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Cal State Fullerton advances past Long Beach State to Omaha

The Dirtbags are denied a trip to the College World Series after 2-1 loss.

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Long Beach State players look on as rival Cal State Fullerton celebrate their 2-1 victory to transfer to the College World Series Sunday at Blair Field.

Long Beach State players look on as rival Cal State Fullerton celebrate their 2-1 victory to transfer to the College World Series Sunday at Blair Field.

Jose De Castro

Jose De Castro

Long Beach State players look on as rival Cal State Fullerton celebrate their 2-1 victory to transfer to the College World Series Sunday at Blair Field.

Luke Ramirez, Assistant Sports Editor

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A fan waves a Dirtbag nation flag before the start of the rubber match against rival Cal State Fullerton.

Before game three of the Long Beach NCAA Super Regional, it was already touted as the most significant game ever played at Blair Field. The 2,896 fans in attendance saw an extraordinary display of pitching, timely hits and an electrifying atmosphere that didn’t let up until the Cal State Fullerton Titans beat the Long Beach State Dirtbags 2-1 and punched their tickets to Omaha Sunday.

“That was epic baseball, back and forth, and the crowd never stopped [cheering],” CSUF head coach Rick Vanderhook said. “It was the most energetic college baseball game in the history of Southern California; that I’ve ever seen in.”

LBSU’s offense was shut down by the CSUF pitching staff in games two and three. After the Dirtbags won game one in 3-0 defeat in the opener. Sophomore starting pitcher Colton Eastman was outstanding in game three, only allowing only one unearned run and one hit over seven innings.

He had great command of his fastball, curveball and changeup, which proved to be too good of a combination for LBSU’ s batters to overcome. Eastman took a no-hitter into the top of the fifth inning before sophomore second baseman Jarren Duran reached on a single and came around to score on a passed ball.

The CSUF right hander capped off his performance by ending the bottom of the seventh inning with a ground ball and exploded with excitement, motioning towards the Dirtbags’ dugout raising his arms in the air.

“[Our players] are going to be able to chew on this one for a little bit,” LBSU head coach Troy Buckley said. “This one is going to be a little tough.”

The Dirtbags’ (42-20-1) season came to an end after junior catcher David Banuelos struck out with the tying run on third base. LBSU had several opportunities to score but were turned away multiple times.

“We chased too many fastballs up in the zone and didn’t swing at strikes that were on the outside of the plate enough,” Buckley said. “The strike outs that we had with runners in scoring position hurt the most.”

The decision to have junior starting pitcher John Sheaks start the game for LBSU was made late and came down to his experience starting 16 games in the regular season.

“It was a big deal for me to get the start. I felt great and was able to throw the ball down [in the strike zone],” Sheaks said. “The crowd was electric, which really helped me too.”

He was able to throw five quality innings against CSUF, but did allow the game-winning hit in the top of the fourth inning. Sophomore designated hitter Hank LoForte drove in two runs on a line drive single into center field; all the offense the Titans needed.

“It’s probably my biggest accomplishment in my baseball career now that we’re going to Omaha,” LoForte said. “I knew I was going to get fastballs and after taking the first one for a strike, I got inside of the next one and was able to execute my approach.”

Though they finished just short of a College World Series appearance, LBSU turns in a great 2017 campaign. They went 20-4 in Big West Conference play en route to winning their first outright title since 2003.

The Dirtbags also won five regular season games against their rival CSUF, the first time that has been accomplished in program history.

“We’re all disappointed, but at the same time you have to separate and look at what these guys accomplished through the [season],” Buckley said. “It was a great year by our guys and a lot of other people around us.”

However, it was the Titans that delivered the final blow winning the best of three games series in the Super Regionals. Eastman had this to say after the game about his outburst of emotion in the bottom of the seventh;

“It was kind of like, ‘You can have the Big West but I’ll take Omaha’”.

Duran, while upset about Sunday’s loss, is already looking forward at what is to come from the rest of his career at LBSU.

“[The veterans] taught me so much about being a leader so that’s what I’m going to become next year,” Duran said. “I know what it takes to get here so I’m going to bring that back to the table.”

Senior first baseman Daniel Jackson is one of those veteran leaders that will be leaving his legacy behind and possibly continuing on in professional baseball.

“We did our job this year as far as making our rivalry competitive; it hasn’t been that way the last few years,” Jackson said. “I don’t think there is anyone that can discredit what we’ve done here this season.”

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