Cal State Fullerton got a little revenge.
In a rematch of last year’s College World Series opener, the Titans struck for a pair of ninth-inning runs and closer Brett Conine slammed the door Friday night in a 5-3 series-opening victory over No. 2 Oregon State before a Goss Stadium crowd of 3,326. The marquee three-game nonconference baseball series continues at 1 p.m. Saturday.
It was the first loss of the season for OSU (13-1), which was off to its best start since beginning the 2013 season with 15 straight victories. The Beavers had won 22 consecutive home games dating to last year.
“It all comes down to our will to win,” OSU second baseman Andy Armstrong said. “I don’t think that was there at all. We went down looking and we didn’t have that competitive edge that we usually do.”
The Titans (4-8), who dropped a 6-5 decision to OSU at last June’s CWS, grabbed the lead in the ninth when Hank LoForte scored on a Sahid Valenzuela single. LoForte reached on a two-out walk, moved up to second on a costly Brandon Eisert wild pitch before Valenzuela’s soft liner to left put Fullerton back in front.
Ruban Cardenas later knocked in Valenzuela with another bloop single to make it 5-3. An inning-extending error assisted Fullerton’s quest for insurance.
Earlier in the game, a Luke Heimlich wild pitch led to a pair of Titans runs during a sloppy fifth inning. The Beavers had three total errors on the night.
“If you don’t defend and you don’t pitch, you’ve got a real good chance of losing,” said OSU coach Pat Casey, who was ejected in the seventh inning after arguing a check-swing call.
Trevor Larnach and Armstrong both finished 2 for 3 at the plate as OSU out-hit Fullerton 8-6.
Armstrong, a sophomore starting in place of the injured Nick Madrigal, got aboard with a one-out infield single in the ninth. Conine allowed nothing else, ending the game with a lineout and a called-third strike to Cadyn Grenier that was several inches outside.
Eisert (1-2) was charged with the loss after giving up two runs (one earned) on two hits with a walk and a strikeout in 2⅓ innings.
Tommy Wilson (2-0) pitched a scoreless eighth to earn the win.
Heimlich allowed three runs (one earned) on three hits with nine strikeouts and two walks in six innings. The left-hander was outstanding through four innings but struggled in his final two frames.
“We didn’t defend for him,” Casey said of Heimlich. “The guy has to stay on the mound because we couldn’t field the baseball on turf. It makes it kind of tough.”
Fullerton’s Colton Eastman lasted seven innings and gave up three runs on five hits with eight strikeouts and three walks.
Neither starting pitcher factored into the decision.
OSU, which trailed 3-1 after five innings, tied it in the seventh on an Armstrong RBI double. Armstrong’s rocket to left-center brought home Zak Taylor, who reached on a one-out single.
While happy to get a big double, Armstrong isn’t celebrating.
“I could sit around and think about how great that hit was in a clutch moment, but we didn’t get the job done,” he said.
A leadoff home run from Daniel Cope gave Fullerton a 1-0 lead in the second. Cope went the other way with a 3-2 fastball from Heimlich, sending the ball into the bleachers in right for his third round-tripper in four games.
It was the first homer Heimlich had surrendered since May of 2016.
One inning later, Larnach tied the game with a double to the wall in right that brought home Grenier. Eastman, who issued a four-pitch walk to Larnach in the exact same situation earlier in the game, came right after OSU’s red-hot slugger with two outs and Grenier standing on second.
The strategy backfired, and Larnach picked up his team-best 24th RBI.
Fullerton regained the lead with a two-run fifth, scoring on a wild pitch and a LoForte groundout. Heimlich was hurt by a throwing error and also walked a batter in the inning.
Adley Rutschman made it 3-2 in the sixth with a leadoff bomb that stayed fair down the right-field line. The home run, Rutschman’s first of the year, cleared the outfield bleachers by a wide margin.
Casey was ejected in the seventh following a LoForte check-swing on a 3-2 pitch from reliever Kevin Abel. Third base umpire Mark Buchanan ruled that LoForte did not offer at the pitch and Casey was not happy with the call.
“I’m not going to comment,” Casey said. “Obviously I came out because I had a different opinion.”
Buchanan is not scheduled to work behind the plate this weekend.