NCAA South II Regional Baseball : Fullerton Beaten by LSU, 7-3 : Titans Miss Out on Chance to Go to College Series

<i> Times Staff Writer</i>

Cal State Fullerton was two victories away from a trip to the College World Series Sunday, but it balked at going any further.

Louisiana State took advantage of Fullerton’s mistakes and misfortune, stepping over the fallen Titans and on to Omaha with a 7-3 victory in the championship game of the NCAA South II Regional tournament Sunday at the University of New Orleans.

A crowd of 2,859 watched Fullerton take a 2-0 lead in the first inning and hold it through the fourth, only to begin a most unusual unraveling process in the fifth.


LSU put together a three-run rally that included a disputed balk call and an error on a Titan pitcher who grabbed a loose string of leather in his glove while reaching for the ball, inadvertently throwing both ball and glove to the ground. The failure to tie up that loose end helped LSU score the tying run.

Fullerton starter Longo Garcia, on the mound two days after he pitched a compete game in the Titans’ 1-0 loss to Southern University, was showing no signs of fatigue. Andy Mota’s two-run homer in the first had given him an early lead.

He went four innings without allowing a hit and extended the Titan pitching staff’s string of consecutive scoreless innings in the tournament to 26. Then came the fifth inning, which Garcia would like to forget but probably won’t.

With two outs and one run across, Garcia got Rob Hartwig, the Tigers’ No. 9 hitter, to hit a one-hopper back to the mound. Garcia fielded it easily, then turned to throw. When he reached for the ball, he caught the string in his glove and stripped the glove from his hand. He recovered but threw too late to first, and Richard Vasquez scored to make it 2-2.

After the game, Garcia showed reporters a loose leather strand in the pocket of his glove. “I went to grab the ball and I grabbed this,” he said.

Titan Coach Augie Garrido thought he had seen it all, but there was more. The next batter was Andy Galy, who hit a blooper that sliced its way into short right field. Ken Garcia (no relation to Longo) charged the ball and tried to glove it at the knees, but it bounced off his mitt and into foul territory. Joe Lewis scored on the play to give LSU a 3-2 lead. Hartwig tried to score from first, but Garcia recovered the loose ball and threw him out at the plate to end the inning.

Fullerton tied it in the sixth on Greg Mannion’s 10th home run of the season, but LSU went ahead to stay in the seventh, with the help of a balk called on Garcia. With two outs, Hartwig singled and was picked off on a quick move to first by Garcia. The Fullerton right-hander and most of his teammates began running off the field before home plate umpire Bruce Ravan called them back and sent Hartwig to second base.

“He was breaking his hands and starting to throw (to first) before he stepped,” Ravan said later. “The rule says he has to step before he throws, and he didn’t step.”

Garrido protested the balk call, as he had a similar call against Garcia in the fifth.

“We’ve pitched all year without balks, but they were balks today,” he said. “That’s kind of the way this game was decided . . . on things that don’t usually happen. That’s one of the first times I’ve ever seen the pitcher try to throw his glove to first base to try and get an out.”

Galy singled to right to drive in Hartwig and give LSU a 4-3 lead. The Tigers added three runs in the eighth and LSU pitcher Gregg Patterson, the tournament’s most valuable player, closed it out for his second complete-game victory in four days.

The Tigers (47-17) will be making their second straight appearence in the College World Series. The same poll (Collegiate Baseball) that ranked Fullerton second in the nation coming into this tournament had LSU No. 1 in its preseason rankings. Fullerton, which opened the season at 1-5, closed it with a 44-17 record.

“We’re not satisfied with finishing second in this tournament,” Garrido said. “That’s not good enough. But I think we came an awful long way from where we started to where we are.”

Titan Notes Ken Garcia was 0 for 4 Sunday, but finished the tournament 8 for 16 and was an all-tournament selection. Pitcher Mike Harkey was the only other Fullerton player to be named to the all-tournament team. . . . Did he or didn’t he? More reaction to the pivotal balk call on Longo Garcia: From LSU’s Rob Hartwig, who appeared to be picked off on the play: “The guy has a really good move when he doesn’t balk. But yeah, I thought it was close.” . . . From Titan Coach Augie Garrido: “I didn’t agree with it, but I know full well that he called what he saw. I’m not going to say that it decided the game. It certainly kept them in things, but they still had to be good enough to capitalize on it, and that’s what they did.” . . . And from Garcia himself: “I’ve used that move all season long, and it’s never been called on me before.” . . . Left-hander Larry Casian, who pitched a three-hitter Saturday afternoon, relieved Garcia in the eighth inning and gave up two runs on three hits. Freshman Mark Beck, whom Garrido considered starting against the Tigers, relieved Casian and retired all four hitters he faced. . . . The Titans hit .302 as a team during the regular season but dropped to .252 (34 for 135) in the regional tournament. . . . Sunday’s game started after a 75-minute rain delay.