FULLERTON – After giving up four runs in the first three innings, No. 14 Cal State Fullerton baseball stormed back to knock off UC Santa Barbara 8-4 in a Big West Conference showdown Friday night at Goodwin Field behind a stellar comeback performance from Connor Seabold.
“Everything got a little crisper. He hit another gear. It was a good comeback for him because he was going 100 pitches,” said Head Coach Rick Vanderhook.
The victory brought the Titans’ record to 30-16, which marked their 43rd consecutive season the Fullerton baseball program has won at least 30 games in one year.
Ultimately, it was catcher Chris Hudgins who gave the Titans breathing room when he smashed a clutch three-run homer to left field with two outs in the bottom of the sixth inning to give Fullerton the 8-4 lead.
UCSB got its scoring going right away in the top of the first inning when standout first baseman Austin Bush smoked a two-run homer to right-center field to give the Gauchos an early 2-0 lead over the Titans, his conference-leading 12th home run of the season.
In the bottom of the frame, outfielder Scott Hurst quickly cut the Santa Barbara lead in half when he led off the inning with a double and eventually came around to score on a wild pitch by UCSB starting pitcher Kyle Nelson and an error by catcher Dempsey Grover trying to throw Hurst out at third after the pitch got away from him.
Fullerton fell behind to the Gauchos in the top of the third inning after home runs from freshman outfielder Armani Smith and redshirt junior designated hitter Kenny Corey, which gave UCSB an early 4-1 lead over CSUF.
CSUF freshman shortstop Sahid Valenzuela, who tied the game up at 4-4 in the bottom of the third inning, ripped his first collegiate home run to left field following a Hurst RBI single up the middle.
“When I hit it, I just didn’t think it was going out. But when I kept running the bags, and then J.J. (Altobelli) said it was off the scoreboard and then I saw it. But it felt pretty good off the bat when I hit it,” Valenzuela said.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Titan bats really came to life when senior shortstop Timmy Richards hit an RBI single to left field to give Fullerton their first lead of the night at 5-4.
Titans starting pitcher Connor Seabold, who had not given up a single home run in Big West Conference play before Friday, surrendered three UCSB homers in his first three innings of work.
From the fourth inning on, Seabold completely dialed himself in on the mound and put together another masterful performance the rest of the way.
Seabold didn’t give up a hit after the third inning while striking out eight batters in his final four innings. The junior right-hander went innings and struck out 10 Gaucho hitters.
Seabold was dominant on the mound as the game went on, retiring the last 11 batters he faced while striking out seven of the last nine.
As a team, the Titans slammed the door shut on the Gauchos’ offense, retiring the last 17 UCSB batters in a row.
Seabold said that part of the problem in the first three innings was in part due to Santa Barbara stealing pitch signals from him early in the game.
“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.”
The Titans will host game two of the series against UCSB Saturday night at Goodwin Field. The game will be televised locally on Fox Sports Prime Ticket with first pitch scheduled for 7 p.m.