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Cal State Fullerton’s World Series berth slips away in 10th

The footprints lingered when the stadium stood still, and for the Washington Huskies, they’ll linger for a lifetime.

Someday they’ll tell their children about how they danced on the infield clay, leaving their imprint on the ground and the Washington baseball program. Soon those prints will be smoothed, grated and forever erased from the Goodwin Field clay. But the Huskies will remember.

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Cal State Fullerton will remember too. The Titans will remember the night Omaha slipped away.

That was clear in Hank LoForte’s eyes when he entered the postgame news conference following Fullerton’s 6-5 loss to the Huskies in the deciding Game 3 of the super regional. There were no tears — his intact eye black made that clear — but his eyes glazed and he never smiled. Fullerton’s second baseman never looked up from the table unless someone asked him a question.

“All we can do is really learn from this and use it for next year to try and gain some momentum,” he said. “[We’ll] just remember them dogpiling and get back to where we are.”

LoForte played both hero and villain in his team’s loss, but the story of this game didn’t start with him. It started where some baseball games end: the top of the ninth inning, with Washington three outs away from Omaha and ace Joe DeMers on the mound.

DeMers was as advertised, carrying a perfect game into the top of the seventh inning. When he gave up his first hit — a double into the right-field corner from LoForte — he’d thrown 53 pitches. But it all unraveled in the ninth.

Washington players celebrate after beating the Cal State Fullerton in the 10th inning of an NCAA super regional game on Sunday.
Washington players celebrate after beating the Cal State Fullerton in the 10th inning of an NCAA super regional game on Sunday. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

It started when he drilled Fullerton pinch-hitter Jordan Hernandez and sent him to the ground for about a minute. With a man on for only the third time all evening, the Titans capitalized and tied the score with a single from Mitchell Berryhill, a sacrifice fly from Ruben Cardenas, a single from Sahid Valenzuela, and another single from Jake Pavletich that ricocheted off DeMers’ glove and trickled out toward shortstop.

Another single from left fielder Chris Prescott gave Fullerton a one-run lead entering the bottom of the ninth. DeMers finished after 82/3 innings with four runs, five hits and three strikeouts.

But the Huskies came back in the bottom of the inning against Fullerton’s Brett Conine with an RBI single from Jonathan Schiffer. Then Fullerton came back with a home run from LoForte — his second of the season — in the top of the 10th. And then the Titans fell apart.

It started with a single from Washington designated hitter Joe Wainhouse off LoForte’s glove. Then a throwing error on a bunt, a dropped forceout by LoForte at second base and a mishandled grounder from Valenzuela loaded the bases. Washington (35-24) finished the game with a no-out sacrifice fly and advanced to Omaha for the first time in its history.

“That game was epic,” Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook said. “Those last innings were a heavyweight fight. The problem is we’re lightweights.”

Fullerton (36-25) starter Tanner Bibee matched DeMers to open the game. The freshman retired the first seven hitters he faced before giving up a Christian Jones double into left-center field. Titans center fielder Berryhill saved Bibee a run when he threw Jones out at home on a basehit to center. But after he escaped that third inning unscathed, the Huskies started picking away.

The first bite came from catcher Nick Kahle, who opened the fourth inning with a home run that rocketed over the left-field scoreboard. Third baseman Willie MacIver added another with a leadoff homer to left field in the fifth.

When Bibee gave up a bloop single to right one hitter later, his evening was over. He finished with two earned runs given up in four-plus innings with six hits and three strikeouts.

Vanderhook said that given the team’s 1-7 record to start the year, the result was disappointing, but still impressive in some way.

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“From where we started to be one out away from going to Omaha,” he said, “I’m proud of these guys.”

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