It takes something special to overshadow Cal State Fullerton pitcher Kirk Saarloos, and teammate Mike Rouse provided it Friday night.
Rouse blasted three home runs in consecutive at-bats, including two in Fullerton’s eight-run second inning, to lead the Titans to a 13-2 victory over Mississippi State in the opener of a best-of-three super-regional series in front of a record Goodwin Field crowd of 3,412.
Saarloos (15-2) won his 15th consecutive decision, giving up two runs on four hits while striking out nine and walking one in seven innings.
Fullerton (45-16) can clinch its 11th trip to the College World Series with a victory over the Bulldogs (39-23) tonight. Two freshmen are the scheduled starters. Paul Maholm (8-4) is set to start for MSU against the Titans’ Darric Merrell (6-4). A third game, if necessary, would be played at 1 p.m. Sunday.
Rouse also had a two-run double in the seventh, and finished with seven RBIs. Rouse and Chris Stringfellow each went four for five.
“I’ve never had three homers in a game, never in my life,” Rouse said. “I felt really comfortable at the plate and saw the ball really good. I tried to watch everyone in front of me before I batted.”
The Titan record for homers in a game is four set by Sam Favata in a 34-5 win against La Verne in 1980.
Saarloos said Rouse and the other Titan hitters made it easy for him.
“When you get up 8-0, you just try to throw strikes,” Saarloos said. “I was able to stay down in the zone and the sinker was working.”
Rouse led off the second with a towering drive over the wall in center off starter Tanner Brock (7-2), igniting the biggest inning against the Bulldogs this season.
Stringfellow reached on an infield hit and moved to second on a sacrifice. Brock walked Shawn Norris, and a single by David Bacani and a double by Robert Guzman produced two more runs.
Brock walked Jason Corapci, then hit Aaron Rifkin, forcing in a run. Guzman scored on Brett Kay’s sacrifice fly for a 5-0 Titan lead. Rouse’s second homer of the inning was a three-run shot to right-center, sending Brock to the sidelines. Stringfellow doubled for his second hit of the inning off reliever Jonathan Papelbon, but Papelbon got an infield out to end the inning.
Fullerton picked up another run in the third for a 9-0 lead when Bacani, who ripped a one-out stand-up triple to right, scored on Guzman’s single.
Rouse brought the crowd to its feet again with his third homer of the game, this one off Papelbon to left with one out in the fourth.
Saarloos, who entered the game with opponents batting only .184 against him, gave up a looping one-out single to Phillip Willingham in the first, but struck out the next two batters to end the inning. Saarloos went on to retire 10 consecutive batters before hitting Casey Long, the first batter in the sixth.
Former Titan Coach Augie Garrido attended the game along with actor Kevin Costner, a Fullerton alumnus. Garrido’s Texas team was eliminated last weekend in the Stanford regional.
Chad Cordero, a freshman pitcher for the Titans, has been invited to try out for the U.S. national team. Cordero, who is 3-3 with 12 saves and a 1.59 earned-run average this season, will compete for one of six remaining spots.
Cordero and Merrell were named first-team freshman All-Americans by Baseball Weekly. Saarloos (15-2, 2.24) was named a second-team All-American by the same publication.
Sonora pitcher Jacob Mendrin, who was 6-0 with a 1.69 ERA, has signed with the Titans, Sonora Coach Pat Tellers said.