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Fullerton Loses Bid to Repeat

Defending champions can't hold on to 7-2 lead and lose, 9-8, to Arizona State, which avenges past losses to Titans and heads to World Series.

June 13, 2005|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

The one thing Cal State Fullerton hasn't done in its illustrious baseball history is make a return trip to the College World Series after winning a national championship.

As they took a 7-2 lead in the decisive NCAA super-regional game against Arizona State on Sunday at Fullerton's Goodwin Field, the Titans looked as if they would have the opportunity to defend their title.

But Arizona State, led by a gritty catcher and a light-hitting utility infielder, staged a stunning rally to defeat the Titans, 9-8, and advance to the College World Series.

The Titans had one last gasp on Brett Pill's leadoff homer in the ninth inning, but Sun Devil reliever Brett Bordes retired the next three batters to send Arizona State to Omaha for the first time in seven years and ensure that there will be no repeat champion for the eighth consecutive year.

"It's not something you can prepare yourself for," Fullerton third baseman Ronnie Prettyman said of the loss. "We wanted to get past this weekend. Unfortunately, it didn't work out for us."

Tuffy Gosewisch, the Sun Devils' catcher and undisputed leader, capped a three-run sixth inning with a single off the Titans' Wes Roemer that scored Jeff Larish and Travis Buck to tie the game at 7-7. In the seventh, Joe Persichina greeted Fullerton closer Vinnie Pestano with a drive over the Titans' four championship banners behind the 385-foot sign. Persichina was hitting .208 at that point and had lost his starting job in the infield.

"I was in the cooler for a little bit," said Persichina, who entered in the sixth. "Every inning, I would go down [to the fence] and keep myself warm. I knew a time would come."

Arizona State (39-23) added an insurance run in the top of the ninth.

The Sun Devils lost in a super-regional at Fullerton in 2003 and were eliminated by the Titans in an NCAA regional on the same field last season. They appeared to be headed toward the same fate after Sergio Pedroza hit a three-run homer in the fourth. Sun Devil shortstop Andrew Romine booted a potential inning-ending double-play grounder in the third and second baseman Seth Dhaenens botched one in the fourth.

Fullerton (46-18) took advantage by scoring seven runs. Gosewisch remained optimistic.

"There's something special about this team," said the catcher, who went five for five. "I knew no matter how many runs we got down or no matter what happened to us, we were going to come back. After two years of seeing my season end on this field, this was serious redemption."

Said Arizona State Coach Pat Murphy: "I think they were shocked that we were going to come right at them. George [Horton] should know better than that. He should look at our history. We didn't fold."

Horton, who won his first title as Fullerton's head coach last season, said the Sun Devils were motivated by their past and a devastating loss Friday on a ninth-inning balk.

"I think all week leading into this, they were downplaying their chances," he said. "In recent times, we've been successful against them and ended their season. What a great job by them not only today but also bouncing back from a very tough loss on Friday night."

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