(special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com, photo by Matt Brown)
LONG BEACH, Calif. – Cal State Fullerton sophomore starting pitcher Colton Eastman was nearly unhittable.
After earning the win in the Titans’ Regional-clinching game at Stanford on last Saturday, the right-hander threw seven innings, allowing one hit and one unearned runs while striking out eight against Long Beach State Sunday. Eastman’s gem of performance helped the Titans to a narrow 2-1 win over the Dirtbags, clinching the Long Beach Super Regional at Blair Field.
Fullerton rebounded from its Game 1 loss to earn its second trip to Omaha in three years and 18th trip to the College World Series in school history.
“If you would have told me back when I got hurt we were going to Omaha, I don’t know what I would have said” Eastman, the 2016 Freshman Pitcher of the Year, said. “I’m back, and I did whatever I could to help our team go so I’m ecstatic.”
Eastman and Dirtbags starter John Sheaks had a pitchers’ duel going through three innings before the Titans struck in the fourth inning. Sheaks opened the inning by hitting Sahid Valenzuela and Dillon Persinger.
Shortstop Timmy Richards dropped a sacrifice bunt to move the runners up. Hank LoForte stepped to the plate and drilled a one-out single to score Valenzuela and Persinger, giving the Titans a 2-0 lead.
LoForte said it was really loud. The first part was to block that out.
“I think it’s my biggest accomplishment in my career,” LoForte said. “It was a team effort today, and we all came together and got the win.”
The Dirtbags scored their run in the sixth inning when Jarren Duran scored on a passed ball after leading off the inning with a single. LBSU’s offense struggled in the best-of-three series, scoring only four runs and stranding 28 runners.
Long Beach coach Troy Buckley said the strikeouts have been a problem for his team. The Dirtbags chased fastballs and took strikes on the outer half of the plate.
“It’s just the strikeouts that we had when runners were in scoring position,” Buckley said. “You don’t make them play catch and their defense was fantastic.”
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Brock Lundquist’s leadoff double off the wall made for a dramatic finish. Titans’ closer Brett Conine recorded a ground out and a pop out before striking out catcher David Banuelos to seal the win.
Fullerton, which dropped two series against Big West champion Long Beach State during the season, will open the College World Series against No.1 seed Oregon State on Saturday in Omaha, Neb.
“It was kind of like, you can have the Big West title,” Eastman said. “I’ll take Omaha.”