FULLERTON, Calif.—Saturday’s elimination game between Columbia and New Mexico started at 4 p.m. Pacific Time, and for seven innings, it looked like the nightcap between Cal State Fullerton and Arizona State would start as scheduled at 8.
Then the Lions rallied for five runs in the eighth, and the game dragged on until the 13th inning, when Columbia finally pushed across a run and held off New Mexico’s threat in the bottom of the frame to win. By the time the Titans and Sun Devils got started, it was 9:45 p.m. PT, but the late start time did not deter a boisterous Goodwin Field crowd of 3,371, and it did not deter Justin Garza and the Titans. When the final out was recorded three hours later, Fullerton had earned a ticket to the regional championship round with a 1-0 win.
“We sat over there for a long time, a little longer,” Titans coach Rick Vanderhook said. “Once Columbia scored a run, we were all fired up on both sides, because we were all tired of standing in one spot. Once you get going, with the juices going, I didn’t even know it was 1 o’clock in the morning until just now.”
Garza, one of Fullerton’s freshman co-aces, said the late start “kind of rattled” him, but it sure didn’t show. He came out of the gate pumping 93-94 mph heat and struck out the first two batters of the game on disappearing changeups. He struck out four of the first five batters he faced en route to a career-high-tying nine strikeouts over 8 1/3 stellar innings of shutout ball. He was characteristically efficient, pounding the strike zone with all three of his pitches and exiting after just 101 pitches.
“I wanted to get ahead early with my fastball,” said Garza, who set a Fullerton freshman record by earning his 12th win of the season. “Usually my changeup’s my go-to pitch. I broke out the cutter around the third inning, and I just ran with those three pitches—they were working for me all game. I felt really good.”
“He just continued to pound the strike zone, and he just kept us off balance,” ASU coach Tim Esmay said of Garza. “He kept us off balance by throwing strikes. He could throw his changeup for strikes, he could throw his cutty or little slidy for strikes. He did a good job of never letting us get comfortable tonight.”
Arizona State’s own outstanding freshman, lefthander Ryan Kellogg, nearly matched Garza, keeping the Titans scoreless through six innings. But Jake Jefferies led off the seventh with a double off the left-field wall and came around to score two batters later on Richy Pedroza’s sacrifice fly, giving the Titans the only run they would need.
The Sun Devils put the tying run at third base with two outs in the eighth, but Garza escaped the jam by striking out the dangerous Michael Benjamin on an 84 mph cutter.
“We went three cutters in a row with that guy,” Garza said. “The first cutter cut the most out of them, the second had the least cut, the third really didn’t cut at all. I’m thinking he thought it was going to cut more, and it really didn’t, and he thankfully missed it.”
Garza exited after giving up a one-out single in the ninth, and Michael Lorenzen trotted in from center field to close it out. He froze Nathaniel Causey on a 96 mph fastball over the inside corner, then caught Trever Allen looking at a 98 mph heater over the outside corner to end it.
“(Garza) threw the best game that i’ve ever played defense behind,” said Lorenzen, who set a new school record by picking up his 35th career save. “I felt a lot of pressure to come in and take care of it. I told him there was no way he was going to leave this game with a no-decision.”
It was another instant classic in this intense rivalry series, which has featured 17 postseason meetings, with Fullerton now owning a 9-8 advantage. Six of those games have been decided by one run, with the Titans winning four of them.
“It’s been a history here with a lot of games with Arizona State and Fullerton,” Pedroza said. “I was just proud to be a part of it. I just told the team, ‘Enjoy it.’ “