FULLERTON, Calif. – If Gonzaga is to advance out of the four-team Fullerton Regional field, it will have to do so the hard way.
The Bulldogs find themselves in do-or-die mode after falling to top-seeded Cal State Fullerton 7-4 on Saturday night before 2,255 at Goodwin Field.
The loss means third-seeded Gonzaga (36-17) will need to win three straight games over the next two days to advance to next weekend’s super regionals. Lose one more time and the season is over.
The Bulldogs face fourth-seeded Utah (27-30) in an elimination game at 2 p.m. today. The winner of that game will face Cal State Fullerton (44-14) at 6.
Gonzaga was tied with the powerful Titans after five innings, but Fullerton pushed across single runs in each of the next three innings en route to posting the victory.
“I thought it was an excellent baseball game,” Bulldogs coach Mark Machtolf said. “They’re a good team and I thought we had our chances to win. It just seemed like they got a couple (clutch) hits and things went their way in big situations. And we had some run-scoring opportunities early in the game and didn’t really capitalize.”
Fullerton broke the tie in the sixth with help from a freak play where center fielder Drew Heid had trouble finding a fly ball that was accompanied by a dull sound off the aluminum bat. Heid initially started in on Dustin Garneau’s high fly and then realized the ball was going to land over his head. He frantically reversed directions in pursuit of the ball, but it fell behind him for a double.
“I think his bat broke,” Gonzaga pitcher Steven Ames said of Garneau. “I actually didn’t know where it went off the bat, either. It was tough clouds at the time and (Heid) didn’t see it off the bat. It was a tough break.”
One out later, Garneau scored on Joe Scott’s single to center despite a terrific throw by Heid as catcher Tyson Van Winkle was unable to hold on to the ball while trying to tag Garneau.
Garneau, who went 5 for 5 with four singles and a double, added a run-scoring single to left in the seventh to give the Titans a 6-4 edge. Gary Brown’s infield single in the eighth increased Fullerton’s lead to three runs.
Ames (8-2) pitched into the eighth before being pulled after Jeff Newman led off the Fullerton eighth with a single. Ames allowed seven runs and 11 hits.
Titans right-hander Daniel Renken (10-2) pitched eight innings before giving way to left-hander Nick Ramirez. Evan Wells drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the ninth before Heid bounced into a double play. Ramirez then retired Van Winkle on a grounder to third for his seventh save of the season.
Gonzaga left eight runners on base and hit into two double plays – one coming on Van Winkle’s hard liner in which Heid was doubled off first base.
“We left way too many runners on base against a good team and that was the difference,” Machtolf said.
The Bulldogs started well by scoring twice in the bottom of the first inning. Wells and Heid hit back-to-back singles and scored on Van Winkle’s double down the left-field line.
The double was Van Winkle’s 26th of the season, breaking the Gonzaga single-season mark set in 1981 by Jim Carnell.
Cal State Fullerton rebounded with three runs in the top of the second inning, beginning with Khris Davis’ 14th homer of the season. Joe Scott tripled in a run and scored on Joey Siddons’ infield single.
Siddons singled in another run in the fourth to give the Titans a 4-2 lead. But the Bulldogs knotted the score in the fifth on Anthony Synegal’s eighth homer of the season, a booming two-run shot to center.
Utah 11, Georgia Southern 10: Michael Beltran’s two-out RBI single in the bottom of the ninth inning led the Utes past the Eagles in an elimination game.
Rick Cornu was hit by a pitch with one out in the ninth, took second on a passed ball and scored one out later on Beltran’s single for Utah (27-30), making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1960. Corey Shimada, C.J. Cron and Cooper Blanc homered for the Utes.
Ty Wright and Griffin Benedict hit home runs for Georgia Southern (42-17), which made its first tournament appearance in seven years.
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