College Baseball: Lopez, Titans prove unbeatable

FULLERTON – For the third straight game, Cal State Fullerton fifth-year senior Carlos Lopez erased a UC Irvine lead to produce a dramatic baseball victory for the Titans. Turns out, it was Lopez who also got away from the Anteaters.

"It's pretty funny, because I was supposed to go to Irvine," Lopez said after he hit his second walk-off home run in two days on Sunday, this time a three-run shot with one out in the ninth off reliever Evan Brock to give the host Titans a 7-5 triumph to sweep the three-game Big West Conference series in front of 2,551 at Goodwin Field. "I committed to Irvine when I was a sophomore [at Crespi High in 2006]. Then, when [then-UCI Coach Dave] Serrano came [to Fullerton following the 2007 season], I came over with him. So that was kind of a turn of fate on how that worked out."

Lopez hit a solo home run with two outs in the ninth to break a 2-2 tie on Saturday. He drove in the game-winning run with a single to cap a 14-pitch at-bat in the Titans' 5-2 come-from-behind victory on Friday.

"He looked like Don Mattingly in his day," Gillespie said of Lopez, who was hitless in his first four plate appearances Sunday, including a sixth-inning walk. "The pitch was down, and on the inner half, instead of the outer half, but how much complaining can you do. [Lopez] looked like a big-time Hall of Famer today ... and yesterday and the day before."

Lopez said Gillespie had issued what he thought was his goodbye at the conclusion of the two team's series in 2012 at Anteater Ballpark.

"He told me congrats, I had a great career and he was glad he'd never see me again," Lopez said of the 2012 conversation before he was not selected in the Major League Draft and elected to return for his final season of eligibility. 'When [Gillespie] saw me again before Friday's game, he said, 'I thought we were done with you.'

"I think as long as I can remember it, I will tell this [three-game] story," Lopez said. "It's pretty unbelievable, even when I think about it."

UCI (31-20, 13-11 in conference), which has now lost five straight and seven of the last eight to its Orange County rival, to which it has lost the last four conference series, could be done in terms of earning a postseason berth.

The Anteaters, ranked No. 24 in the USA Today/ESPN poll, have now lost four straight and eight of their last 11. They enter the final week of the regular season in sixth place in the 10-team Big West, one game behind fourth-place UC Santa Barbara and Long Beach State, and two games behind second-place Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and Cal State Northridge.

Gillespie has said for weeks that he believes his team must finish in the top three in the Big West to avoid missing out on the postseason for the second straight year, following a run of six straight NCAA Regional appearances through 2011.

UCI played like it was fighting for its postseason life all series long, and erased a 2-0 deficit on Sunday to take a 5-2 lead heading to the bottom of the eighth inning.

Junior center fielder Dominic Taylor tripled and scored on Connor Spencer's sacrifice fly to open the UCI scoring in the fourth off Titans starting pitcher Grahamm Wiest.

Taylor, who paced UCI's seven-hit attack by going three for five, singled to lead off the sixth and went to third on Spencer's subsequent double. Taylor Sparks followed with a run-scoring single and, after a popout and a walk, Jeff Stephens drove in Spencer with a fielder's choice grounder to short to put UCI up, 3-2.

The Anteaters, who received seven strong innings from junior starter Andrew Morales (just two hits allowed and 14 straight retired at one point), added to their lead in the eighth when Jerry McClanahan doubled with two outs to plate Sparks, who had singled and stolen second. After McClanahan went to third on a passed ball, he came around to score on Jeff Stephens' single.

UCI had back-to-back singles with two outs in the ninth, but Fullerton reliever Koby Gauna ended the threat and eventually picked up his third win in four decisions.

Jimmy Litchfield started the eighth in relief of Morales, who walked four and struck out five while throwing 110 pitches in pursuit of his 11th win. Litchfield was quickly chased after a double and a single put runners on the corners with one out.

Mitch Merten entered for UCI and struck out cleanup hitter J.D. Davis for the second out. But Michael Lorenzen tripled in two runs to pull the hosts (45-8, 20-4), ranked No. 4 by Baseball America, within 5-4.

After a single, sacrifice bunt and walk spelled an end for Merten, Brock, whose lone career save came in 2010, entered to try to preserve the win against Lopez.

The win clinched the 27th conference title, the 22nd straight postseason trip and the 35th postseason appearance in Cal State Fullerton's 39 seasons.

Cal State Fullerton has won four straight conference crowns and eight of the last 10.


Big West Conference

Cal State Fullerton 7, UC Irvine 5


UCI 000 102 020 – 5 10 0

CSUF 200 000 023 – 7 7 1

Morales, Litchfield (8), Merten (8), Brock (9) and Shaeffer; Wiest, Gauna (9) and Wallach. W – Gauna, 3-1. L – Merten, 4-2. 2B – Spencer (UCI), McClanahan (UCI), Pedroza (CSUF). 3B – Taylor (UCI). HR – Lopez (CSUF).

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