In what has already been a season full of highs, Cal State Fullerton pulled out its most thrilling win yet Saturday afternoon at Blair Field to clinch a series victory against Long Beach State. Trailing 5-1 after seven innings, the Titans (20-3) rallied for five in the eighth and two more in the ninth to stun the Dirtbags.
The Titans loaded the bases with one out in the top of the eighth before second baseman Jake Jefferies walked on a full count to bring home the first run of the inning. Pinch hitter Anthony Hutting followed with an RBI single, and two batters later, right fielder Austin Diemer was hit by a pitch to force home another run to pull the Titans to within one.
Batting with the bases loaded, a full count and the tying run on third base, shortstop Richy Pedroza tapped a weak ground ball behind the mound where Dirtbag shortstop Michael Hill attempted to make a bare-handed play. Hill could not grab the ball cleanly, and two runs scored, giving the Titans a 6-5 lead. Pedroza attempted advancing to second but was thrown out, ending the inning.
“I was looking for something more middle-out, then the pitch ended up being in,” said Pedroza. “I tried staying inside and I got jammed. Luckily I found a hole.”
The Titans added another two runs in the ninth to pad their lead. First baseman Carlos Lopez collected his third hit of the day and advanced to third base when third baseman J.D. Davis punched a perfectly-executed hit-and-run single into right field. Center fielder Michael Lorenzen brought home Lopez with a sacrifice fly, and catcher Chad Wallach drove in Davis with a line drive single off the glove of Long Beach first baseman Jeff Yamaguchi.
Long Beach (9-13) mounted a rally in the bottom of the ninth, forcing Lorenzen to earn the final two outs. After allowing an RBI ground out which brought the score to 8-6, Lorenzen got Dirtbag designated hitter Ino Patron to chase a two-strike curveball in the dirt, giving the Titans the victory. Patron finished the game with three hits and four RBIs, and was a home run away from the cycle.
CSUF starting pitcher Justin Garza (5-0) entered the game with an ERA of 0.99 but was roughed up by Long Beach hitters, allowing five runs in 4.1 innings on the mound. He was relieved by Willie Kuhl, who hurled three shutout innings and recorded four of the eight Titan strikeouts.
“Willie throws the invisible ball,” said Head Coach Rick Vanderhook. “Everybody knows what Willie’s gonna throw, and then it just kind of disappears on them right there, and nobody ever hits it.”
The comeback marked the second time in five days that the Titans won a game after falling behind by four runs. Kuhl was also dominant in that game, throwing 4.2 innings out of the bullpen and allowing only an unearned run.
“We always expect to win,” Vanderhook said. “The game’s not over until the end of the ninth inning. It got a little tight for us in the bottom and we had to go to Michael, but that’s why you play nine innings.”
“We knew if we just threw up good at bats and go all the way, we always have a chance until the game’s over,” said Pedroza. “We’re never going to give up, and it was good for our team to show that we don’t give up and that we are going to play until all nine innings are over.”
By Chris Konte & Sergio Gomez