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Fullerton eliminates the Bruins

June 11, 2007|Peter Yoon | Times Staff Writer

Cal State Fullerton spent the last two weeks trying to silence doubters who said the Titans shouldn't be in the postseason.

A trip to Omaha should finally do the trick.

The Titans, considered a bubble team when the NCAA tournament committee made its selections two weeks ago, earned a spot in the College World Series when they defeated UCLA, 2-1, in Game 2 of the super regional Sunday night at Fullerton to take the series, two games to none.

It is the 15th time the Titans have qualified for the College World Series and the fourth time in five seasons, but perhaps the most unlikely of all of them.

They finished the regular season in a slide, losing 11 of their last 17, finished fifth in the Big West Conference and squeaked into the playoffs, but they have yet to lose a postseason game.

"A lot of people counted us out," Fullerton Coach George Horton said. "A couple of weeks ago, I looked the committee in the eye and asked them to give us an opportunity and we'd try to make them proud and that's what this ballclub did."

In the series clincher against UCLA, the Titans (38-23) were living on the edge but got some clutch pitching and defense and escaped with the victory.

The key play came in the top of the ninth inning when UCLA, trailing 2-1, had Justin Uribe on third base with one out and Ryan Babineau hit a bouncer to third.

Fullerton third baseman Evan McArthur, playing in, reached into the hole to grab it, spun around and fired a strike to catcher John Curtis, who applied the tag for the out.

Two batters later, Alden Carrithers flew out to left field and sent the Titans to Omaha.

"This team has been a roller-coaster ride," Clark Hardman said. "But every day we never lost confidence in ourselves."

For UCLA, it was a game of missed opportunities. It had leadoff doubles in the fifth, sixth, seventh and ninth innings but scored only one of them. The Bruins left 10 men on base, eight of them in scoring position, showing signs of their youth. The Bruins started six freshmen and sophomores.

"We just could not come up with the big hit," UCLA Coach John Savage said. "It was a very frustrating night because we had plenty of opportunities and we just didn't get it done."

The winning run came across in the seventh after Curtis reached on a single and went to second on a sacrifice by designated hitter Chris Jones. That brought up Matt Wallach, who had been one for 13 in the postseason before ripping an 0-and-1 pitch to left-center field for a run-scoring single.

It seemed that would be enough for UCLA starter Gavin Brooks, who was cruising. He struck out five of the first six batters he faced and gave up only three hits in the first five innings.

But he made his first mistake when he hung a one-out, first-pitch curveball to Hardman in the bottom of the sixth. Hardman blasted it over the right-field fence and tied the score at 1-1 with his second postseason home run.

Brooks finished with a career-high 12 strikeouts, without a walk.

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