Bruins Stay Alive, If Barely, In Classic

LOS ANGELES—Cal State Fullerton was one lonely out from a berth in the College World Series. On Saturday night, Fullerton led UCLA 6-5 in the top of the ninth with two out and one on. Bruin second baseman Tyler Rahmatulla suddenly blasted the most dramatic and important home run in UCLA history over the left-field fence at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

Rahmatulla’s drive gave the Bruins a sudden and shocking 7-6 lead. Fullerton was able to tie the score in the bottom of the inning at 7-7, but an exhausted Titan bullpen surrendered four runs in the bottom of the 10th as UCLA won, 11-7. The best-of-three Super Regional is tied at one game apiece, with the deciding game scheduled for Sunday.

After the first two games, it is evident this is already a college baseball classic. Packed with more plot twists and story complications than a Jane Austen novel, UCLA and Fullerton have so far staged a thrilling, hectic, exasperating and epic battle.

Thanks in part to a home runs by Justin Uribe and Cody Regis, UCLA enjoyed a 4-2 lead entering the bottom of the seventh. Bruins starter Trevor Bauer tired, allowing four runs in that frame that gave the Titans a 6-4 advantage. A second home run by Regis narrowed the gap to 6-5 in the top of the eighth, setting the stage for Rahmatulla’s dramatics. Fullerton tied the score in the bottom of the ninth, when Fullerton’s two first-round picks, Gary Brown and Christian Colon, pulled off a scintillating double steal. After sliding into third, Brown alertly dashed home to tie the score when an errant throw deflected into short left field.

UCLA finally solved its inability to hit with runners on base by pushing across the four runs in the top of the 10th that sealed the victory. Bruin shortstop Niko Gallego placed an exclamation point on UCLA’s win in the bottom of the 10th, recording outs on two separate brilliant diving plays—one to his right, one to his left.

Saturday’s game was physically exhausting and mentally draining. Players and coaches from both teams trudged into the post game interview room in a daze, having survived college baseball’s version of trench warfare.

Fullerton Coach Dave Serrano, while somber, was classy and unapologetic in defeat: “Just like UCLA had a tough loss last night, we had a tough loss tonight. It’s a pretty tough loss when you’re one out from Omaha.”

Serrano, who doubles as the Titans pitching coach and calls his team’s pitches, defended his decision to throw a 3-1 fastball to Rahmatulla, a dead fastball hitter. “I don’t like walking guys, and he had count leverage,” Serrano stated. “He does what good hitters do—he squared up the 3-1 fastball.”

UCLA coach John Savage looked like a condemned prisoner who had just gotten a reprieve call from the governor one second before his sentence was to be carried out. “We have a lot of perseverance on this club,” Savage said. In the understatement of his career, Savage added, “That was a hell of a college baseball game.”

Sunday’s final game is slated for a 10 p.m. ET start. UCLA appears to hold the best cards, for a rested and ready Rob Rasmussen will start on the mound for the Bruins. Savage acknowledged that Garrett Claypool, one of the finest Tuesday starters in the country, is also well rested and available for bullpen duty if needed.

Serrano stated that freshman righthander Dylan Floro will be his Sunday starter, but the Titans' bullpen is thin and hurting. Closer Nick Ramirez was not available Saturday due to soreness, and other Fullerton relievers struggled Saturday.

A couple of crucial Titan position players are also nursing aches and pains. Second baseman Corey Jones had a shoulder pop out during a slide. It was popped back in, but Jones figures to be feeling the residual effects of that injury if he plays Sunday.

Gary Brown, the Titans’ sensational center fielder, pinch-ran and played in the field late in Saturday’s contest. A broken finger on his left hand has kept Brown on the sidelines for a couple of weeks. Brown stated that his hand feels fine, and the CSUF coaching staff will make the decision to put him in or keep him out of the lineup Sunday.

Serrano summed up his outlook entering Sunday’s finale: “I don’t have any concerns tomorrow. I’m proud of my guys, proud of my team. The loser who leaves this place will have nothing to be ashamed of.”