- Wayne Drehs
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OMAHA, Neb. -- Mom could only watch. In her white Capri pants, blue nylon pullover and orange Cal State Fullerton visor -- the same exact outfit she wore 18 days earlier -- Linda Sarver stood in the Rosenblatt Stadium tunnel and screamed after each of her son Scotty's 90 pitches.
"GET HIM, SCOTTY!"
"HE'S GOT NOTHING!"
"SHUT HIM DOWN, JUST LIKE LAST TIME!"
Some 23 hours earlier, after Fullerton's disappointing loss to South Carolina on Wednesday night, Mom ran into her son near the team bus. He leaned in, whispered in her ear and delivered a simple message: "I want the ball."
With Fullerton's season on the line, everyone figured that honor would go to Jason Windsor, the Titans' All-American with a sub-2.00 ERA. But after throwing 145 pitches in Fullerton's World Series opener, Windsor was not available to start. So Coach George Horton turned to Sarver.
The same Sarver who hadn't pitched in 18 days. The same Sarver who had started only one game this season for the Titans. The same Sarver who had pitched for three schools in two years and was 0-2 with a 7-plus ERA in 2002.
It was the same Sarver who, in his own mind, knew he could take his team to the championship round.
"I was 100-percent confident that I could help our team win and give our pitching staff a lift," Sarver said.
And that's just what he did. Pitching inside to left-handers, outside to right-handers, mixing fastballs with curveballs, he kept the South Carolina hitters off balance, surrendering five hits and no runs in six innings.
Striking out seven, Sarver didn't allow a South Carolina runner to reach third base. The Gamecocks were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position. Sarver took the hottest hitting team in college baseball, a group that had racked up 47 hits and 35 runs in its last three games, and made them look pedestrian.
"Never in my wildest dreams did I expect a shutout," Horton said. "Scotty pitched like he was the All-American tonight."
And in doing so, Sarver not only beat South Carolina 4-0, but helped preserve Windsor for Game 2 of the best-of-three championship series against Texas that starts Saturday. Windsor threw three innings in relief Thursday, but Horton was confident that he'd be able to start his top two pitchers -- Ricky Romero and Windsor -- in Games 1 and 2 against the Longhorns.
Thanks to Sarver.
"I can barely put into words how I feel right now," Sarver said afterward. "It doesn't get any better."
It was just as sweet for Mom, not to mention emotionally exhausting. Nerves made it impossible for her to sit in her assigned seat, hold her hands in her lap and passively watch the game like any other fan. So she stood in the aisle, folded her arms across her chest, rocked back and forth between each pitch and shouted encouragement between each breath.
"Don't worry, Mom," one fan told her.
"Everything's going to be fine. You should be proud," another said.
But it wasn't so eas. Consider the sixth inning, when Sarver surrendered a one-out hit and walk to put South Carolina runners on first and second with none out.
"YOU GOT HIM -- THIS GUY'S YOURS!"
After getting ahead 1-and-2 to Kevin Melillo: "ONE MORE, SARVER. STAY AGGRESSIVE!"
After Melillo dropped a pop fly into center, after which South Carolina's Steve Pearce was forced at third: "NOBODY'S HURT. EVERYTHING'S FINE. LET'S GO GET 'EM!"
And after Brendan Winn fouled out to first to end the inning: "YEAH! YEAH! YEAH! YEAH!"
"I get real into it," she conceded. "I throw each pitch with him. I'm right there. I want him ahead in the count, first-pitch strike. I ride the wave with him."
And Scott can hear her.
"Oh yeah," he said. "Her and my older brother. In a place with 30,000 people, I can hear them."
It was big brother Frank who first got word that Scott would be starting, after seeing the information on the Fullerton team's Web site late Wednesday night. His first call was to Mom, his second call was to United Airlines.
Thursday morning, he flew from Ontario, Calif., to Denver to Omaha, weathering stormy conditions and mechanical difficulties to eventually arrive in Omaha less than two hours before the first pitch.
"We were sitting on the runway in Denver and I wasn't sure if I was gonna make it," he said.
But he did. As a total surprise to Scott.
"I'm warming up before the game and some guy keeps pestering me for my autograph," Scott said. "I look up and there's Frank. I couldn't believe it. I was just shocked."
The last time Sarver pitched, June 6 against Pepperdine, in his only other start of the year, he gave up just one run in a complete-game six-hitter. That day, Linda wore her white strappy sandals, white Capri pants, blue pullover, orange Fullerton cap, two strands of orange beads and a pair of dark sunglasses.
Thursday afternoon, when a cold front blew threw the Heartland, dropping temperatures into the 50s and making the end of June feel like the end of October, the California Mom debated if she should change. But then she thought twice of it.
"This is what I was wearing that day, so I told everyone that this is what I was wearing today. I don't care what the weather is. And I don't care what kind of looks I get."
After the Pepperdine game, Sarver handed his Mom the game ball. She's barely let it out of her sight since. Throughout Thursday's start, she tightly squeezed it in her hand during every pitch.
"I haven't let it go," she said. "And I want another one."
After Sarver came out of the game in the seventh inning, one of his teammates tossed the game ball into the dugout. A half hour later, when the 4-0 victory was complete, there was Mom in the front row, leaning over the edge. She told Scott how proud she was and how much she loved him.
Her son just smiled, reached into his pocket and tossed her the baseball, nearly bringing Mom to tears.
It will go in the family trophy case.
"Last night he wanted the ball," Linda said. "And tonight we have the ball."
Wayne Drehs is a staff writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cal State Fullerton's Scott Sarver knew he could perform well against South Carolina. He wasn't the only one.