LONG BEACH, Calif. — Cal State Fullerton starter Colton Eastman did an arm-flapping, leg-kicking dance aimed at the Long Beach State dugout after pitching a scoreless inning. It was a tight, one-run game in the NCAA super regional, but the confident Eastman had something to say with those antics.
“It’s kind of like, you can have the Big West, but I’ll take Omaha,” Eastman said.
Eastman allowed one hit and one run in seven innings of dominant work to lead the Titans back to the World Series with a 2-1 win over Long Beach State in the best-of-three NCAA super regional series Sunday. He struck out eight and worked his way around four walks.
Long Beach State (42-20-1) won the Big West Conference — the Titans finished third — and hosted Sunday’s super regional finale but couldn’t get much going against Eastman.
Hank LoForte had the first hit of the game, and it held up as the game-winner: a single to score Fullerton’s two runs, in the fourth inning. Brett Conine earned the two-inning save, his 15th of the season.
The Titans (39-22) last went to the College World Series in 2015.
In the seventh inning, Eastman (2-0) struck out the first two batters but walked Brooks Stotler, who stole second. With the tying run on, Eastman got David Banuelos to ground out. Eastman’s celebration ensued.
Eastman, who was out with an elbow injury for almost three months and returned mid-May, has been big for the Titans in the postseason. He led the Titans to the clinching victory over Stanford as they swept the regional, and then there was Sunday’s gem.
“After the seventh inning, I said, ‘How much you got in the tank?'” Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook said of his conversation with Eastman. “It’s you and Brett. He looked at me and said ‘Brett.’ And Conine was just pumping heaters.”
Eastman didn’t allow a hit until the sixth inning, when leadoff batter Jarren Duran, the 19th batter he faced, hit a sharp single to right field. He stole second base after originally being called out before shortstop Timmy Richards dropped the ball. He moved to third on a sacrifice by Daniel Jackson and scored on a passed ball.
But the Dirtbags left runners on scoring position all series, including at third in the eighth and ninth innings Sunday.
“It’s going to hurt, but it happens,” Duran said. “You’re not going to score every runner that gets on. It’s baseball.”
Long Beach State starter John Sheaks (8-4) allowed just two runs on two hits in five innings. He hit the first two batters in the fourth and a sacrifice by Timmy Richards moved the runners over. Then LoForte’s single scored both.
Long Beach State was looking to make its first trip to the College World Series since 1998. It played its fourth elimination game this postseason on Sunday, but it wasn’t able to come through this time.
Long Beach State won the first game of the series 3-0 then Cal State Fullerton blasted the Dirtbags 12-0 on Saturday.
Right-hander Conine relieved Eastman in the eighth. With two out and runners on second and third, he struck out Ramsey Romano looking. With two out in the ninth and a runner at third, he struck out Banuelos.
Long Beach State has loads of success having its players make the majors with 47 all-time, including 13 in 2016. Those players are giving back in a visible way at Blair Field. There is the Jered Weaver Bullpen beyond right field and the Troy and Daryl Tulowitzki Batting Facility that were constructed as part of ongoing stadium renovations.
WILD, WILD WEST
The Big West Conference has put a team in the College World Series for the fourth consecutive season. Last year, UC Santa Barbara advanced, Cal State Fullerton made it in 2015 and UC Irvine went in 2014.
Both teams were basking in the glow of a sold-out, loud, exciting environment for the weekend series. Long Beach State coach Troy Buckley said he hadn’t been part of anything like it.
“With what was at stake and as far as getting to Omaha, I haven’t been part of that,” Buckley said. “On that type of stage, in that type of environment, it was really cool … As far as what was at stake and the pins and the needles, it was awesome. It was really, really cool. Nothing I’ve seen.”