After a countdown that included two epic pitching performances, three Cinderella runs to the championship, and a stunning walk-off grand slam, our countdown of the best moments in NCAA Baseball postseason history brings us back to 1996, to what is nearly universally considered one of the best moments in baseball history, and the greatest finish to a College World Series ever.
The 1996 College World Series was a battle of heavyweights – seven of the top eight teams from the original field of 48 made it to Omaha, making for a highly competitive tournament. The most impressive teams throughout the tournament were LSU and Miami, who were both top-10 teams that sailed into the title game. For Miami, they overcame a loss in their tournament opener, posting four straight victories to reach the College World Series, and another three once they were in Omaha. LSU was even more dominant, cruising to a 7-0 NCAA Tournament record en route to the championship game. They scored 61 runs in four regional games and pulled a few small upsets in bracket play at the World Series, beating Wichita State and #2 Florida twice to bully their way into the title game. They scored 20 runs in those three contests, bringing their running total 81 runs, an average of 11.6 runs per game.
When the Tigers faced off with the Hurricanes, it was a much anticipated duel between college baseball powerhouses. LSU, the preseason #1 team, trailed virtually the entire game, falling behind the Hurricanes 2-0, 7-3, and then finally, 8-7 after Miami shortstop Alex Cora drilled a RBI single to put Miami on the brink of the title.
Miami went with their best, giving the ball to All-American reliever Robbie Morrison, despite his eighth inning struggles. Morrison, boasting a 1.11 ERA on the season, had allowed LSU to tie the game on two runs in his first inning of work. LSU had the 6-7-8 batters due up in their lineup, with second baseman Warren Morris hitting out of the nine-hole if anyone reached. The inning got off to an ominous start for Miami as the slumping Brad Wilson managed to slap a double down the third-base line, just beating the tag with his slide into second. A ground-out moved Wilson to third, but Morrison came up huge with a strikeout on a nasty curveball to bring up Morris with two outs.
Morris was a pre-season All-American, but he had missed 39 games with a broken bone in his right hand, and he hadn’t even begun to swing a bat again until May 20, a week before the NCAA Tournament. Never really a power threat at 5’11 and 170 pounds, the junior was even less likely to hit a home run due to his injury. He had hit .400 in 28 contests overall, but with only one home run.
Miami had to like the spot they were in, but Morris changed their minds in a heartbeat. Morrison delivered a sharp curveball down headed for the inside corner, but Morris turned on it, hitting an absolute seed into right field. At first, it wasn’t clear if it would stay high enough to clear the fence, but it did exactly that, giving LSU a stunning 9-8 victory for the national championship. To this date, it is the only walk-off home run to win the College World Series, and it is the only two-run walk off home run hit with his team losing in college or professional baseball championship history. “A storybook ending!” screamed Wilson as he tapped the plate with the tying run and waited with his teammates to mob Morris at the plate.
Warren Morris was a fifth round draft pick of the Texas Rangers, and he went on to a five-year MLB career with the Pirates, Twins, and Tigers. He hit .288 with 15 home runs in his rookie season in Pittsburgh, finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting. He only hit eleven more long balls in his career, however, and finished as a .267 lifetime hitter.
Meanwhile, LSU defended their title in 1997, going back-to-back for their fourth championship in seven years. They fell a few wins short of a 3-peat in 1998, and they won it all again in 2000. LSU has not won a national championship since.