June 5, 2011
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FULLERTON, CA - Matt Dittman's two-out single in the eighth drove home Brandon Hohl with the go-ahead run and Davis Hendrickson followed with a two-run double two batters later as fourth-seeded Illinois scored six times in the final three innings to eliminate host and top-seeded Cal State Fullerton, 7-5, in game five of the 2011 NCAA Baseball Regionals on Sunday evening at Goodwin Field.
The Titans (41-17) out-hit the Fighting Illini, 12-7, on the night, but were just 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position, stranding eight on base - six of those at second base or closer. Fullerton's season ends in regional play for the first time since 2002 when the Titans finished 1-2 in the postseason at Palo Alto with losses to Stanford and Long Beach State sandwiched around a win over San Jose State.
Illinois (30-26) advances to the regional final to face unbeaten and second-seeded Stanford on Sunday night at 8 p.m. PDT, needing two wins over the Cardinal to advance to next weekend's Super Regional round.
Trailing, 4-1, entering the sixth, the Fighting Illini closed to within two on an RBI single by Hohl and tied the game one inning later in a messy seventh as a one-out error on a ball hit by Willie Argo prolonged an inning that would have ended on a ground ball to the bag at first by Hendrickson in the very next at-bat.
Illinois then got one run closer after a hit batter and wild pitch as Argo scored from third to make it 4-3, and Pete Cappetta's single to left drove home Josh Parr to make it 4-4.
That set the stage for the big eighth inning two-out rally as Hohl scored from second base on Dittman's only hit of the day, a single to left, to make it 5-4 and, after a walk to Argo, Hendrickson sent a drive to the gap in left centerfield, scoring both runners for a 7-4 advantage.
Now down to its final three outs, Fullerton mounted a rally in the ninth after Ivory Thomas reached first on a dropped third strike passed ball and moved to third on Richy Pedroza's double down the right field line. Casey Watkins then drove him home with an RBI ground out to make it 7-5 and bring up slugger Nick Ramirez as the potential tying run. However, Illinois closer Chris Pack shut the door, inducing Ramirez into a game-ending foul out to catcher Adam Davis on a 1-1 pitch.
Pack (8-1) earned the win, allowing an unearned run on two hits in two innings of work in relief of starter Corey Kimes, who surrendered three earned on 10 hits, walking four and striking out three in seven innings.
Nick Ramirez (1-1) suffered the loss, allowing three earned on two hits, walking two and striking out two in 1 1/3 innings of relief of starter Colin O'Connell, who was touched for two earned runs on five hits while striking out six in 6 2/3 innings. O'Connell cruised early, retiring 13 consecutive batters at one point until Josh Parr singled to lead-off the sixth.
Fullerton jumped out early as Nick Ramirez's RBI double in the first made it 1-0 and, after Illinois tied it on an RBI fielder's choice by Casey McMurray, added three more runs in the third on another RBI single by Ramirez, a run-scoring ground ball double play, and an infield hit by Greg Velazquez to make it 4-1.
Ramirez was 3-for-5 at the plate, tying the Fighting Illini's Cappetta, who was 3-for-4, for game honors. Eight different Titans finished with hits, including two apiece from Carlos Lopez and Velazquez.
CAL STATE FULLERTON HEAD COACH Dave Serrano
Opening statement: "Give a lot of credit to Illinois. They kept clawing back and we just left the door open for them. In this kind of atmosphere, you can't do that. We had the door cracked open enough for them to come back. The expectation level for this program of getting to a regional is not good enough and never will be. The sad thing is that I see some young men I've been around for three or four years that I have to say goodbye to. I'm disappointed obviously, but it was a good run for this team."
On the Illinois comeback against Colin O'Connell: "Some balls were up in the zone and they got some two-strike hits. A team that has been accustomed to winning late, and we let them back in the game. We also were easier outs after putting four runs on the board early."
On Nick Ramirez: "He's a guy that wore many hats. He has contributed tremendously for our team, helped us get to Omaha as a freshman. He will be a tough guy to replace. We've been through many battles together. I don't categorize him by what kind of player he is, but by the person he is."
On Illinois and the Big Ten Conference: "I have grown a fond respect for the Big Ten. It's the top teams (in that conference) that should get more respect, but the bottom ones bring the conference down. It definitely wasn't easy against them or Minnesota last year."
On two straight losses: "A lot of people say that the first game is the most important game in the regional. Honestly, the second game (of the regional) is the decider. We lost 1-0 yesterday and our goal was to let that go. We did that at the beginning today and I think we got complacent. You can't stall. In the end, you gotta play nine innings."
JUNIOR FIRST BASEMAN/PITCHER Nick Ramirez
On the season ending: "I'm very disappointed right now. I never thought playing baseball here that it would end in a regional. We wanted to get back to Omaha so bad, it hurts. Baseball can bring anyone down. There's everything I wish I could have done to help the team win so we could all play another baseball game tonight."
On Illinois: "I thought they were almost identical to Minnesota. Not a very impressive record, but they didn't quit against us the first time we played them or today. They kept us off balance and made a couple of good plays, and that was it."