IRVINE, Calif. - Cal State Fullerton catcher Jared Deacon watched the first seven innings of Saturday's game against UC Irvine from the bench. He ended up having the biggest impact as he scored the game-tying run in the ninth and drove in the game-winning run an inning later as the Titans scored a 2-1 comeback victory over UC Irvine at Anteater Ballpark.
The Titans (27-22, 10-10) clinched the critical Big West Conference series against the first-place Anteaters (35-18, 15-5) thanks to Deacon's heroics.
The fifth-year senior out of Elk Grove, Calif. entered the game as a defensive substitution in the eighth inning but let his bat do all the talking, going 2-for-2 with two crucial singles.
With the Titans trailing the Anteaters 1-0 in the ninth and facing national saves leader Sam Moore, Deacon came up and smacked a one-out single over shortstop Chris Rabago's leaping attempt to start a Titans rally. The Titans then executed the hit-and-run to perfection as Taylor Bryant singled through the right side with Deacon on the move, allowing the catcher to reach third base easily.
A few batters later, shortstop Keegan Dale used his final at-bat of the night to extend his hitting streak to 16 games, blasting a single off the knee of Moore on the mound, allowing everyone to advance 90 feet and Deacon to score the game-tying run. It was just Moore's second blown save of the year in 25 opportunities.
In the 10th, the Titans got a leadoff single from Greg Velazquez and then had the game-winning run advance to scoring position after reliever Jimmy Litchfield belted Clay Williamson with a pitch to bring up Deacon. The Titans' backstop fell behind in the count 1-2 but managed to rope a single to left field to drive in Velazquez and give the Titans the 2-1 lead.
Williamson finished the night 1-for-3 with a walk and reached base three times, extending his on-base streak to 22 games to go along with his 13-game hitting streak. Dale finished 1-for-5 on the night and Bryant was 2-for-4.
J.D. Davis came in and slammed the door on the Anteaters, getting Taylor Sparks to fly out to center field to end the ballgame and give Davis his team-best fifth save of the year. He struck out the first two batters he faced in the 10th and also went 2-for-5 with a double at the dish. He now has four hits in 10 at-bats in the series, three hits going for extra bases.
Phil Bickford earned the victory for the Titans as he pitched two innings in relief of starter Justin Garza. Bickford retired six of the seven hitters he faced, allowing only one base runner on a hit-by-pitch.
Garza went seven solid innings for the Titans and allowed one run on six hits. He walked one and struck out four on the night, lowering his season ERA to 2.90 in the process.
The Anteaters took a 1-0 lead in the third inning after Taylor Sparks doubled with one out. He advanced to third on a groundout and then came in to score on catcher Jerry McClanahan's RBI single through the right side of the infield.
They had many other chances to tack on to their lead as they had at least one base runner on in five of the seven innings against Garza, but the Titans starter held firm as he pitched out of numerous jams. The Anteaters went 1-for-7 with runners in scoring position against Garza on Saturday night and 1-for-9 on the night.
McClanahan led the hosts as he went 2-for-2 with a walk and one RBI. Connor Spencer, Sparks, Jonathan Munoz, Kris Paulino and Justin Castro each had a hit apiece for the Anteaters.
The Titans will look to score their second consecutive sweep over the Anteaters on Sunday afternoon as Grahamm Wiest will draw the start on the mound for the Titans while Evan Brock will go for the Anteaters.
Notes: The Titans have now won seven straight games against the Anteaters… The Titans were 0-15 when trailing after six innings before Saturday night's comeback victory… The Titans played their 11th extra-inning game of the year and are now 5-6 in those games… The Titans are now 11-13 in one-run games this season… Matt Chapman went 2-for-4 and has hit safely in three straight games. He also recorded his 16th multi-hit game of the year.