A dominant Jasmine Antunez struck out 17 batters in eight innings of work, freshman Melissa Sechrest belted a game-winning two-run home run and Kelly Ford registered win number one as head coach of the Titans—all in time for the team to tarp Anderson Family Field before a rainstorm descended upon Cal State Fullerton in the early hours of Friday morning.
The Titans (1-1) staged a dramatic two-out rally in their final at bat to win game two of their season-opening doubleheader against the University of Southern Mississippi, 4-2, after dropping game one, 3-1.
Starting pitcher Kaitlin Wilson of the Golden Eagles (1-1) recorded outs on her first two pitches of the bottom of the sixth inning with the Titans trailing by a run, but designated player Eliza Crawford managed to keep the inning alive by poking a single down the left field line.
After Crawford was removed for pinch runner Jena Rubio, catcher Ariel Tsuchiyama ripped a game-tying triple into the right field corner. Three pitches later, Sechrest’s blast sent the announced crowd of 374 into a frenzy.
“I knew once Ariel hit that ball and scored Jena that I had to come up clutch and do it for my team,” said Sechrest after the game. “I hit it because we were winning that game. There was no way that it wasn’t going to happen. I was just doing it for my team.”
On the mound, Ford threw a one-two punch at Southern Mississippi, pairing the freshman Antunez (0-1) with senior Katey Laban (1-0) for both games. Antunez pitched the first four innings of each game, and Laban pitched the final three.
“I thought that they both did a great job,” said Tsuchiyama, who also sang the national anthem prior to game one. “They did a good job bouncing back when they weren’t getting their calls, or when we had bad plays or anything like that. They did a really good job turning it around and sticking with their game plan.”
Despite starting the season with a losing record, Antunez was nearly untouchable, allowing only three hits in eight innings while fanning 17 Golden Eagles.
The Titans were stifled offensively during the opener, mustering only four hits in 26 at bats. Their best opportunity of the game was in the bottom of the seventh inning, trailing 3-0.
Shortstop Samantha Galarza led off with a single before Crawford drew a four-pitch walk. Sechrest, representing the tying run, sent one to the warning track in left field before it was caught.
Center fielder Ashley Carter also came extremely close to tying the game that inning—literally within an inch or two.
The game was still alive following a two-out, bases loaded RBI infield single by right fielder Tiffany Sheffler (on a full count), and the left-handed hitting Carter sent what looked to be an extra-base hit down the left field line. However, the ball landed barely foul, drawing a collective sigh from the fans. Carter struck out chasing a high fastball on the next pitch to end the game.
CSUF was forced to play from behind in game two when Mackenzie Sher launched a two-out solo-home run in the top of the fourth inning to break a scoreless tie.
The Titans tied it in the bottom half when Tsuchiyama drove in shortstop Gabby Aragon with a two-out RBI single, but Southern Mississippi reclaimed the lead in their next at bat with a go-ahead infield single by infielder Morgan McKeever.
The Golden Eagles would nurse that 2-1 lead until the Titans rallied for the three runs in the bottom of the sixth.
“I’m just proud of the athletes,” said Ford. “It’s hard coming back off a loss. A lot of pressure on them, a lot of eyes on them, a lot pressure to perform, and somehow they shook it and made it happen.”
Several Titans were reported to have some pregame jitters, including Ford.
“I probably felt nervous just like the players did. But I’ll tell you, game two, it felt good to get the monkey off the back, and we’re on a winning streak and it feels good.”
Cal State Fullerton was slated to take on McNeese State University (Lake Charles, Louisiana) in a double header Friday, but both games were cancelled due to weather, particularly heavy rain.