The low grades didn't bother Oklahoma, which welcomed Buckles and his 92-miles-per-hour slider with open arms.

"Dumb kid," Brock says, grunting. "Should have been a Sun Devil. Hope the bastard doesn't beat us."
The game is scheduled to start at 6:30 p.m. Brock is expected to arrive a few minutes before then. But about 15 minutes before the first pitch, Cathi Brock leans over a railing into the ASU dugout.

"Dad's not gonna make it tonight," she tells Bill Kinneberg, her hands shaking. "Mom got him here, but he got sick and he said he didn't think he could do it. He said to tell them to go out and kick butt."
Kinneberg calls the team over to tell it what's happening.
"Coach is sick and back at the hotel," he says, his voice steady. "It's his new medication. He said to battle your asses off like you never have before. To just keep it going."
Cathi Brock hands her father's lawn chair to someone, who sets it in a corner of the dugout. The coach's empty chair is pictured in countless newspapers, and becomes the most memorable visual image of the College World Series.

The game goes on, and it's a classic. Both teams have opportunities to blow it open, but clutch pitching and remarkable defensive plays keep it close throughout.

Billy McGonigle's over-the-shoulder catch in the first inning saves two runs. A great throw by the scrawny senior saves another later in the game. He has become a kind of folk hero in Omaha, the most popular player in the tournament.

The Sun Devils load the bases in the bottom of the sixth with the game tied 3-3. Scott Shores strikes out, but Sean Tyler rips a line drive into the left-center gap.

If Sooner center fielder Chip Glass can't catch up to it, at least two and probably three runs will score. But Glass stretches out horizontally, sticks out his glove at the last moment and makes the catch.

It's the play of the tournament.
Pitchers Bucky Buckles and Noah Peery are matched against each other as the game goes into extra innings. As usual, Peery is throwing well enough to get by, with a heart as big as Rosenblatt Stadium.

But as Jim Brock had feared, Buckles is magnificent. He may not be a wizard in the classroom, but he knows exactly how each Sun Devil hits.

In the 11th, Oklahoma manufactures a run via a walk, a sacrifice bunt, a passed ball on a miscommunication between Peery and Todd Cady, and a scoring sacrifice fly. The Sun Devils go quietly in their half of the inning.

Oklahoma 4, ASU 3.
The Sooners move to within two games of the national championship. ASU moves to within one game of elimination.

Kinneberg handles the postgame media blitz deftly. The game was as good as it gets in college baseball, he says, and it doesn't come across as a clichā. He then goes back to the hotel to mull over the momentous day.

Kinneberg and the other ASU coaches suck down a few beers in a room and try to mend their broken spirits with gallows humor.

One floor up, Jacob Cruz sits on the edge of his bed, crushed by the loss and his own failure to get a hit. He has downplayed the effect of Brock's illness on him in press conferences. But now he admits he's pressing.

"The guy is feeling like shit, and I feel bad for him," Cruz says. "It's on my mind whether I like it or not. He's done a lot for me, and I want to pay him back."

June 7
Jim Brock is back in Arizona as ASU takes the field for an evening elimination rematch against Miami.

He's been flown back this afternoon by Air Evac, and at game time is in a bed at Desert Samaritan Medical Center in Mesa.

Family members say later that Brock smiles each time an ASU player hits a home run in the game. That means five smiles--another by Todd Cady and two each by Jacob Cruz and Antone Williamson.

The Sun Devils win 9-5, knocking the favored Hurricanes out of the tournament and earning the team a rematch with Oklahoma.

"Everyone wrote us off after last night," says Damon Lembi, the outgoing first baseman from northern California. "They thought, 'Oh, they'll never come back from such a tough loss and that their coach is gone.' But we don't have any quit in us right now."

June 8
The season is over.
Oklahoma has defeated ASU 6-1 to eliminate the Devils from the College World Series. The Sooners grabbed an early lead, and their big lefty, Mark Redman, kept the Sun Devils in check.

A career-best pitching effort by Travis Gribbler kept ASU close until the last inning. But the mood in ASU's dugout was strangely subdued during most of the game, and the Devils never caught fire.

Now that it's over, several players are tearful. Others, such as Jacob Cruz, choose to keep their emotions bottled up in public. The pressure on these young men and their coaches has been relentless. Now they can go home.

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