MSU Bows To The Mighty Titans

FULLERTON, Calif. (AP) _ Overwhelmed by a superior Cal State-Fullerton team, a better-than-expected season came to an end for Mississippi State. Aaron Rifkin hit three home runs and Mike Rouse hit his fourth homer in two games as the Titans beat the Bulldogs 9-3 to sweep an NCAA super regional Saturday night. The top-seeded Titans (46-16) earned their fifth trip to the College World Series in the last 11 years and 11th overall. The Bulldogs (39-24) were swept in a super regional for the second straight season. Despite the youthful team's punchless performance in the super regional, the season has to be viewed as an overall success. ``I'm very excited about what this team accomplished and how they fought back from adversity all year, but I really feel for the young men right now,'' said Mississippi State head coach Pat McMahon. Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, the Bulldogs had yet to secure a spot in the Southeastern Conference tournament. But Mississippi State beat Mississippi twice in the final weekend and went on to win the SEC tournament outright for the first time in 14 years. That earned the Bulldogs a No. 1 seed in a regional at Columbus, Ohio, that they won without dropping a game. Against Cal State-Fullerton, however, the gritty Bulldogs didn't have enough firepower or power pitchers to compete with the Titans.

``They're an outstanding team in every aspect of the game,'' McMahon said. ``They did all the little things well this weekend. Not often will you see two guys hit three home runs in back-to-back nights.'' Saturday's hero was Rifkin, who went 4-for-5 with six RBI. A day after hitting three homers and driving in seven runs, Rouse was 3-for-3 with a stolen base. He went 7-for-8 with eight RBIs in the best-of-three series. Mississippi State was held to four hits and two runs by All-America Kyle Saarloos and two relievers in losing the first game of the series 13-2 Friday night. The Bulldogs matched those totals in the first inning Saturday night, but wasted an opportunity for much more. Mississippi State loaded the bases with nobody out against Titans starter Darric Merrell (7-4). But the freshman right-hander got Matthew Brinson to hit a ground ball up the middle that the shortstop Rouse made a good play on to start a double play. A run scored on the double play, and Enrico Jones followed with an RBI single to make it 2-0. Brent Lewis doubled to put runners on second and third with two outs, but Steve Gendron popped out to end the inning and the Bulldogs didn't have another hit until the sixth. Merrell pitched 6 1-3 innings and allowed three runs and seven hits while striking out three. Mike Nunez struck out the only two batters he faced and freshman closer Chad Cordero allowed two harmless singles in the final two innings. Rifkin led off the top of second with a home run off Mississippi State freshman Paul Maholm (8-5) to cut the lead in half. Rifkin's second home run was a two-run shot with two out in the third that gave the Titans a 3-2 lead. The home run to center field followed a two-out walk by Matt Belfanti. Rouse hit a solo homer in the sixth to make the score 4-2. Brinson tripled off the center-field wall with one out in the sixth and scored on Jones' groundout to cut the Titans' lead to 4-3. The Titans again answered the Bulldogs' rally with one of their own in the seventh _ and it was a big one that put the game away. David Bacanti hit a one-out RBI double to restore Cal State-Fullerton's two-run lead. After a walk and an out, Rifkin hit his 15th home run of the season, a three-run shot that made the score 8-2 and ended Maholm's night. Maholm worked 6 2-3 innings and allowed eight runs on nine hits and three walks. He struck out eight. Mississippi State was swept at Clemson in last year's super regional.