OMAHA -- Tell them it's impossible and they say it's possible. Tell them they can't and they say they can.
They are The Citadel Bulldogs -- probably the most stubborn bunch of bat-wielding, base-stealing, bubble gum-chewing kids ever to make it to the College World Series.
"There's not a game we don't think we can win," said first baseman Chris Coker, one of several players on the team who got a box-style crew cut recently to help create a "nastier-get-down-to-business" look.
Few outside the team gave The Citadel, a military school in Charleston, S.C., with an enrollment of 1,870 -- smallest of the 48 schools in the NCAA playoffs field -- more than a prayer of winning a game in the Atlantic Regional last week in Coral Gables, Fla.
Not only did the unglamorous, unknown, underdog Bulldogs win a game, but they breezed through the double-elimination regional unbeaten (4-0), defeating the mighty University of Miami twice by the scores of 6-2 and 4-1. Miami had not lost a regional on its home field since 1977 and had gone 28-2 in the eight home regionals since then.
"They played like we usually do," Miami coach Ron Fraser said.
In winning the regional, the Citadel became the first military school to get a berth in the eight-team College World Series that begins here today. The Bulldogs (45-12), seeded seventh, will face second-seeded Louisiana State Saturday in a 4:10 p.m. first-round game.
"This is the greatest athletic accomplishment in the history of The Citadel," the school's athletic director, Walt Nadzak, said after the regional championship game.
Not bad for a team that, according to the 1990 media guide, was "facing one of the biggest rebuilding years" ever, with the loss of seven seniors from last year's 30-20 club. The team was picked to finished sixth in the seven-team Southern Conference.
Additionally, the Bulldogs had to deal with the remnants of Hurricane Hugo, which damaged much of the team's home stadium, College Park. The team was forced out of the ballpark until a week before the season began and had to make do for most of its home schedule without dugouts and with construction crews working during games.
About the only thing The Citadel had going its way was Chal Port, its 55-year-old manager. Port, a bit of an eccentric with a knack for witty one-liners, is 606-365-1 in 26 years at the Bulldogs' helm.
Port's philosophy: fundamentals first. "Make the routine plays under pressure," he always says.
Without players who opt for bigger and more well-known schools, Port works with kids of lesser skills, molding them through hours of tedious drilling into the most fundamentally sound players they can be.
"I'm a driver," Port said. "I'm not a politician. I'm outspoken, and sometimes I'm crude. But I just want to get the job done. And don't give me any excuses."
As it has in the past, that no-excuses-type rule worked again this year. The Citadel exceeded everyone's expectations, winning the Southern Conference regular season and tournament championships, and advancing to the NCAA regionals for the first time since 1983. The Bulldogs broke the school record for victories in a season (40 was the previous high), and they set another record along the way with their 26-game winning streak -- the longest in Division I baseball this year.
The Bulldogs don't have any superstars, although pitcher Ken Britt (10-1, 1.88 ERA) and left fielder Anthony Jenkins (.388 batting average) have received more attention than others.
So what is the key to The Citadel's success? "Team unity," said pitcher Richard Shirer. "There's always somebody else stepping forward when we need it."
Said Port: "The talent level may not compare to that of other teams, but the whole is better than the parts."
The city of Charleston has embraced The Citadel for its accomplishments. Banners are posted on many street corners. T-shirts with Citadel logos are selling rapidly.
About 500 fans attended a welcome home-farewell reception Wednesday on campus during the team's stopover between the Atlantic Regional and the College World Series.
"This team has really captured the hearts of the people of this town," Charleston Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. told the crowd. "It has done it through guts, hard work and the team approach it has to playing this game."