Cal State Fullerton will remember Friday afternoon as one of regrets.
If only we wouldn’t have made that one error, they’ll think, maybe the score would’ve been different. If only we’d pushed Hank LoForte 90 more feet, they’ll remember, maybe we could’ve come back. If only we’d notched one more timely hit, one more walk, one more run, they’ll wonder, could we have been one win away from making the journey that sign on the center-field wall — Only 1,544 miles to Omaha — reminds us about every day?
“I feel like I’m 1-7 again,” Titans manager Rick Vanderhook said. “We couldn’t pitch the ball. We couldn’t catch the ball. We couldn’t wear sunglasses. There’s a lot of things that we couldn’t do.”
But following Fullerton’s 8-5 loss to Washington in Game 1 of the best-of-three super regional, the Titans don’t have time to dwell on those questions or shortcomings. Not yet. Their focus must immediately shift to Game 2 Saturday at 3:30 p.m., when they’ll face elimination. To avoid it, they’ll have to beat Washington’s ace.
Fullerton (35-24) threw its own ace, right-hander Colton Eastman, on Friday at Goodwin Field. The Phillies’ fourth-round draft pick didn’t pitch to his potential and gave up six runs (four earned) in seven innings.
Instead of countering with ace Joe DeMers, the Huskies (34-23) saved him for later in the series and started redshirt freshman Lucas Knowles. The plan worked to perfection as Washington picked up its first victory in a super regional.
Despite giving up runs in the first and second innings, Knowles settled down and shut out the Titans for the rest of his five-inning outing.
Eastman, meanwhile, got into trouble every other inning. He gave up two runs in the third after an error by center fielder Mitchell Berryhill, two more in the fifth and two more in the seventh.
Berryhill’s whiff on a one-hopper marked the beginning of a disturbing trend for Fullerton: The Titans committed five errors. Berryhill’s cost his team a run, and first baseman Jacob Pavletich cost it another in the seventh when he couldn’t handle a ground ball with a runner on third. In the fifth, third baseman Brett Borgogno lost a pop foul in the sun, and the hitter, catcher Nick Kahle, made Fullerton pay with a single. Borgogno wore sunglasses for the rest of the afternoon.
“We just came unprepared,” second baseman LoForte said. “I don’t remember the last time we had five errors in one game.”
The Titans made it interesting in the seventh, down 6-2, starting with a four-pitch walk to LoForte. After Berryhill lined out, right fielder Ruben Cardenas ripped a double into left field to put runners on second and third. Catcher Daniel Cope drove in one with a groundout, shortstop Sahid Valenzuela drove in another with a triple to right, and designated hitter Jace Chamberlin brought Valenzuela home on a single to left.
In the bottom of the eighth, LoForte singled off the torso of Washington first baseman Jonathan Schiffer with two outs. A pair of walks loaded the bases for cleanup hitter Cope, who worked a 2-0 count as the Fullerton faithful roared. But the inning ended with a groundout to second, leaving LoForte 90 feet from a tie game. Fullerton had already left the bases loaded once.
“We left a lot of runners on base,” Valenzuela said. “It came back to haunt us.”
Washington pulled away with two more runs in the top of the ninth to quash Fullerton’s comeback hopes, and DeMers closed the game. When asked if that meant he wouldn’t start until Sunday, Washington manager Lindsay Meggs was cryptic.
“You can assume whatever you want,” he said. “I’m not gonna tell you.”