Tuesday, June 20, 2006 • Box score
It's been about the pitching all year for Cal State Fullerton.
And so on Tuesday at Rosenblatt Stadium, even when an unheralded true freshman finished with five hits, homered and drove in the winning run, the Titans relied on their arms more than ever to keep this season alive.
Top-seeded Clemson (53-16) is headed home from the College World Series after Fullerton (50-14) roared back from a late three-run deficit to win 7-6 before an estimated 18,000. The Titans' second CWS victory in three games sends them into the Bracket One championship round against North Carolina.
Fullerton must beat the Tar Heels today at 4 p.m. and again Friday to earn a spot in the championship series.
"I can never remember a Titan team quitting," Cal State Fullerton coach George Horton said. "It's passed on from generation to generation and team to team."
Four-time national champion Fullerton showed plenty of staying power, getting a 5-for-5 performance from 19-year-old designated hitter David Cooper. The part-time starter bashed his second career home run, a two-run shot, with one out in the seventh inning. Cooper then blooped a two-out single into center field in the eighth, just out of reach of diving Clemson shortstop Stan Widmann, to score Blake Davis from third base for the decisive run.
"It's nice to live another day," Cooper said.
Fullerton is alive in large part because of a gutsy performance from its pitching staff. Starter Lauren Gagnier, slowed Monday by a stomach ailment, lasted 6 2/3 innings and held the Tigers in check after surrendering six runs in the first 3 2/3 innings.
Gagnier, tied for the national lead in wins with 14, did not factor in the decision. He did give the Titans a chance.
"I didn't think he was going that poorly," Horton said. "He was executing his pitches. Did I think about taking him out? A little bit, but obviously we've got a lot more work to do. You don't go 14-5 and throw as many innings as he has this year without having that bulldog in you."
With his team up a run after Clemson's Taylor Harbin doubled to open the bottom of the ninth, Fullerton closer Ryan Paul entered to strike out slugging first baseman Andy D'Alessio.
Paul, sick with the same ailment that had plagued Gagnier one day earlier, arrived at the stadium late in the game Tuesday. He took a cab from the hotel and clearly was not healthy.
"I was surprised he didn't go throw up out there on the mound," Gagnier said.
Ace starter Wes Roemer then entered to get a shallow fly ball from Widmann and whiff pinch-hitter Ben Hall for the final out in his first relief appearance of the year.
"I commend any pitcher in the game who can do that every time," said Roemer, scheduled to start on the mound today. "It's a real tough thing to do."
It seems that whatever the Fullerton pitchers are asked to do, they accomplish. The Titans lead the nation in ERA at 2.70 and allowed more than 10 runs in a three-game series only three times.
Still, on Tuesday, the pitchers looked vulnerable for a while.
Fullerton jumped ahead immediately, bashing Clemson starter Jason Berken for three runs on four hits in one-third of an inning. Reliever P.J. Zocchi entered for the Tigers to silence Fullerton as Clemson came to life.
D'Alessio's two-out double in the first tied it at 3-3. The Tigers went ahead on Herman Demmink's one-out single in the second and took a three-run lead on three hits off Gagnier in the fourth.
Fullerton left fielder Danny Dorn singled off Zocchi in the seventh before Cooper's homer. The Titans then tied it on Evan McArthur's two-out single off David Kopp to score Brandon Tripp. And Cooper came through again in the eighth against ace reliever Daniel Moskos, producing the Titans' third hit of the inning to manufacture another run.
"They just kept chipping away at us," Clemson coach Jack Leggett said.
Fullerton's Adam Jorgenson, who threw 1 1/3 innings in relief of Gagnier, improved to 2-0. Kopp fell to 6-2 as Clemson lost two straight in Omaha after a victory Friday that gave it 25 wins in 26 games.
"Our kids didn't quit," Horton said. "Good team, whatever, they just kept grinding it out and found a way to come out on top."