FULLERTON, Calif. — In front of a sold out crowd, Thomas Eshelman became the first true freshman to start Opening Night for Cal State Fullerton since Mark Beck in 1987. He didn’t disappoint. He pitched six strong innings without allowing an earned run to help the Titans to a 3-2 win over USC Friday night at Goodwin Field.
The Game Changer:
After an error kept the sixth inning alive with two outs, USC took a 2-1 lead when James Roberts knocked a two-run homer over the left field fence. Undeterred, Fullerton immediately bounced back in the bottom half of the inning.
Matt Chapman led off with a hard-hit single through the right side. Following a J.D. Davis walk, Michael Lorenzen laid a perfect bunt down the third base line that loaded the bases with no outs. After a mound visit, Chad Wallach settled into the box and roped a single into left field to tie the game. USC left fielder Timmy Robinson was able to hose Davis at the plate with a throw right on the money to catcher Garrett Stubbs.
Lorenzen advanced to third on the throw, which proved to be a crucial baserunning maneuver. After a pitching change, senior Matt Orloff put down a squeeze bunt. Though it was nowhere near perfect, it did the job as Lorenzen was able to slide in under Stubbs for the winning run.
Best Defensive Play: Richy Pedroza is almost always the smallest player on the field at 5-foot-6, 130 pounds. But he’s also one of the biggest contributors for the Titans. As the leadoff hitter, Pedroza reached base three times. In the first inning, he lined a single up the middle, moved to third on Carlos Lopez’s double to left field and came across with the game’s first run on a Matt Chapman sacrifice fly. But the play that brought the fans to their feet was a diving stop Pedroza made to end the eighth inning. Roberts laced a one hopper toward the hole, but Pedroza got full extension laying out to his right and snagged the ball. He immediately popped to his feet and fired it to first to nail Roberts on a bang-bang play.
Best Pitch: When Lorenzen entered the game to close it out in the ninth inning, his warmup tosses were hitting 91-92 mph, but as soon as a hitter stepped into the box he ramped it up to 94-95. One of college baseball’s elite two-way players, Lorenzen attacked the hitters with his fastball and got three quick outs to finish the game and pick up his first save of the season.
- Bobby Wheatley – 5 1/3 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 BB, K
- James Roberts – 1-for-4, R, HR, 2 RBI
- Thomas Eshelman – 6 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 0 ER, 6 K
- Richy Pedroza – 1-for-3, 2 BB, R
Thomas Eshelman on his first career win:
Rick Vanderhook on why he gave Eshelman the Opening Night start and how he keeps having success with young pitchers. He also talks about the challenges of having two-way players in Lorenzen and Davis:
USC junior James Roberts on the positives of a 3-2 loss to a top 25 team:
The Bottom Line:
Cal State Fullerton did what top 25 teams do and grinded out a tough, hard-fought, one-run win. When USC took the lead in the sixth inning, after a controversial safe call at first base extended the inning, the Titans didn’t panic; they responded. Rick Vanderhook said it’s something the team talks about all the time: responding after a team scores.
“We talk about ‘Answer Back’ innings and we did that,” Vanderhook said. “That’s the way we want to play and that’s our personality we hope.”
Orloff, an unheralded senior, just did what needed to be done, putting the ball in play on the squeeze play that proved to be the winning run. Rick Vanderhook was happy with the performance of his freshman pitcher, who showed poise on the mound giving the Titans a quality start.
For USC, there are some positives to build off of. Though his stat line isn’t great, Bobby Wheatley pitched well. He moved his fastball and limited damage when runners got into scoring position. He ran into trouble in the sixth inning, but there were a lot of positives in his first Friday night start.
Roberts showed pop in his bat and squared a couple of balls up. The Trojans couldn’t get a couple of balls to drop, but played hard under Dan Hubbs in his first game as a head coach.
The Titans will welcome the Big Ten’s western-most team to Goodwin Field tomorrow when Nebraska comes in for a doubleheader. The Cornhuskers lost to Cal State Bakersfield tonight. Veteran Grahamm Wiest will be on the mound for the first game, slated to start at 1 p.m.
USC is traveling to Bakersfield tonight in preparation for its game with the Roadrunners tomorrow at 2 p.m. Sophomore Wyatt Strahan will take the mound for the Trojans.
Also check out the 16-shot photo gallery from the game.