FULLERTON, Calif. – No. 4 Cal State Fullerton entered the seventh without a hit, but exited the inning with five runs, as the Titans delivered a comeback in Friday's series opener against UC Irvine, defeating the Anteaters 5-2 at Goodwin Field.
With the win, matched with Cal State Northridge's loss to Cal Poly, the Titans (43-8, 18-4) have a three-game lead over the Matadors with five games remaining in Big West Conference play.
Through six innings on Friday night, UC Irvine (31-18, 13-9) starter Andrew Thurman had faced four batters over the minimum issuing four walks but not allowing a hit. Leading off the bottom of the seventh, Michael Lorenzen finally broke up the no-no with a single up the middle as the Titans began to erase a 2-0 deficit.
Lorenzen was retired on a fielder's choice, but with Anthony Hutting safe at first, Chad Wallach drilled a game-changing RBI double to left center, allowing Hutting to score Fullerton's first run. With Wallach at second, Thurman issued a walk to Jake Jefferies, but coaxed Austin Kingsolver to fly out to center for the second out of the frame.
Fullerton responded, scoring its next four runs with two outs on the scoreboard as Richy Pedroza fashioned a nice piece of two-out hitting, flaring a RBI single into right field, tying the game at 2-2 as Wallach scored.
Thurman's night was done, and with runners on the corners, right-hander Mitch Merten was called to the mound and he quickly got into a battle witch Carlos Lopez. In a 14-pitch at-bat, in which Lopez fouled off nine straight, he eventually won the encounter, lacing a RBI single into right field as the Titans took a 3-2 lead when Jefferies crossed the plate.
Fullerton starter Thomas Eshelman (10-2) recorded the win after allowing two runs on six hits while striking out seven in seven innings. The game started as a pitching duel between the two right-handers as Eshelman retired 17 of the first 19 batters he faced, including a streak of 11 during one stretch.
Matching his longest outing of the season, Lorenzen picked up his 17th save of the year (33rd career) by holding the Anteaters scoreless for the final one and 2/3 innings of the game, striking out two.
After five scoreless innings of baseball, Eshelman and the Titan defense faltered slightly in the sixth. After retiring 17 of the first 19 batters he faced, Eshelman surrendered a two-out single to Dominique Taylor. Connor Spencer then recorded a fly ball RBI double to left as Hutting got caught in no man's land, unable to make the catch and unable to field the hit off the bounce, allowing UCI to take a 1-0 lead.
Taylor Sparks then drove a RBI single past Chapman as a tough hop prevented Fullerton's third baseman from making a play and allowing Spencer to score as the Anteaters took a 2-0 advantage.
In the loss, Thurman (5-4) retired 13 straight at one point and took a non-no into the seventh. In six and 2/3 innings, he allowed four runs on three hits and five walks while striking out eight.
Game two of the series is set for a 6 p.m. first pitch from Goodwin Field on Saturday.
Notes: With Eshelman's 10th win, the Titans now have two starting pitchers (Justin Garza, 11) with double-digit wins for the first time since 2010…Two freshmen with double-digit wins is also a first for the program…Cal State Fullerton has overcome a two-run deficit on five occasions in 2013…the Titans have scored five runs in an inning on 11 occasions in 2013…Fullerton's 43-8 record after 51 games is the best in Division I history dating back to 1975…Michael Lorenzen's 17 saves rank second in single-season history and his 33 career saves rank third all-time.