FULLERTON, Calif. — Cal State Fullerton fifth-year senior Carlos Lopez really didn’t want to ground into a double play in his final regular season at bat at Goodwin Field.
With the tying run on second and a man on first with one out in the bottom of the ninth, Lopez wanted to try to drive a pitch. If he didn’t get a hit, he wanted to give the next man a chance. But most importantly, he didn’t want to end the game with a double play.
Lopez did end the game, but instead of hitting into a double play, he did the improbable — walloping a 1-1 changeup from Evan Brock high over the right field fence for his second walk-off home run in as many days.
Lopez’s dramatic blast gave Fullerton (45-8, 20-4) a 7-5 victory and a series sweep of Big West rival UC Irvine (31-20, 13-11). The win combined with Cal Poly’s sweep of Cal State Northridge gave the Titans their fourth consecutive Big West title and 27th conference championship in 39 years. It also earned Fullerton the conference’s automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament.
Fullerton’s comeback started an inning earlier. After scoring a pair of runs in the first inning on a J.D. Davis RBI single and a sacrifice fly from Michael Lorenzen, the Titans had been shut down for six straight frames.
UC Irvine starter Andrew Morales allowed only two hits in his seven innings of work, retiring 14 in a row after Davis’ first inning single. He didn’t allow a second hit until Jake Jefferies singled with two outs in the seventh inning.
When Morales departed, Fullerton finally found some life. Richy Pedroza led off the eighth inning with a deep fly to the warning track in left field that popped out of Jeff Stephens’ glove when Stephens hit the wall. Pedroza strolled into second with a standup double. Matt Chapman singled to put runners on the corners.
Mitch Merten came on for Irvine and struck out Davis on three pitches. He got ahead of Lorenzen as well, but the All-American junior battled back and then crushed a 2-2 pitch into the right-centerfield gap that one-hopped the fence. Both runners scored as Lorenzen galloped around the bases and dove into third base with a two-run triple. The Titans weren’t able to get him home, setting up the final frame drama.
After Fullerton took the early lead, Irvine battled back with a run in the fourth inning and two in the sixth to take the lead. Dominique Taylor started both innings. In the fourth, he drove a ball deep into the left-centerfield gap. The ball bounced off the orange stripe atop the outfield wall and bounced back into the field of play. Taylor was initially granted a home run, but the umpires eventually convened and sent Taylor back to third base. It didn’t matter as Connor Spencer scored him with a sacrifice fly four pitches later.
Taylor singled to open up the sixth inning. Spencer followed with a double the opposite way, down the left field line. Taylor Sparks tied the game with an RBI single up the middle and the ‘Eaters took a 3-2 lead when Stephens beat out a double play relay.
Stephens also drove in Irvine’s final run in the eighth inning. He singled past the glove of Fullerton starter Grahamm Wiest to bring home Jerry McClanahan, who had doubled home a run one batter earlier. But the 5-2 lead proved not to be enough.
Stephens and Sparks both finished with two hits and combined for three RBI. Taylor finished with three hits and two runs scored. For the Titans, Pedroza sparked the offense reaching base on four occasions and scoring three times. Lorenzen and Lopez finished with three RBI each.
Koby Gauna moved to 3-1 on the season, vulturing the win after a scoreless ninth inning. Though Lopez’s final blow came against Brock, Merten took the loss for the Anteaters since both the tying and go-ahead runs were his.
Check out the 22-shot photo gallery from Sunday afternoon’s walk-off series finale: