Cal State Fullerton’s bruising sophomore first baseman Nick Ramirez is a big bully.
He’ll take your lunch money, give you a wedgie, date your sister, put gum in your hair and still find time to give your mom a kiss on the cheek. Not saying that’s a bad thing, just saying he’s the definition of an enforcer.
Between the noticeably-low cap, the 6-foot-3 stature, the physique of an NFL tight end and the ferocity of a shunned ex, the Titans’ leader in RBIs and doubles is the last person you want to face with the score tied in an elimination game.
Ramirez – who has turned Goodwin Field into Little League’s Volunteer Stadium as of late – mashed his third home run in as many days, fueling CSUF’s improbable run through the Fullerton Region as the Titans punched their eighth consecutive ticket to the Super Regionals with a 9-5 win Monday evening over University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers.
“I’m pretty tired, but my jubilation will overcome my tiredness” Titan Head Coach Dave Serrano said. “I knew when I took over this program it had a great tradition and some pretty high expectations … it’s not easy to go to an eighth Super Regional in a row.”
The Titans took an early lead before the crowd of 2,400-plus could settle into their seats on a first-inning RBI double by junior second baseman Corey Jones who – along with Ramirez – has been absolutely crushing the ball over the past four games.
“I’ve been seeing the ball well and have stuck to the plan,” Jones said. “It’s about trusting my coaches and teammates and the information they give me.”
Minnesota answered with a run of their own in the bottom half of the first, and captured the lead in the subsequent inning on sophomore third baseman Kyle Geason’s solo home run.
CSUF knotted the game at two in the third inning on a two-out, solo home run off the bat of Jones – whose 8-for-20, three home run, 10 RBI weekend earned him the Fullerton Regional Most Outstanding Player award.
Before the Titans got too cozy with the lead, the Golden Gophers reclaimed it in the bottom of the third with three consecutive two-out hits, manufacturing their third and fourth runs of the game.
In the top of the fourth inning, junior shortstop Christian Colon – the fourth overall pick in Monday’s MLB Amateur Draft (by the Kansas City Royals) – returned the favor with a two-run, bases-loaded single to center which tied the score for the third, and final time.
“I was able to (keep my focus off the draft),” Colon said. “It was a great day, very exciting. It felt different tonight; in a good way … it’s hard to explain. It was a great thing to happen to me.”
With the score squared at four and two outs in the top of the fifth, Minnesota’s sophomore starting pitcher Austin Lubinsky hit sophomore right fielder Tyler Pill with a two-strike pitch, putting him on first for the man who’s made a living off feeding on weak collegiate pitching.
As he’s done time and time again this season, the man they call “No Pop Nick” burned a hole through the net above the right field wall, putting the Titans ahead for the second time with a momentum-snatching two-run shot.
CSUF padded their 6-4 lead in the next inning via an RBI double by Colon – who recorded his usual 3-for-4, three-run, three-RBI game – and a warning-track sacrifice fly to right by Jones.
Freshman righty Dylan Floro, junior righty Raymond Hernandez, sophomore righty Noe Ramirez and Nick Ramirez combined to shut the door for good on the Golden Gophers, allowing five runs, totaling nine strikeouts and giving up only one free pass in the close-out game.
The Titans countered a lone Minnesota run in the bottom of the seventh with one of their own in the eighth on an RBI triple by freshman third baseman Richie Pedroza – his first triple on the year.
“Tonight was big ball,” Serrano said. “It shows what this team can do. I give a lot of credit to my assistant coaches. Greg Bergeron has full throttle to run it.”
Up next for CSUF, a three-game series with the UCLA Bruins (whom the Titans have beat twice already this season) in this weekend’s Super Regionals. The first team to two wins will earn one of the precious eight spots in Omaha for the 64th College World Series.
“It’s fun to play someone you’re familiar with,” Jones said. “They have a good weekend rotation, but we’re swinging the bats well. We should be alright.”
The first game of the weekend set will be played Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. in Los Angeles, at Steele Field at Jackie Robinson Stadium.