OMAHA, Neb. – After winning the College World Series title one year earlier, Southern California opened the 1971 college baseball season with plenty of optimism and a chance to make history.
It didn’t happen often during the new season, but the Trojans, led by legendary coach Rod Dedeaux, were tested from time to time and actually lost half of their first eight games of the season. Those four setbacks were by a combined five runs.
USC would learn from those setbacks and rebounded to win nine of the next 10 games to improve to 13-5. It set a tone of resiliency that would come to prove important as the Trojans staved off elimination five times in the postseason in the school’s run to the national championship.
The title, the seventh in the history of the USC program, was the second straight for the Trojans and allowed USC to join Texas as the only teams to win back-to-back national titles in the history of the College World Series to that point. The Longhorns had become the first program to achieve that feat by going back-to-back in 1949-50.
USC had won its first national title in 1984 in Kalamazoo, Mich. under the direction of Dedeaux, who shared the coaching duties that season with Sam Barry. Dedeaux and the Trojans had also claimed titles in 1961 and 1963 before winning again in 1968 before its championship in 1970 and another chance to join Texas as repeat champions.
The tests that arose periodically during the regular season were absent during the conference portion of the 1971 schedule for the Trojans. USC went through conference play with an unblemished record to become the first PAC 8 team to complete an undefeated conference season. Only twice did Southern Cal win by fewer than two runs as Stanford fell 2-1 at home to the Trojans on April 23 and California came up short the following day by that same score in Berkeley.
Southern Cal finished the conference schedule with a 17-0 record.
In the conference playoffs at Washington State the Trojans defeated Oregon 6-2 and downed Stanford 9-3 to advance to the conference championship series against the host Cougars.
Remember the resiliency learned earlier in the season?
USC needed it in Pullman as the Cougars defeated the Trojans 10-5 and setting up a winner-take-all scenario. USC came out on top 6-3 to advance to the District 8 playoffs and a trip to Omaha on the line. Each of the eight districts in the nation had their own format for determining which school would be their representative at the College World Series.
And once again resiliency was needed on the part of the Trojans after dropping the opener of the playoff series 6-5 to Santa Clara. Southern Cal managed to even the series the next day by downing the Broncos 5-1 and for the second straight week stared elimination in the face.
USC’s 13th trip to America’s Heartland was secured as the Trojans flexed their superiority by cruising to a 9-1 win.
To say the Trojans had the advantage on the rest of the tournament field at the 25th edition of the CWS would be a huge understatement.
At least when it came to experience.
USC was making its 13th appearance in the CWS while the other seven entrants in the 1971 CWS had a combined six previous trips to Omaha.
Southern Illinois had made two previous appearances while BYU, Harvard, Seton Hall and Tulsa were making just their second trip to the tournament. Mississippi State and Texas-Pan American were appearing for the first time in program history.
UT-Pan American, which is now known as UT-Rio Grande Valley, was coached by Al Ogletree and had the best record of all teams heading into Omaha that season. The 42-7 overall record included two history-making triumphs along the way as Ogletree’s team defeated traditional power Texas twice in the district tournament to advance to what remains the school’s only CWS appearance.
The two wins over the Longhorns marked the first time Texas had been shutout in consecutive games in 62, yes, 62 years.
ROAD TO THE TITLE
As most people expected, Southern Cal had little trouble winning its first game in Omaha. The Trojans defeated Seton Hall 5-1 to advance to play Southern Illinois, which had slipped past UT-Pan American 5-4. The Salukis defeated USC 8-3 to send the Trojans to the loser’s bracket of the tournament.
Title hopes were kept alive as USC defeated Tulsa, which was 3-0 in the tournament leading up to the showdown with the Trojans, 8-4. Tulsa had defeated Mississippi State 5-2 and Harvard 9-8 before knocking off Southern Illinois 9-4. Now, with both the Trojans and Golden Hurricane facing the prospect of seeing their season come to an end, the baseball gods shined down on USC as the Trojans defeated Tulsa for the second time in as many outings with a narrow 3-2 win.
