to second by catcher Bruce Rupp put Taylor on third, and Taylor scored on a double-play grounder.
It became 5-0 in the fifth when Sweeney led off with a walk, stol second and scored on Tim Scott's single to right.
Maine added a run against reliever Brad Stinar in the sevent inning and two runs against Kurt Klebrowski in the eighth. Higgins, making his first collegiate plate appearance in the eighth, hit a two-run single.
"We had an inexperienced team coming in, especially in terms o playoff experience," said Gottlieb, whose program made its second regional appearance in four years after winning the East Coast Conference title. "We started four freshmen. It showed to a certain extent. I knew coming in we were playing with the big boys -- Clemson, Maine, and Mississippi State."