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Score 1 for the River Hawks, 13-5

By Used with permission from the Lowell Sun Online. By DAVID PEVEAR Sun Staff

MONTGOMERY, Ala. -- Twelve shots at the Regional were needed to finally get here, so UMass Lowell intends to make this Alabama dream last.

Exhibiting no stage fright or proper regard for a former champ, No. 14 UMass Lowell clobbered No. 2 Central Missouri State 13-5 last night in its NCAA Div. 2 National Championship debut before 1,416 fans at Paterson Field.

UMass Lowell (39-17) plays tomorrow night against No. 3 St. Mary's University of San Antonio (47-12), a 3-0 winner yesterday over Kutztown (Pa.) University.

"We played loose, confident. The kids were terrific," said UMass Lowell coach Jim Stone. "They were enjoying themselves down here before today. Now they're really enjoying themselves."

Jon Cahill, Sean Kerrigan and Lenny Carter each collected three hits -- and Allen Mottram, Adam McCusker and Matt Tupman each smacked homers -- as UMass Lowell belted 18 hits, the most allowed by Central Missouri pitching this season.

"Hopefully our players are embarrassed and will play more intensely on Tuesday," said Central Missouri coach Brad Hill, whose Mules (49-9) have lost five straight first-round games in Montgomery since Central Missouri won the 1994 national title under Dave Van Horn.

Mottram and McCusker, sophomore roommates, loosened up a 4-3 game in the seventh inning with three-run and two-run homers, respectively, righting their tardiness for a mandatory team breakfast yesterday morning.

McCusker took the blame for the oversleep, pleading ignorance on how to properly set the hotel alarm clock. The two entered a nearby restaurant to a standing ovation from teammates.

"I threatened to keep them out of the lineup," said Stone, jokingly. "I almost went so far as to make up a fake lineup card. But some of the veterans said, 'Don't do it. Adam will have a heart attack.'"

Like he did in the Northeast Regional the weekend before, Stone bypassed his ace, senior right-hander Nate Linstad (9-1, 2.81), and opened last night with junior left-hander Dave Williamson (5-3, 4.33) on a late hunch.

Stone had done so in the Regional to combat five lefties in Southern Connecticut's lineup -- and Williamson delivered. He did it last night to try keeping the swift Mules anchored near first base. Central Missouri came into the game with 145 stolen bases in 57 games. The Mules also were 11-1 against left-handed starters.

"None of those lefties were Williamson," Stone said about the hard-thrower with the mean slider.

"When they said they were throwing a lefty, I was surprised," admitted Hill. "Until I saw him throw. Pretty good stuff."

Willamson threw for six innings, allowing five runs on eight hits. He walked two and struck out five. Sophomore right-hander Dave Ouellette allowed two hits over the final three innings while earning the save.

"I think we sent a little message to these teams here that we can play," said Williamson. "We can hit the ball and we've got some pitchers who can pitch."

Williamson restricted the Go-Go Mules' running by allowing only two baserunners until the fifth inning (another reached on an error). That's when the Mules' impatience to get going while trailing 2-0 cost them a chance at the lead. With one out and Zach Norman on second after a leadoff double, Norman tried to sneak his way to third while Williamson was standing on the mound, not yet on the rubber. Norman was an easy out. The Mules followed with three consecutive hits, tying the game 2-2.

The River Hawks responded immediately. Lenny Carter led off the sixth with a double that was dropped by Mules left fielder Clabe Gaines against the wall. "It was drifting more than I expected, and tipped off the end of my glove," said Gaines.

Kerrigan then bounced a single into left that Gaines booted, allowing Carter to score the run that put UMass Lowell ahead for keeps. Kerrigan stole second, moved to third on a ground out and scored on a Matt Petros sacrifice fly to left, putting UMass Lowell up 4-2.

Gaines homered to center with one out in the bottom of the sixth to pull Central Missouri to 4-3.

But the sleepy sophomores, Mottram and McCusker, put the Mules to bed in the top of the seventh.

"The last three practices, our BP (batting practice) has been unbelievable -- the best all season," said McCusker. "Everybody went into this game confident."

"By winning the Region to get here, the team felt it already had done more than anyone else (in UMass Lowell baseball history) had done," said Cahill, explaining the team's looseness. "Everything else is extra."