OMAHA–Can five hours and 40 minutes of college baseball be riveting? What if it includes six errors–all by the winning team–eight hit batsmen, and five late innings of both teams pressing, trying too hard to come up with that winning hit?
Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine proved such a game can engross the baseball purist, the fan who appreciates what West Coast baseball truly is about. The Anteaters were the better team in the regular season and won the head-to-head series, and Monday–in the longest game in College World Series history–they were better than the Titans again, winning 5-4 in 13 innings on a run-scoring, walk-off single by Bryan Petersen.
The junior outfielder’s hit ended Fullerton’s season and advanced the Anteaters to Tuesday’s evening game, where they will face the loser of Monday night’s Oregon State-Arizona State matchup. It also capped a wild 13th inning that started with Irvine’s Taylor Holiday taking a dose–translation for non-West Coasters is a hit by pitch–off an inside fastball by Bryan Harris.
Holiday clearly did as he was taught, stepping closer to the front of the batter’s box as Harris went into his motion and turning into the pitch with the upper part of his left arm. Fullerton coach George Horton had to admire Holiday’s ingenuity, but he also protested vehemently and was ejected from the game by home-plate umpire David Buck.
“We alerted (the umpires) that they would do that, that they are trying to intentioanlly get hit by the pitch,” Horton said.
“We do that also,” he later continued. “They did a better job of it . . . they out-dosed us.”
Holiday, who had tied the game at 3-3 in the sixth inning with a two-run homer, admitted he was doing just that to give his team a spark, and it worked. Naturally, the Anteaters bunted Holiday over–sacrifice bunt No. 118 of the year for them–and Fullerton intentionally walked Cody Cipriano. Left fielder Matt Morris followed with a line-drive single to left that his counterpart, Fullerton freshman Josh Fellhauer, fielded cleanly.
While Holiday got a good jump from second base, Fellhauer’s throw was true, and catcher John Curtis tagged a sliding Holiday out at the plate. The Titans changed pitchers, bringing in lefthander Dustin Birosak to face Petersen, a lefthanded hitter. Petersen somehow blocked out the emotion of the moment and stroked a single to center field to score Cipriano easily.
“When the ball was hit (by Morris), you knew the game was in Josh’s hands,” said Titans first baseman Matt Wallach, who went 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a solo homer that started the scoring in the second inning. “To see the play and hear the crowd going wild, and then the pitching change happened, and they get the hit and you see your season end, your heart just drops a little. You realize you will never play with some of the guys on the team ever again.”
Anteaters coach Dave Serrano, an assistant to Horton with the Titans from 1997-2004, likened the game to an intrasquad game because of the similarities between the two programs. He and Horton knew the game would be bittersweet because one would have to leave Omaha afterward, and Horton choked up as he explained his postgame conversation with his protege and close friend.
“I said I loved him and he said he loves me,” Horton said, “and I do. I said I hope he wins the tournament. Both Coach Serrano and (assistant coach) Sergio (Brown) apologized, because they know how I’m feeling right now. Not for beating us, but for the fact that one of us had to go home.
“To be coaching at the College World Series against friends, coaching these players, if I’m not having fun during a game like today, I better retire.”
Dylan Axelrod (6-4) picked up the victory with 4 2/3 innings of outstanding relief, striking out seven and giving up only one hit. Horton bemoaned his team’s poor approach in the later innings–”we didn’t have many quality at-bats after the sixth”–but praised Axelrod’s effort.
“It’s like Coach Serrano said,” said the Anteaters’ Petersen, “everybody deserves credit for winning. Everybody executed and did their part.”
Serrano got in the last word: “That was West Coast college baseball at its finest. A lot of America got to see what Big West baseball was about.”
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