Best of the 2000s: ’03 Rice leads the way
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
There were 10 national champions this decade. Not everyone will agree on which team was the best. But everyone can agree that each team that captured a national title this decade had its own special traits.
Fresno State was a huge underdog entering the NCAA postseason, but upset teams in a regional and super regional before dazzling observers at the College World Series with its gritty play.
Rice, meanwhile, had one of the best weekend rotations in the history of college baseball and captured its first national title in ’03. Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend and Philip Humber made up the rotation.
There’s also LSU, Oregon State and Texas, which each captured two national titles this decade. LSU’s ’09 team was filled with athletic players, Oregon State’s ’06 team had an outstanding crop of pitchers and Texas’ ’02 team had fantastic role players and a stud reliever in Huston Street.
It’s time to rank the national champions of the 2000s.
1. Rice ’03
Key players. Enrique Cruz, Vincent Sinisi, Jeff Niemann, Wade Townsend, Philip Humber, David Aardsma
Analysis. The Owls won their first national title in ’03 and the goal couldn’t have been accomplished with a better team. The Owls had the three-headed monster on the mound with starting pitchers Niemann, Townsend and Humber. They also had the services of stud reliever David Aardsma, who finished that campaign with 12 saves. At the plate, Enrique Cruz, Chris Kolkhorst and Vincent Sinisi were the fire starters. There’s a good chance this team always will be known as the best in Rice history.
2. Texas ’02
Key players. Dustin Majewski, Tim Moss, Omar Quintanilla, Jeff Ontiveros, Huston Street, Justin Simmons, Brad Halsey
Analysis. The Longhorns put together an exceptional campaign and won their first national title since ’83 with a plethora of outstanding players. Reliever Huston Street was the headliner of a pitching staff that finished the season with an amazing 2.82 ERA. Frank Anderson, who now is the head coach at Oklahoma State, was pitching coach. The Longhorns also had some firepower at the plate with Majewski, Moss and Quintanilla leading the way. Still, this team always will be known as one with a wealth of pitching and fantastic team chemistry.
3. Miami ’01
Key players. Javy Rodriguez, Kevin Howard, Mike Rodriguez, Charlton Jimerson, George Huguet, Tom Farmer
Analysis. One of the more athletic teams to go through the gates at Rosenblatt Stadium this decade, the Hurricanes dazzled observers in ’01 by finishing the campaign with a 53-12 record and dominant 12-1 win over Stanford in the national title game. UM recorded double digit run totals in three of its four games in Omaha. The ‘Canes also finished the season with a .308 batting average and a 3.87 ERA. This was an excellent club from top-to-bottom and will go down as one of the best ever to win a national title.
4. LSU ’09
Key players. Ryan Schimpf, Jared Mitchell, DJ LeMahieu, Blake Dean, Louis Coleman, Anthony Ranaudo, Matty Ott
Analysis. The Tigers took a step forward two seasons ago with a trip back to Omaha. Well, the Tigers accomplished the ultimate goal and won their sixth national title in ’09 with a thrilling title series win over Texas. The Tigers were extremely athletic with players such as DJ LeMahieu and Jared Mitchell leading the way in the field. On the mound, you couldn’t get much better than starting pitchers Louis Coleman and Anthony Ranaudo in addition to reliever Matty Ott. The Tigers restored order in Baton Rouge and set the tone for more national titles in the near future.
5. Cal State Fullerton ’04
Key players. Kurt Suzuki, Sergio Pedroza, Felipe Garcia, Jason Windsor, Ricky Romero, Vinnie Pestano
Analysis. What an amazing team this was. The Titans appeared to be down and out in the middle of the regular season. But they turned everything around and eventually put on an impressive display in Omaha. Ace pitcher Jason Windsor was phenomenal and catcher Kurt Suzuki was the headliner at the plate. The Titans finished the campaign with an impressive .326 batting average and compiled a 3.72 ERA. Fullerton won its first national title since ’95 this season. It was the fourth national title overall.
6. LSU ’00
Key players. Brad Cresse, Brad Hawpe, Mike Fontenot, Wally Pontiff, Blair Barbier, Brian Tallet
Analysis. The Tigers dominated the national stage in the previous decade and got this decade started on the right foot with a national title win over Stanford. The Tigers had an excellent ace pitcher in Brian Tallet, but this team still was all about offense. The Bayou Bengals finished the campaign with an amazing .340 batting average. Brad Cresse led the lineup and batted .388 with 30 homers and 106 RBIs. Brad Hawpe, Mike Fontenot, Wally Pontiff and Blair Barbier also had great offensive campaigns. The ’00 Tigers were fun to watch.
7. Oregon State ’06
Key players. Cole Gillespie, Bill Rowe, Darwin Barney, Mitch Canham, Jonah Nickerson, Kevin Gunderson, Dallas Buck, Kunz
Analysis. After surprising us by reaching the CWS in ’05, the Beavers showed that was no fluke by returning to Omaha in ’06 and winning the national title with a thrilling series win over North Carolina. The Beavers finished the campaign with a .302 batting average and were led at the plate by Cole Gillespie, Bill Rowe, Darwin Barney and catcher and leader Mitch Canham. The pitching staff also impressed with fiery reliever Kevin Gunderson and weekend starters Jonah Nickerson and Dallas Buck as the main headliners. This team put OSU on the map for good.
8. Texas ’05
Key players. Seth Johnston, Taylor Teagarden, Drew Stubbs, Chance Wheeless, J. Brent Cox, Kenn Kasparek, Kyle McCulloch, Adrian Alaniz
Analysis. The Longhorns finished third in the Big 12 behind Nebraska and Baylor, but still managed to storm through the NCAA postseason and make yet another CWS appearance. The Longhorns didn’t disappoint. They got through Baylor in the bracket title game and made easy work of Florida in the title series. UT finished the season with a .302 batting average. Seth Johnston, Taylor Teagarden and Drew Stubbs led the way at the plate. On the mound, Kyle McCulloch, Kenn Kasparek and Adrian Alaniz formulated a fantastic weekend rotation. J. Brent Cox, meanwhile, was one of the nation’s best relievers. It was UT’s sixth national title.
9. Oregon State ’07
Key players. Mitch Canham, Mike Lissman, Jordan Lennerton, Darwin Barney, Eddie Kunz, Jorge Reyes, Joe Paterson
Analysis. The Beavers didn’t play like a national champion for much of the season, but come postseason time they switched gears and went to another level. The Beavers got through the Charlottesville Regional before taking care of Michigan in super regional play. Once in Omaha, the Beavers were just fantastic. The only hit .287 with Canham, Lissman, Lennerton and Barney leading the way. On the mound, Jorge Reyes had a fantastic freshman campaign and Eddie Kunz was fabulous out of the bullpen. This team overachieved and gave the Beavers back-to-back national titles.
10. Fresno State ’08
Key players. Danny Muno, Tom Mendonca, Erik Wetzel, Steve Susdorf, Steve Detwiler, Brandon Burke, Holden Sprague, Clayton Allison, Justin Wilson, Justin Miller
Analysis. Bulldogs reliever Brandon Burke said it best in the locker room after his team won the national title. He said the Bulldogs were the worst team to win the national title. That probably isn’t entirely true, but the Bulldogs certainly were a true Cinderella story. They surprised everyone by winning the Long Beach Regional before shocking Arizona State in the Tempe Super Regional. In Omaha, though, Fresno played like a team possessed. It was one of the more exciting set of performances we’ve ever seen in Omaha. This team will forever be known as the “Wonderdogs”. Fresno finished the campaign with a 46-31 record.