FULLERTON, Calif. — It was postseason baseball at its finest.
With close to 100 wins this season between the host No. 3 Cal State Fullerton and No. 8 UCLA, the stage was set to for an intense battle in the first game of the Fullerton Super Regional on Friday afternoon at Goodwin Field. The game played out in exactly that fashion, coming down to one key play in the 10th inning when a dropped line drive sent the decisive runs across the plate to give the Bruins a 5-3 win.
“I think you have to say if you’re a Bruin fan and a Bruin follower you have to say that was one of the best performances in the history of UCLA baseball,” said UCLA (43-17) head coach John Savage. “But it’s one game. It’s far from being over, you don’t win 50 games and go away.”
UCLA’s Eric Filia drove in the winning run in the 10th when he sent a low liner to right field and Austin Diemer couldn’t quite keep his glove on it, allowing Brian Carroll to cross the plate for the winning run.
“I don’t think Deimer has ever dropped a line drive in right field and it ended up being the biggest play of the game,” said Cal State Fullerton head coach Rick Vanderhook. “He catches that ball every time.”
The theatrics began in the bottom of the eighth when Fullerton pushed two runs across to tie the game at 3-3.
In the bottom of the 10th, closer David Berg faced a two-on, one-out situation with two of the country’s most dangerous hitters, J.D. Davis and Michael Lorenzen still on tap.
Davis worked the count full against the All-American closer, fouling off several pitches before Berg finally threw a filthy slider. Davis stared at the perfectly-placed pitch as it dropped into catcher Shane Zeile’s glove for strike three.
Lorenzen, the 38th overall pick in this year’s MLB draft, then struck out swinging to end the game.
“They battled Berg hard,” Savage said. “He threw 54 pitches – you really don’t want your closer throwing 54 pitches on a Friday night.”
Berg (7-0) earned the win in relief while Davis (1-2), who moved from the designated hitter to the mound, earned the loss.
With Lorenzen’s strikeout, the Titans’ (51-9) 10-game win streak came to an end. In the double-elimination format, they will now need to win the next two in order to advance to the College World Series.
The Bruins need just one win to advance to Omaha for the second-straight year and for the third time in four seasons. The two will face off in the second game of the series Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Fullerton’s Goodwin Field. Play of the game
The Bruins took a lead in the top of the third, putting the Titans behind for the first time all series. The Bruins successfully protected that lead when Carroll robbed Austin Kingsolver of extra bases. Kingsolver drilled the first pitch he saw to dead center. Carroll dove for the ball, fully extending himself, thrusting his glove up in triumph.
Plutko, who had given up leadoff hits the first two innings, retired the next two in order to end the inning.
Filia’s day started off with a groundout to shortstop. The right fielder wouldn’t go down as quiet through the rest of the game.
Filia, who grew up in nearby Huntington Beach, finished 4-for-5 with a run scored and drove in what ultimately proved to be the game-winning run in the 10th. While all were singles, he used all fields, pulling the ball to right for his game-winner.
“I know I’m not the most powerful hitter or anything but I try to get a team in a winning situation when I can,” Filia. “He threw me two high fastballs and I knew he was going to come with a curveball. He wasn’t really commanding it all game. He left it up and I stayed short with it and drove through it.”
Both teams had chances throughout the game – and several of them. A total of 13 runners were left stranded, eight for the Titans and five for the Bruins.
“I think we had some frustrating at bats there were some things in that game that were ext frustrating for both sides,” Vanderhook, a former UCLA assistant coach, said.