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Cal State Fullerton defeats Washington 5-2 to force Game 3 in super regional

Cal State Fullerton defeats Washington 5-2 to force Game 3 in super regional
Cal State Fullerton's Jairus Richards (32) is congratulated by teammates after scoring a run against Washington in the fifth inning Saturday. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Tommy Wilson walked with purpose. He didn’t need to go anywhere or do anything, but there was still a strut to his step as he exited Saturday’s game into a tunnel of teammates and the roar of a capacity crowd chanting his name. “Tom-my Wil-son! Clap! Clap! Clap clap clap!” was the sound. He’d given them ample reason to cheer.

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The Cal State Fullerton right-hander was heaped with as much pressure as possible entering his start: A loss meant the end of Fullerton’s season. A win meant the Titans would play another day. Wilson delivered.

Behind his seven innings of three-hit, one-run baseball, Fullerton bested Washington 5-2 in Game 2 of the best-of-three super regional series. Game 3 will be played Sunday at 6 p.m. PDT. Another capacity crowd is expected at Goodwin Field to watch Fullerton, which started the season 1-7, try to advance to Omaha against Washington, which has never been to Omaha before. Just as Huskies manager Lindsay Meggs figured.

“Nobody has to be reminded of their history and the type of program they are and the success they’ve had,” he said. “I don’t know how realistic it is to expect anybody to come in here and get ‘em in two games.”

Wilson walked with an emotional purpose earlier in the game when Washington designated hitter Joe Wainhouse homered to give the Huskies their first run in the fourth inning. They still trailed by one, but after a flyout, AJ Graffanino tapped a dribbler to first base that was mishandled by Fullerton’s Jake Pavletich. That brought the go-ahead run to the plate.

Wilson, a junior, responded by striking out Willie MacIver. Then he induced a long fly ball to left that looked as if it might put the Huskies ahead, but left fielder Chris Prescott leaped at the wall and caught it just below the top of the fence. Wilson covered his face with his glove and spoke twitch-inducing words into the leather as he stomped off in triumph, having conquered the closest thing to a jam he saw all afternoon.

Cal State Fulerton second baseman Hank LoForte looks to turn a double play as Washington's Braiden Ward slides in during the eighth inning Saturday.
Cal State Fulerton second baseman Hank LoForte looks to turn a double play as Washington's Braiden Ward slides in during the eighth inning Saturday. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

“It means the world to me,” Wilson said, “to give my boys a chance.”

The Huskies (34-24) hope Joe DeMers can mimic Wilson’s performance Sunday. The junior right-hander orchestrated a perfect game this season and places second on his team with seven wins and a 2.44 ERA. Meggs elected to save him for Sunday after he closed Friday’s win.

Fullerton manager Rick Vanderhook said he has “no idea” whom he will start to combat DeMers and jokingly solicited advice from reporters. Some likely candidates are junior Andrew Quezada (4-5, 3.90 ERA) and freshman Tanner Bibee (3-5, 3.81).

Fullerton (36-24) will try to replicate Saturday’s offense against DeMers, starting by getting to him early. The Titans pounced on Huskies starter Jordan Jones in the second inning Saturday. It started when shortstop Sahid Valenzuela stepped up to hit and handed Pavletich the bat weight. He told Pavletich that he’d get on second and that Pavletich needed to drive him in.

Valenzuela did one better and smacked a triple to the wall in right-center field. Pavletich drove him in with a double.

Fullerton scored two more in the fifth and another in the seventh, and despite Wainhouse homering again in the bottom of the ninth, the game’s outcome was never really in question.

Meggs doubts that’ll be the case Sunday.

“It’s gonna go down in the ninth,” he said. “It’s gonna be runners on base in a one-run game in the ninth. Someone’s gonna have to make a pitch. Someone’s gonna have to get a hit. That’s what I expect.”

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