FULLERTON – Cal State Fullerton suffered a setback last weekend when it dropped the final two games of a three-game series at Cal Poly.
With every Big West Conference baseball game meaning so much for the second-place Titans, ace right-hander Connor Seabold was charged with stopping that little bit of bleeding on Friday night.
Seabold was not at his best, but he picked up his sixth win of the season, courtesy of a two-run seventh-inning that broke a tie and carried the 14th-ranked Titans (25-14, 7-3) to a 5-3 victory over UC Irvine (15-24, 2-8) before 1,826 at Goodwin Field.
Seabold (6-4) pitched 7-1/3 innings. He gave up three runs on 12 hits, walked one and struck out four. He threw 93 pitches and came out after walking Adrian Damla with one out in the eighth.
Relief pitcher Brett Conine got the final two outs of the inning, then pitched the ninth for his ninth save.
The winning runs came off UCI relief pitcher Michael Martin, who had come on in relief of Ryan Johnston (2-2) with a runner on first and no one out. With Sahid Valenzuela on via a walk, Timmy Richards laid down a bunt. Martin would have had Richards at first, but his throw forced second baseman Cole Kreuter (covering first) to reach across his body. Kreuter dropped the throw and the runners ended up at second and third.
Taylor Bryant stepped up and smacked a 3-and-2 pitch off Martin just past shortstop Mikey Duarte, bringing home Valenzuela for a 4-3 lead.
Dillon Persinger then delivered a sacrific fly to right that plated Richards.
Bryant spoke about his big hit off Martin.
“I was just thinking that he has nothing to beat me with,” Bryant said. “He threw me some off-speed early in the count, tried to sneak a heater past me with two strikes that I just got a piece of. So I was just looking fastball and adjusting to off-speed, kind of just trying to see the ball up and put something in play hard.”
Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook noted that half of the hits given up by Seabold weren’t hit very hard.
“They probably had 12 hits and six of them probably didn’t go 400 feet combined,” said Vanderhook, who nevertheless said UCI did a good job at the plate.
Seabold gave the Anteaters some credit as well.
“I thought I made pitches and they hit them,” Seabold said. “Obviously, 12 hits, I thought for the most part I was locating really well. They either shot it the other way or muscled it over the infield.
“But I’ve just got to tip my cap to them; they did a good job. The offense picked me up tonight.”
Chris Vargas started for the Anteaters. He lasted just two-plus innings and gave up three runs on two hits while walking four. Johnston did a fine job in relief, going four-plus innings while allowing one run on three hits, walking two and striking out three.
The Titans got to Vargas in the bottom of the second inning. Vargas walked Bryant and Persinger to open the inning, then designated hitter JT McLellan laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance the runners to second and third. Chris Hudgins followed with a two-run single to center field for a 2-0 lead.
Vargas walked Hunter Cullen and Zach Weisz hit an infield single to third to load the bases. But Vargas escaped further trouble when he induced Scott Hurst to ground into an inning-ending double play.
When Vargas walked Valenzuela to start the third, he was pulled for Ryan Johnston. A sacrifice bunt by Timmy Richards moved Valenzuela to second, Johnston walkked Bryant and then Persinger drove in Valenzuela with a single to center for a 3-0 Fullerton lead.
With McLellan at the plate, Johnston wild-pitched the runners to second and third. But Johnston struck out McLellan and then Hudgins flied out to deep center.
Seabold got into some hot water in the fourth. But with runners at second and third, he got Parker Coss to line out to right field and Kreuter to hit back to the box.
UCI scored twice in the top of the fifth on a two-run bloop single by Mikey Duarte with the bases loaded. Just before that, Seabold struck out Keston Hiura looking on a 92 miles-per-hour fastball at the knees for the second out of the inning. Hiura came into the game leading the Big West with a .402 average. He doubled in the first inning and was hit by a pitch in the fourth.
The Anteaters had four singles in the inning. Two were bloopers, one was to deep shortstop.
UCI tied the score in the top of the seventh on a double by Adam Alcantara and an RBI single to center by Parker Coss. It would have been worse, but after Hiura singled to lead off the inning, Mikey Duarte hit into what appeared to be a force play at second. Hiura was called for interference, and Duarte was called out as well.
Seabold picked off Coss, who had gone to second on the throw home, to end the inning.
The three-game series continues Saturday and Sunday at Fullerton.
The Titans found out Friday that sophomore outfielder Ruben Cardenas (back) is out for the rest of the season. He played in 16 games and hit .293 with three home runs and 18 RBI. He had a slugging percentage of .552 in 58 at-bats.