Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State entered Blair Field on Friday both ready to reinvent a rivalry. The two storied college baseball programs went heads up in a NCAA Super Regional tournament for the first time ever in front of 2,764 fans of nearly even allegiances.
The Dirtbags (42-18-1) pulled out a 3-0 victory in the opener of the three-game series after flying out of the gates, scoring all of their runs in the first inning. Junior ace pitcher Darren McCaughan was as skillful as ever, navigating through seven scoreless innings against CSUF (37-22).
Sophomore second baseman Jarren Duran led off the bottom of the first inning with arguably the best at-bat of the day. After fouling off four pitches and running the count full, he took the ninth pitch of the battle against the Titans’ junior ace Connor Seabold for ball four and found his way on base.
“I thought it was a good start to the game,” Duran said. “It’s good to battle and compete and win the first at-bat.”
Senior first baseman Daniel Jackson was the next batter and bunted Duran into scoring position. The Dirtbags struck first in the game on junior left fielder Lucas Tancas’ RBI single up the middle.
That wasn’t all; LBSU put up two more runs in the first with two, two-out doubles that each scored a run. Junior third baseman Ramsey Romano drove in Tancas from first base on a line drive that was scorched down the left field line.
With two outs in the inning, junior designated hitter Luke Rasmussen hit a line drive to the other side of the field, good for a double that scored Romano.
“In the last 10 days, [Rasmussen] has taken a lot better at-bats,” head coach Troy Buckley said to only 19 by opponents. The Dirtbags are now 27-13-1 when they have scored first.
“Like [Duran] said, ‘We’re here’,” Buckley said of the first inning rally. “It was key because of the environment and the heavy adrenaline of the first inning.”
On the other side of the ball, McCaughan retired the first 12 batters of the game. The Titans were stifled until he allowed his first base runner via walk in the top of the fifth inning. It was quickly erased after getting CSUF sophomore designated hitter Hank LoForte to ground into a 4-6-3 double play.
Junior third baseman Taylor Bryant got the Titans into the hit column with a 2-out double that split the left center field gap. It was not only CSUF’s first hit of the game, but Bryant’s first hit against the Dirtbags since March 26 after an 0-for-12 weekend in the final series of the regular season against LBSU. He finished 2-for-3 with a walk and two doubles.
“I was just sticking to an approach,” Bryant said. “I’ve seen [McCaughan] a lot in my career and we had the chances to mark, but we just didn’t come up with anything. That’s baseball sometimes.”
Both offenses would threaten but any and all rallies were extinguished by the staunch pitching on both sides. McCaughan was in a tight spot in the top of the sixth inning with one out when he allowed two base runners on walks. He went on to strike out the next two batters and end the inning and keep CSUF off the scoreboard.
“I just tried to start off those at-bats getting them [to hit a groundball],” McCaughan said. “Once I got to two strikes I was able to make a good pitch and finish them.”
With the 2017 MLB Draft next week, McCaughan likely made his last start at Blair Field. His final line included seven scoreless innings, he allowed two hits, and struck out seven batters.
“I didn’t even think about that,” McCaughan said. “It’s kind of cool to go out that way if that’s the way it happens.”
In the top of the ninth inning, junior closer Chris Rivera was brought into the game looking for his 13th save of 2017. After loading the bases with one out, he struck out the final two batters, the last being junior catcher Chris Hudgins who chased a slider out of the zone to end the game.
LBSU is now one win away from advancing to the College World Series in Omaha, Nebraska for the first time since 1998. The winner of game one in Super Regional goes on to win the series 73 percent of the time.
Buckley said he is unsure about who will start game two for LBSU but it will be between senior Dave Smith (9-1, 1.32 ERA) and junior John Sheaks (8-3, 4.12 ERA). CSUF will likely run out junior left hander John Gavin (7-2, 2.93 ERA).
“Were going to make the decision based on what gives us the best chance to win one out of the two games based on the matchups,” Buckley said.
First pitch of game two is scheduled for 12 p.m. at Blair Field.
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