By Nathan Keil | Sports Editor
In a battle of conference pitchers of the year, Cal-State Fullerton junior Colton Eastman got the best of Baylor sophomore Cody Bradford.
Eastman (10-3) allowed two runs, but just one earned on four hits in seven innings while walking one and striking out eight.
Bradford (7-6) allowed three runs on eight hits, did not allow a walk, but only struck out one in six innings.
But it was Cal-State Fullerton that came up clutch at the plate, scoring all six runs with two outs as the Titans knocked off Baylor 6-2 to advance to the Stanford regional winner’s bracket and sending the Bears one game closer to going home.
Baylor head coach Steve Rodriguez said that Eastman was tremendous on the mound, but that his team missed out on some opportunities.
“I thought Colton Eastman did a great job today, especially early on I thought our guys did a phenomenal job making some adjustments once we got the second time through the lineup,” Rodriguez said. “We had some opportunities to get a hit and kind of take the lead kind of in the middle and there at the end.”
The Titans did not wait long to show the Bears why they are such a difficult out come postseason play.
On Bradford’s first pitch of the game, junior second baseman Hank LoForte ripped a sharp single to center field. He was then moved to second base on a sacrifice bunt, but a base-running error and pickoff play by Bradford erased LoForte from scoring position.
Due to the pickoff, Bradford was able to keep the Titans off the board, as sophomore catcher Daniel Cope singled to right field, a hit that would have scored LoForte easily from second base.
But the Titans would not be denied in the second, keeping the rally alive thanks to a Baylor error.
Sophomore shortstop Sahid Valenzuela reached on an infield single to start the inning. Then after getting the first out of the inning on a popup to first base, a taylor-made double play ball went awry when freshman shortstop Nick Loftin’s throw was low and sophomore Andy Thomas was unable to scoop it at first base.
Junior outfielder Jarius Richards then singled to right, allowing senior designated hitter Chris Prescott to race around to third. Then on a 1-0 fastball, freshman third baseman Brett Borgogno ripped a two-run double into the gap in left-center field, putting the Titans on top 2-0.
Borgogno said he was sitting fastball the whole time and was fortunate enough to get a good swing on it.
“I was looking for a fastball, because I’m not necessarily having the best batting year. And he threw one where I could hit it and I put a good swing on it,” Brogogno said.
Bradford said the Titans’ success early was attribute to his lack of command.
“The biggest thing today was throw strikes, and I struggled with that early. So, they got on me pretty quickly,” Bradford said.
With the early lead, Eastman went to work for Cal-State Fullerton.
Eastman struck out the first five Baylor hitters he faced and it wasn’t until freshman outfielder Davion Downey’s ground ball to shortstop that the Bears put one in play.
Eastman said that he knew Baylor would be aggressive so he trusted in his off-speed pitches to get some early strikeouts.
“I knew a Big 12 team, they’re aggressive. With the kind of off-speed that I have, it would probably get most of them out. Which it did the first three innings,” Eastman said. “Not only did that help, but they made an adjustments. Still got outs, but overall thank God for my defense.”
But then it was Bradford, who found his rhythm on the mound, retiring the next 11 Titans following Borgogno’s double.
But it was the 12th hitter that gave the Titans some insurance, as junior outfielder Ruban Cardenas turned on a hanging breaking ball and ripped it to left-center for a double.
Two batters later, Valenzuela lined an RBI single to center, putting Cal-State Fullerton up 3-0.
Baylor would trim the lead to 3-2 after getting to Eastman in the sixth.
Junior outfielder T.J. Raguse singled to center on an 0-2 pitch to open the frame. Loftin then dropped down a bunt single, putting two men aboard with nobody out.
Wendzel got Baylor on the board with an RBI groundout to short and then the Bears got a second run when redshirt junior first baseman Jacob Pavletich made a diving stop on a ball hit by Thomas, but while taking the feed from Pavletich, Eastman dropped the ball, allowing Loftin to score.
The Titans would get a pair of singles from Prescott and Borgogno, but with two outs, Baylor would make a costly error as Raguse had trouble making the catch on a ball hit by Loforte, allowing two runs to score.
Outfielder Mitchell Berryhill then singled to center, scoring LoForte as Cal-State Fullerton grabbed a 6-2 lead.
Junior Blake Workman, who pitched around a two out walk in the eighth, gave up a leadoff single to sophomore catcher Shea Langeliers to start the inning, but retired the next three Baylor hitters in order to preserve the win.
The Titans limited Baylor to just five hits, two of which came from Langeliers.
Despite the loss, Langeliers said the team remains as confident as ever.
“We’re going to come out tomorrow with that same attitude, same confidence, and we’re going to get it done tomorrow,” Langeliers said.
Cal-State Fullerton (33-23) will take on the winner of Stanford and Wright State at 10 p.m. in the winner’s bracket.
Baylor (36-20) will take on the loser of Stanford and Wright State at 5 p.m. Saturday.