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Fullerton Wins in Rick Vanderhook’s Return

IRVINE, Calif. — J.D. Davis drove in four runs as Cal State Fullerton handed ace Andrew Morales his first loss in a UC Irvine jersey, knocking the normally steadfast ‘Eaters ace for five runs in five innings.

The Titans took a 9-1 victory at rival UC Irvine’s Anteater Ballpark, handing Morales his first loss in a UC Irvine jersey. And for the first time since April 13, head coach Rick Vanderhook was in uniform and in the dugout with his Cal State Fullerton Titans (26-22, 9-10).

“It’s better than being at home listening to it on the internet, that’s for sure!” — Rick Vanderhook said after the game.

On April 17 — the day Fullerton opened a crucial Big West series on the road at Cal Poly, Vanderhook was placed on paid administrative leave while the university conducted an investigation “concerning improper, unprofessional communication with student-athletes.” The investigation dragged from days into weeks and nearly stretched the entirety of a month until finally a week ago a conclusion was reached in a “super top secret” administrative meeting.

Vanderhook was cleared to return on Monday, but said the team took Monday and Tuesday off due to finals. He said his return wasn’t awkward and the team was happy to see him.

Watch what Vanderhook had to say about the investigation and being forced to be away from the team, including what he thought of Grahamm Wiest wearing Vanderhook’s No. 28 jersey in front of a national television audience.

UC Irvine (35-17, 15-4) figured to play spoiler on Friday night with the undefeated Morales on the mound. But the game was more bizarro world than expected course.

The Anteaters took a 1-0 lead in the third inning when Taylor Sparks lined an RBI double to right field, but Morales was uncharacteristically hit around hard the second and third times through the Fullerton lineup.

The fourth inning was the worst inning of Morales’ Division I career. The Titans batted around, scoring five runs on six hits, including a J.D. Davis two-run triple to basically the same spot as Sparks’ drive to right field. That was followed by a Matt Chapman double off the left field wall.

Andrew Morales allowed five earned runs on eight hits and one walk while striking out five. It was only the second time this season the opposition was able to score more than two earned runs against him. Morales also saw his ERA jump from 1.02 to 1.77.

But the entire pitching mound seemed to be engulfed in some magical trance because Morales’ counterpart, Thomas Eshelman, also seemed to be in an alternate universe. He walked THREE Irvine batters in seven innings of work after entering the game with only THREE base on balls in his first 103.1 innings this season.

Vanderhook mentioned that Eshelman was struggling with a hole in the landing area on the mound and after switching sides of the rubber in the fifth inning, he seemed to calm down and produced more consistent results.

In the fifth inning, the Anteaters had a golden opportunity to get back into the game when they put two runners in scoring position with one out. But Eshelman fanned slugger Taylor Sparks and got a nice defensive play by third baseman Matt Chapman on a popup in foul ground down the line.

Immediately, the Titans tacked on a sixth run in the sixth inning. David Olmedo-Barrera doubled off reliever Kyle Davis and scored when Austin Diemer’s sacrifice bunt attempt was thrown up the right field line.

The Titans cruised from there, adding three insurance runs in the ninth inning, including a pair on a two-run double by Davis. With the run-scoring hit, J.D. Davis surpassed the 100-career-RBI mark. He finished 2-for-5 with four RBI.

Eshelman improved to 7-3 on the season despite not being able to continue his three game complete game streak. The sophomore right-hander allowed one run on five hits and the career-high three walks. He struck out nine.

With the loss and Cal Poly’s 16-10 victory, Irvine falls a half-game behind the Mustangs in the Big West battle atop the standings for the conference’s automatic NCAA Tournament berth.

Here are the top shots from CBD photographer Shotgun Spratling:

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