Long Beach — Facing elimination, Cal State Fullerton came out like a completely different ball club in game two of the NCAA Super Regional series overmatching Long Beach State. After being shutout in game one, the Titans demoralized the home team at Blair Field, collecting 15 hits to beat the Dirtbags 12-0.
LBSU was beat in every facet of the game: pitching, hitting and defense. Four total errors in the game lead to one unearned run. A fly ball that was dropped in center field with two outs in the bottom of the first inning, giving CSUF a free run. The offense was only able to mount a seven-hit attack that resulted in no runs. The difference in starting pitching was night and day, favoring the visiting Titans.
“This loss is on me,” LBSU head coach Troy Buckley said. “We weren’t ready to play and we’re a step behind Fullerton who took it to us.”
Now, CSUF (38-22) and LBSU (42-19-1) will battle one more time. The winner heads to Omaha to play in the College World Series and the loser goes home. It would be the Dirtbags first time back in 19 years and the Titans’ second trip in three years.
“We’re battled tested,” Buckley said. “We only lost one game today although the feeling is that we lost the series. We’re in position to win the Super Regional tomorrow just like they are.”
In game one, LBSU scored three runs in the bottom of the first that was enough to shutout the Titans to open the series. As big as that first inning was for the Dirtbags, the bottom of the third in game two was doubly important for the Titans after they scored seven runs.
LBSU starter Dave Smith came into the game with a 1.32 ERA and left after the end of the third inning with the mark inflated to 2.07. CSUF tallied 11 hits and nine earned runs over three innings against the Dirtbags’ senior standout.
“Give credit to Fullerton they came out with a plan,” Smith said. “When I threw bad pitches they didn’t miss them and they put the bat on the ball when I threw good pitches too.”
The Titans had eight hits in the third inning including four straight RBI singles with two outs that put the game well out of reach.
Smith claims he felt fine this week and warming up before the game despite throwing 13 innings in last weekend’s Regional tournament.
“We’ve asked a lot of [Smith] and he’s given us everything he has, even today,” Buckley said. “He just didn’t throw the ball very well.”
The Dirtbags also made four errors in the game, the first time they’ve made that many since March 21.
CSUF’s junior starter John Gavin was equally impressive as the offense, throwing his first career complete game shutout on the grand stage of a NCAA Super Regional. He allowed seven hits, struck out seven batters while only walking two.
Despite the enormous lead, CSUF head coach Rick Vanderhook let his starter stay in the game and finish it out.
“It meant a lot to have it be on this stage against our rival is great and also having it mean we get to play another game with each other,” Gavin said.
Buckley acknowledged the stellar performance put in by the 6-foot-6 left hander.
“He’s effectively wild,” Buckley said. “He has enough strength in his body. You’re just not going to [see the same pitch locations] out of him as [an opposing] hitter. ”
Most of the Dirtbags little offense was provided by juniors Laine Huffman (SS) and Brock Lundquist (LF). Huffman was 2-for-3 while Lundquist walked twice against Gavin and was 1-for-2.
“We have been through a lot as a team having to win three games to get here and we’re ready to go moving on to tomorrow,” Huffman said.
Everything will be on the line tomorrow as the two teams will face off for the ninth and final time in 2017. LBSU seemed rather confident despite one of their worst collective performances in years.
“We will play a good baseball game tomorrow,” Buckley said. “If that ends up in the “W” column then hey, that’s awesome.”
CSUF will throw red-shirt sophomore Colton Eastman (1-0, 1.38 ERA, 26.0 IP) in with the hopes of advancing to Omaha. Buckley did not announce a game three starter but said it would be between junior John Sheaks (8-3, 4.12 ERA) and sophomore Tyler Radcliffe (1-0, 3.52 ERA, 23 IP).
“It’s going to be toe-to-toe,” Vanderhook said. “The Big West against the Big West — it’s going to be a blast.”
First pitch is scheduled for 12:04 p.m. at Blair Field and can be seen on the ESPN family of networks.
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