WICHITA, Kan. — Cal State Fullerton, the defending College World Series champion, faces a difficult and potentially long road back in the NCAA Midwest Regional today after a frustrating 6-1 loss to top-seeded Wichita State Saturday.
Wichita (53-9) took command as the tournament's only unbeaten team. Fullerton (45-15) meets Rice (41-22) at noon today in a losers' bracket elimination game in Eck Stadium. That winner will go against Wichita State at 5 p.m., still needing two victories over the Shockers to win the championship.
If Wichita should lose today, the two teams would return at 11 a.m. Monday to decide the berth in the College World Series.
The losers' bracket game originally was scheduled for Saturday night, but the schedule had to be revised because of the four-hour rain delay of the Fullerton-Wichita game.
The Titans were left on hold at their hotel Saturday night, awaiting a decision by the tournament committee on when they would play again. But the new schedule didn't become official until it was evident that Rice's 11-8 victory over Indiana was going to preclude the start of an even later game.
Strong pitching by starter Brandon Baird (7-5) was the key to Wichita's victory over Fullerton. Baird gave up four hits and no runs over 6 1/3 innings before reliever Braden Looper came on to close it out.
Baird struck out Steve Chatham, Jeremy Giambi and Mark Kotsay in the first inning, and the Titans' frustration built from there.
"The kids were ready to compete and play hard, but when they didn't get their way, they overreacted," Coach Augie Garrido said. "It wasn't until about the fifth inning that we got going."
Second baseman Jerome Alviso took a called third strike in the third inning, then flipped his bat back in the direction of home plate umpire Tony Maners while walking away. He was ejected immediately.
"If the umpire hadn't thrown him out, I would have," Garrido said.
Titan starter Brent Billingsley gave up only four hits in the first four innings, but two of them were home runs. Billingsley (11-2) pitched 5 2/3 innings, giving up five runs on seven hits.
Adam McCullough hit a two-run homer to right in the first inning after a double by Travis Wyckoff. Billingsley got through the second without a problem, but then Casey Blake connected for a bases-empty homer in the third inning for a 3-0 Wichita lead.
"They hit good pitches," Billingsley said. "They hit pitches I wanted to throw."
The Shockers added another run in the fifth when Zack Sorenson led off with a double, and scored when a ground ball took a high hop over shortstop Jack Jones' head for a hit on the artificial turf infield. Wichita also added runs in the sixth and seventh. "Their good pitching dominated our hitting," Garrido said. "And their hitting dominated some good pitching."
Fullerton had several scoring opportunities that ended in disappointment. Tony Martinez and Mike Lamb, who each had two hits, singled to open the fifth, but Baird got three quick outs. Martinez singled and Jones walked in the seventh, but C.J. Ankrum hit into a double play to end that inning. The Titans scored once in the eighth on hits by Giambi and Kotsay, but might have made it more had not Chatham been thrown out at third on Giambi's single.
"Baird pitched real well," Martinez said. "He kept the ball away from our hitters all day, and pitched real well against Mark and Giambi."
Garrido said no decision has been made about a starting pitcher against Rice, a team the Titans defeated, 7-3, in the tournament Friday. "Not many pitching staffs are ready for Game 4 at this level of competition," Garrido said.
Fullerton faced a somewhat similar battle from the losers' bracket two years ago at the Oklahoma State regional. The Titans lost to the top-seeded host team in the third game, but came back to beat Memphis, and then won against Oklahoma State, 6-5, for the title.
* TROJANS LOSE: USC lost to Oklahoma State, 9-3, but bad weather postponed its second game. C15
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
* Wichita State 6, Cal State Fullerton 1
* Rice 11, Indiana 8 (Indiana eliminated)
* Cal State Fullerton (45-15) vs. Rice (41-22), noon.
* Wichita State (53-9) vs. Cal State Fullerton/Rice winner, 5 p.m.