John Gavin Carries Fullerton Into Regional Final, Pushes Stanford To Brink

John Gavin (Photo courtesy Cal State Fullerton Athletics)

In February, in the second game of the season, junior lefthander John Gavin took the ball for Cal State Fullerton and dominated Stanford, holding The Cardinal to just two hits and one run over six innings in an 8-1 Titans’ win. On Saturday evening in the winner’s bracket of the Stanford Regional, fresh off watching Gavin baffle his hitters again, this time for seven innings, in a 4-1 Titans’ win, Cardinal coach Mark Marquess admitted to feeling a bit of déjà vu.

“It was just really about (Gavin) tonight, there was just too much of him,” Marquess said. “He pitched the same way against us to start the season down in Fullerton. He was really tough on us down there and unfortunately for us, he was really tough again tonight.”

Gavin wasn’t just tough though. He was dominant. Pitching in front of family and friends who made the short trip over from his hometown in San Jose, the big lefthander used his three-pitch mix to overpower Cardinal hitters from the start, allowing just three hits and finishing with 10 strikeouts, many punctuated with his typical display of emotion.

Gavin cruised through the first two innings without allowing a hit and other than dodging mostly self-inflicted trouble in the third inning and allowing a leadoff walk to come back and bite him in the fifth inning, Stanford was wholly unable to get the Titans’ pitcher out of his rhythm. He set The Cardinal down in order in five of his seven innings and finished his evening with a flourish, striking out the side in the seventh inning after pushing Vanderhook to leave him in for one more inning. After that impressive exit performance, this particular display of emotion had a bit more fire in it.

“That was a big three outs that we needed and I just got a little fired up,” Gavin said with a wide smile. “The little extra bit of adrenaline gave the fastball a little extra life tonight but then just kind of attacking the zone. I know it didn’t seem like I was just trying to throw strikes, but I was just really just out there trying to compete at times.”

Gavin’s crucial outing came on the heels of a sparkling outing Thursday from ace Connor Seabold and as if Titans’ embarrassment of pitching riches wasn’t already enough, Vanderhook announced sophomore righthander Colton Eastman will start Saturday and he is arguably the most talented pitcher of the three. A preseason All-American who won eight games and struck out 100 hitters in 100.2 innings last season, Eastman spent most of the season on the shelf because of elbow tightness and only returned to action in the middle of May.

Eastman has pitched just 10.1 innings since returning and Vanderhook “guaranteed” he wouldn’t get to 100 pitches Saturday, but he is also potentially the best pro prospect on the team and is coming off an outing against Long Beach State in which he allowed just one hit and struck out eight in just 4.1 innings. He might not work as deep into the game as Seabold or Gavin did, but he is a good bet to be almost or equally as effective.

Thanks to the veterans in his rotation, Vanderhook is an enviable position when it comes to setting his pitching rotation for the rest of the regional as well. Eastman’s return to the rotation not only gives Vanderhook a three-man rotation that most coaches only dream of, but it also gives him the luxury of moving sophomore righthander Gavin Velasquez (4.50 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 60 innings) back into the bullpen to join workhorses Blake Workman and Brett Conine, each of whom looked sharp in consecutive scoreless innings to slam the door on The Cardinal.

Vanderhook has been in this situation many times as both an assistant and head coach, and it was clear after the game, that the obvious truth that pitching depth is even more important in the postseason, was not lost on the Titans’ veteran coach.

“My first year we didn’t have that pitching depth, but every year since then we’ve had the (Thomas) Eshelmans and the (Justin) Garzas of the world. And now we have guys like Connor and John. It is nice,” Vanderhook said while chuckling. “I’ll tell you that.”

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