After coughing up a one-run ninth inning lead, No. 4 Cal State Fullerton was able to rally in the bottom half for a fortuitous 4-3 win over visiting UC Santa Barbara at Goodwin Field on Friday night.
The Gauchos (18-16, 4-5 Big West) used three relief pitchers in the ninth, but none were effective. Left-hander Greg Mahle allowed a bunt single to left fielder Austin Diemer, and was then replaced after throwing one ball to third baseman Matt Chapman.
UCSB Head Coach Andrew Checketts then brought in star closer Dylan Hecht despite the fact that Hecht was battling a stomach flu which caused him to vomit 25 times Thursday, according to Gaucho media members. Hecht was also hit in the face with a baseball while warming up in the bullpen prior to entering the game, sending him to the ground for a short while. He threw six pitches—all balls—and was then removed from the game.
Jared Wilson relieved Hecht with two runners on base and a 3-0 count to center fielder Austin Kingsolver, and immediately walked him to load the bases with nobody out. With shortstop Richy Pedroza at the plate, Wilson threw a pitch in the dirt that got by Gaucho catcher Jackson Morrow, allowing all three runners to advance. Diemer scored from third base to tie the game at three. Pedroza then lifted a sacrifice fly to center field to bring home Chapman for the win.
“We had the confidence that we were going to score,” said Pedroza. “We knew we had to score to win, anyway.”
Michael Lorenzen had taken the mound in the top of the ninth trying to protect a 3-2 lead, but blew his first save in his last 17 attempts. His previous blown save came May 1, 2012.
With pinch runner Campbell Wear on first base with one out, UCSB right fielder Luke Swenson pulled a triple into the right field corner, landing just inches fair. Then, with the go-ahead run at third base, Morrow executed an unlikely suicide squeeze on an 0-2 count to give the Gauchos a brief 3-2 lead. The pitch was a fastball that may have bounced in the opposite batter’s box had it not been bunted.
“What happened to Mike was rare,” Pedroza said of Lorenzon’s blown save. “And then they gave us a good opportunity in the bottom of the ninth by walking a couple of guys.”
The Titans (31-5, 8-1 Big West) were trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh when left fielder Anthony Hutting ripped a one-out single into right and was pinch run for by Diemer.
Chapman followed by hitting into what appeared to be an inning-ending double play, but prior to the ball reaching UCSB shortstop Brandon Trinkwon, it took a ridiculous hop and flew over Trinkwon’s head into shallow left-center field. Diemer advanced to third and Chapman moved up to second when left fielder Kelly Dalton was unable to pick the ball up cleanly. Kingsolver followed with an infield single to tie the game at one.
A second run scored in the inning when Richy Pedroza nearly hit into a double play, but the throw to first was in the dirt and unable to be picked by first baseman Tyler Kuresa. Chapman scored from third base to put the Titans ahead 2-1.
CSUF starting pitcher Thomas Eshelman earned a no-decision despite throwing eight innings, striking out seven Gauchos and allowing just a first inning run. The freshman’s streak of 63.1 innings without issuing a walk to start his college career was snapped when he threw a 3-2 fastball high to Trinkwon. Eshelman was only two innings short of the Titan record, which belongs to Wes Roemer, who reached 65.1 innings in 2006.
Eshelman received two separate ovations from the crowd of 1,882—first immediately after ball four, and then again after the inning when his feat was displayed on the scoreboard. Eshelman called the experience “humbling.”
“That kid pounds the zone like no other,” Pedroza said. “He gave up that one (first inning run); other pitchers could have got flustered or rattled, but he got back to his game plan and just kept pounding it and kept us in the game.”
“He pitched efficiently, threw strikes, and they played good defense behind him,” said Head Coach Rick Vanderhook.