FULLERTON – In a series Cal State Fullerton baseball needed to sweep to keep pace with Long Beach State in the Big West standings, the Titans dropped game two to UC Santa Barbara to fall three games behind the Gauchos in the loss column.
“I’m not even worried about Long Beach State, I mean I can care less about Long Beach State. Our job is to win series and we need to keep winning them,” said Head Coach Rick Vanderhook.
No. 14 Fullerton started off the series with an 8-4 come-from-behind victory in a contest that doubled as a home run derby Friday night at Goodwin Field.
With the win Friday, CSUF has won 30-plus games in 43 consecutive seasons, tied for third with Clemson for the longest active streak.
Saturday night’s game didn’t go so well for the Titans as they gave up two home runs to Gauchos first baseman Austin Bush to fuel UCSB’s 6-3 win in game two of the series.
Both home runs came with two outs and a runner on second base. Vanderhook and the coaching staff decided to pitch to the power lefty straight up.
“I expect our pitcher to make a pitch. He was 0-2 one time and then we missed by 10 feet the next pitch because we’re scared of him,” Vanderhook said. “It’s not like he’s hitting .500, if you make a pitch, he will get out.”
After Saturday night’s loss, Hank LoForte told the Daily Titan that the team was going to get a win and “going to do it for the moms” in Sunday’s rubber game on Mother’s Day.
LoForte and the Titans lived up to that promise with a 12-3 blowout victory over the Gauchos to take the weekend series.
Taylor Bryant got things started in the third inning with a blast over the center field wall for a two-run home run. Hunter Cullen followed up Bryant with a two-RBI triple to give the Titans a 5-1 lead.
CSUF wasn’t done there. Chris Hudgins and Scott Hurst both blasted two-run home runs in the third to give the Titans an 8-1 lead at the end of the inning. Hurst added his second home run of the game in the fifth, while Tristan Hildebrandt added one in the sixth to give the Titans five home runs in the final game.
The last time the Titans had five or more home runs in one game came against UCSB in April 2010.
The Gauchos got things started Friday night with a two-run home run from first baseman Alex Bush in the top of the first inning to give UCSB an early lead. The Titans answered back with a run of their own on a wild pitch and an error on the throw out to first by UCSB catcher Dempsey Grover, allowing Scott Hurst to cross home plate.
Every time UCSB put up points in the first two innings, the Titans answered back with runs of their own in their half of the inning.
UCSB posted two runs in the bottom of the third inning on home runs from Armani Smith and Sam Cohen to extend the Gauchos’ lead to 4-1 early in the game.
However, the Titans responded immediately with an RBI single from Hurst and a two-run shot that hit off the scoreboard in left field from freshman Sahid Valenzuela for the first home run of his career to tie the game at 4-4.
CSUF put the game away in the bottom of the sixth inning with an RBI single from shortstop Timmy Richards for the go-ahead run. Two batters later, catcher Chris Hudgins bombed a three-run home run for the fifth home run of the game while giving the Titans an 8-4 lead which they would hold on to through the ninth.
Starting right-handed pitcher Connor Seabold had his worst start to a game all season Friday night. Seabold gave up three home runs to the Gauchos in the first three innings of their first game of the weekend. He had not given up more than one home run in a game all season.
Seabold said after the game that UCSB was stealing pitch signals from him in the first few innings and that it may have been a reason for his troubles.
“I’m not using that as an excuse, but it’s easier to pitch when they don’t know what pitch is coming,” Seabold said. “It got me a little upset that they were trying to pick pitches, so I think that kind of got a little bit of adrenaline going and after that, I felt like I could throw it anywhere and they wouldn’t be able to hit it … And I’m not a huge fan of Santa Barbara so that added to it.”
After the tumultuous third inning for Seabold, he didn’t give up a single hit for the remaining four innings he was on the mound while retiring the last 11 batters he faced and striking out seven of the last nine.
The right-handed ace now boasts an 8-4 record on the season and has earned a win in his last six consecutive starts.
Starter Colton Eastman returned from an elbow injury in his throwing arm which has kept him out of action since Feb. 25.
“It was great, I had butterflies as always. It didn’t feel like I was out for two months,” Eastman said.
Eastman was on a pitch count that held him to 39 pitches in 2.1 innings of work. The righty put up a strong performance in his first game back, giving up two hits and one earned run while walking two batters and striking out three.
Eastman said after the game that his elbow felt “fine” and he could have gone a typical pitch count if the coaches didn’t want to protect him.
The Titans return to the diamond Monday when they head north to take on St. Mary’s in their final nonconference game of the season.