COLUMBUS, Ohio — Goodbye Columbus, hello Omaha.
Cal State Fullerton, a three-time national champion, is back in the College World Series after a three-year absence.
The Titans, playing without two suspended starting pitchers, used a barrage of four home runs, including a grand slam by light-hitting catcher Craig Patterson, to stun Ohio State, 13-2, Sunday in the deciding game of the best-of-three super-regional series.
Sophomore left-hander George Carralejo, who had pitched no more than three innings in a game all season, also played a key role. Carralejo held the Buckeyes to two hits and one run through five innings in his first start since Feb. 10. It was his first victory of the season.
The Titans (49-12), seeded No. 3 nationally, earned their 10th trip to Omaha and fifth in the 1990s. Fullerton will play Stanford, which won its super-regional with two consecutive victories over USC, in its first College World Series game. The playoff schedule will be announced today.
The status of four suspended Titan players--starting pitchers Adam Johnson and Marco Hanlon, regular second baseman David Bacani and utility infielder Chad Olszanski--for the College World Series remained uncertain Sunday.
Coach George Horton, who suspended the players indefinitely, said he plans to make a decision today on their status after further discussions with school officials. The players were arrested after a rock-throwing incident a week ago in South Bend, Ind. The NCAA Division I baseball committee also might want to review the case since it occurred during the playoffs, an NCAA spokesman said Sunday.
"Winning this playoff without them shows how much heart this team has," said shortstop Ryan Owens, who drove in 13 runs in the three-game series, including two more on Sunday. "I think we played two of the best games we've played this season here."
Carralejo's effort was the second consecutive strong performance from a pitcher not used in last week's regional at Notre Dame. Another left-hander, Jon Smith, had held Ohio State to six hits through 7 1/3 innings in Fullerton's victory Saturday after pitching no more than two innings in a game since April 10 because of arm and shoulder soreness.
"They told me last night that I was going to be starting, and I didn't get much sleep, but I was confident going in," Carralejo said. "I never doubted myself this season, even though I haven't pitched that much."
Carralejo had given up 20 earned runs in 15 innings (12.0 ERA) coming into the game, but the Buckeyes didn't get a run off him until Tom Durant doubled leading off the fourth and scored on the second of two infield outs. Carralejo hit the first batter he faced in the sixth, and pitching coach Dave Serrano replaced him with Jordan DeJong.
"His pitching hand had started cramping earlier, and then it did again on the first pitch in the sixth, so we decided it was time to make a change," Serrano said. "I'm glad we started him. He pitched great. I had a gut feeling about him. I told him last Wednesday that he was going to play a major role in us getting out of this regional. We thought he was a better matchup for Ohio State with all their left-handed hitters than DeJong."
Carralejo also won an elimination game in last year's NCAA regional at Louisiana State against Harvard.
DeJong pitched 1 2/3 innings, giving up three hits, including a solo homer to Matt Middleton with one out in the seventh, and closer Kirk Saarloos came on to hold the Buckeyes (50-14) scoreless on one hit in the final 2 1/3 innings.
The pitchers got a big lift from the four Titan home runs, one each by Patterson, Shawn Norris, Reed Johnson and Aaron Rifkin. Johnson's 13th homer gave him his 99th run scored in the season, breaking the school record of 98 set by Tim Wallach in 1979.
Patterson's grand slam set the tone in Fullerton's five-run second inning. It was only his second homer of the season and fifth in his three-year career. "I don't even remember the last time I hit a grand slam," Patterson said. "I just got a pitch I could hit, and got a good swing at it."
The Titans got another run in the inning on Chris Beck's RBI single, and added two more for a 7-1 lead in the fifth on Norris' sixth homer of the season.
With the game in hand, the Titans continued the offensive surge, and the crowd of 2,117 began dwindling rapidly after Johnson's bases-empty homer at the start of the eighth. Rifkin followed it with a two-run shot later in the inning.
It was the 11th time in the last 17 games that Fullerton has hit three or more home runs in a game. The Titans have 89 home runs for the season, four shy of the school record of 93 set in 1981 and tied last year.
* DIANE PUCIN
Fullerton's four suspended players have been punished enough and should be allowed to return. Page 12