The sophomore from Riverside was virtually unhittable from start to finish, tossing a seven-hitter in what was undoubtedly the biggest start of his budding collegiate career.
“It was Colin O’Connell Day,” Titan Head Coach Dave Serrano said. “He picked the right time to maybe pitch his best game of his career here at Cal State Fullerton. I’m so proud of him and how he stepped up … he made it look really simple against a pretty good Minnesota offensive team.”
While O’Connell certainly deserves the majority of the praise, the CSUF offense once again provided enough run support for even Betty White could have earned a ‘W’. In the three games since their disappointing one-run aberration Friday night, the Titans have put 24 runs on the board, proving to all that their offense is – and always will be – their meal-ticket.
Like they did against the University of New Mexico, CSUF climbed to an early lead in what was their third consecutive elimination game.
Redshirt freshman Carlos Lopez followed back-to-back hits in the top of the second inning (a single by sophomore first baseman Nick Ramirez and a double by senior catcher Billy Marcoe) with a sacrifice fly to center, breaking the scoreless tie and driving in his first run of the postseason.
Senior center fielder Joey Siddons followed the sac fly – and a stolen base by Marcoe – with an RBI infield single deep in the hole between third and short.
After a walk and a single, freshman third baseman Richie Pedroza stepped to the plate with one out and the bases loaded.
Now, while mashers like Lopez, Ramirez, and junior shortstop Christian Colon prefer to drive in their runs by hitting towering shots into the stratosphere, the 5-foot-6-inch Pedroza opts to accumulate RBIs via the pizzazz-less, fundamentally-sound method – bunts.
For the second time in as many games, Pedroza squeezed a run across with a perfectly placed squeeze bunt up the first-base line, driving in what proved to be the winning run.
“I give a lot of credit to (Titan) Coach (Greg) Bergeron,” Serrano said. “He really pushed the envelope tonight with our offense and pressured (Minnesota). This coaching staff has a philosophy that the bigger the game the more aggressive we’re going to get. I think it takes a little pressure off the players because they know we’re going to be aggressive and push the buttons and it allows them to play the game and have fun playing it.”
With a three-run lead in the top of the third, Ramirez (choose your verb: “annihilated,” “launched,” “pulverized,” “obliterated”) a solo home run deep into the innocent Fullerton night, adding about 450 miles to his frequent flyer card with his 15th longball of the year.
“The first at-bat I was just really trying to stay inside something, just not trying to pull everything because I was getting really pull happy,” Ramirez said. “I got an inner half fastball and I ate through it. That might have been my farthest (home run).”
In the same inning, with runners on first and third, two outs and Colon at the dish, Lopez (on third) and junior left fielder Walker Moore (on first) executed a textbook double steal that successfully pushed across the Titans’ fifth run of the game.
CSUF piled on two more runs in the top of the sixth, compliments of a two-run blast off the bat of junior second baseman Corey Jones, who looked mighty comfortable in the three-hole Sunday.
Seven runs was more than enough cushion for O’Connell who was nothing short of spectacular before allowing his first run to cross the plate in the bottom of the eighth. On the night, he set new career-highs in innings pitched (his first career complete game) and strikeouts (nine).
“I hadn’t thrown in a couple weeks so my arm felt really good and well rested,” O’Connell said. “I was just trying to throw strikes and let my defense work. I had a lot of confidence today.”
The Titans’ third consecutive do-or-die victory earned them a “Loser Goes Home” game Monday evening at 6 p.m. against the Golden Gophers at Goodwin Field. In addition to keeping their Omaha dreams alive, the winner of the rubber match will go on to play UCLA June 11 in the Super Regionals.