USC pitcher Mark Sogge helped himself, and the Trojans, out of trouble late in the game. With the score tied 2-2 in the eighth inning and with the bases loaded, Sogge picked off a Tulsa runner on a play that eventually turned into a double play to end the inning. Sogge, who was later named to the all-tournament team came up big at the plate in the ninth inning by singling in what turned out to be the winning run as the Trojans advanced with a 3-2 win and earning a rematch against Southern Illinois for the biggest prize.
The Salukis had managed to keep its own title hopes alive by eliminating Texas-Pan American 8-6 after its loss to Tulsa earlier in the tournament.
Frank Alfano and Craig Perkins hit back-to-back home runs to left field in the bottom of the seventh inning to break open a close game and give the Trojans some breathing room.
Southern Illinois had taken a 1-0 lead in the second inning to what turned out to be its only run of the game.
USC gained the lead with two runs in the bottom of the third and tacked on one more in the fourth inning to build a 3-1 advantage over the Salukis.
After the blasts by Alfano and Perkins Southern Illinois made things interesting by scoring a run in the top of the ninth to close to within 7-2. But, with the bases loaded, USC pitcher Steve Busby fanned the final batter of the game to secure the win for the Trojans.
Busby, a key member of the USC staff which set a conference record during the regular season by tossing 38.1 consecutive scoreless innings at one point, went the distance in the championship game. He scattered eight hits and struck out six while walking three batters. He finished the season with an 11-2 record on the mound for the Trojans.
USC, meanwhile, had 10 hits on the day with Alfano and teammate Tim Steele leading the way with two hits each.
Freshman sensation Fred Lynn, who was named to the all-tournament, batted .467 (7-for-15) in the tournament with a home run. He did not play in the championship game.
School Coach Record Conference
BYU, Glen Tuckett, 31-14, Western Athletic Conference
Harvard, Loyal Park, 26-6, Eastern Intercollegiate Baseball League
Mississippi State, Paul Gregory, 32-10 Southeastern Conference
Seton Hall, Owen Carroll, 16-12, Metropolitan Collegiate
Southern California, Rod Dedeaux, 41-10, Pacific 8
Southern Illinois, Richard Jones, 40-7, Midwestern Conference
Texas-Pan American, Al Ogletree, 42-7, Independent
Tulsa, Gene Shell, 32-10, Missouri Valley
Note – records are prior to start of 1971 CWS
1971 CWC Scoreboard
Game 1 Harvard 4, BYU 1
Game 2 Tulsa 5, Mississippi State 2
Game 3 Southern Cal 5, Seton Hall 1
Game 4 Southern Illinois 5, Texas-Pan American 4
Game 5 BYU 3, Mississippi State 1 (MSU eliminated)
Game 6 Texas-Pan American 8, Seton 2 (Seton Hall eliminated)
Game 7 Tulsa 9, Harvard 8
Game 8 Southern Illinois 8, Southern Cal 3
Game 9 Texas-Pan American 1, Harvard 0 (Harvard eliminated)
Game 10 Southern Cal 8, BYU 6 (BYU eliminated)
Game 11 Tulsa 9, Southern Illinois 4
Game 12 Southern Illinois 8, Texas-Pan American 6 (UT-PA eliminated)
Game 13 Southern Cal 8, Tulsa 4
Game 14 Southern Cal 3, Tulsa 2 (Tulsa eliminated)
Championship Southern Cal 7, Southern Illinois 2
Pos. Name Year School
P Steve Rogers Sr. Tulsa
P Mark Sogge Jr. Southern Cal
C Larry Calufetti So. Southern Illinois
1B Jerry Tabb Fr. Tulsa
2B Frank Alfano Sr. Southern Cal
3B Mike Eden Jr. Southern Illinois
SS Dan Radison Jr. Southern Illinois
OF Steve Bowling Fr. Tulsa
OF Jim Dwyer Jr. Southern Illinois
OF Fred Lynn Fr. Southern Cal
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.