UW has won 11 of its past 13 games. With a win Saturday, the Huskies would clinch their first trip to the College World Series in the program's history.
FULLERTON, Calif. — The wall in right-center field at Cal State Fullerton’s Goodwin Field features a message designed to ignite the desire to reach the College World Series:
“Only 1,544 miles to Omaha.”
By beating the Big West Conference’s pitcher of year, Washington needs just one win to make its first trip to the destination listed on that wall.
But after overcoming an early 2-0 deficit, the Huskies had to use their best starting pitcher in relief to secure an 8-5 win in Friday’s first game of the NCAA Super Regionals in front of a sellout crowd of 3,469.
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“That’s kind of how our season has gone,” UW coach Lindsay Meggs said. “We started off the year 0-2 and we fought back to put ourselves in a position that a lot of teams want to be in.”
In the process, the Huskies earned their first victory ever against Fullerton. UW had lost eight consecutive games between 1987 and 2011.
UW (34-23), which has won 11 of 13, would secure its first trip the College World Series by beating the Titans (35-24) on Saturday. If Fullerton wins, both teams would play Sunday night for the berth.
The Titans took two innings to build their 2-0 lead but stranded five runners in the process, leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the first.
“That’s big,” UW catcher Nick Kahle said. “With the bases loaded and to only come away with one run, that’s huge with the momentum going into the next inning.
“We knew they were going to be scrappy and were never going to quit. They always have their foot on the gas, ready to go, trying to be aggressive. We just had to take a step back, relax and breathe, especially after those first couple of innings.”
The Huskies scored twice in the third before adding two more runs in the fifth against right-hander Colton Eastman (10-4), the Big West pitcher of the year and the Philadelphia Phillies’ fourth-round pick in this week’s amateur draft.
Mason Cerrillo started the third by hitting a single to center fielder Mitchell Berryhill, who allowed the ball to bounce past him for an error that enabled Cerrillo to take third base. Braiden Ward’s sacrifice fly brought Cerrillo home.
Kahle followed with another single, moved to second on Joe Wainhouse’s ground out and tied the score on Levi Jordan’s single to left field.
Ward and Kahle began the fifth with successive singles, then moved into scoring position on Wainhouse’s ground out. Ward put the Huskies ahead when Jordan hit a sacrifice fly, and Kahle gave them a 4-2 lead when A.J. Graffanino singled to center field.
The Huskies succeeded by frustrating Eastman’s tendency to throw breaking pitches in counts other pitchers use to throw fastballs.
“He’s not going to challenge in fastball counts,” Meggs said. “You can’t be trying to drive balls out of the ball park. You’ve got to use the back side of the field and you’ve got to see the ball up in the zone. You’ve got to stay behind the ball. We made some adjustments and did a great job.”
UW extended its lead to 6-2 in the top of the seventh but the Titans responded with three runs in the bottom of the inning and brought the potential tying run to the plate with two outs. However, reliever Alex Hardy foiled the rally by getting Jake Pavletich to ground out.
Then in the eighth, the hosts loaded the bases with two outs on a single and two walks from the Pac-12 leader in earned-run average. But Hardy again defused the threat with a ground out.
“I’m working the two-seam fastball with my four-seam fastball, and that works for the first three or four outs for me,” Hardy said. “Then it got away from me in the eighth inning. I was a little tired.”
In the top of the ninth, Kaiser Weiss hit a two-run double. In the bottom of the ninth, Joe DeMers made just his third relief appearance of the season, allowing one hit and inducing two ground outs to earn his third save.
“I thought Alex was a little tired,” Meggs said. “We’ve used him a lot, and we needed to win. It would have been such a wind-out-of-our sails thing if they clipped us that it would have made (Saturday) really difficult.”
DeMers, who preserved the win for Lucas Knowles (6-5), was scheduled to start Saturday’s game. Meggs said he would talk with DeMers about his stamina before making a decision.
Graffanino, Jordan and Kahle each had three of UW’s 14 hits, while Fullerton committed five errors.
“They hit with two strikes better than we did, they played better defense and they out-pitched us,” Titans coach Rick Vanderhook said. “They outplayed us in every aspect of the game.”
.@UW_Baseball's bats did work against the Titans
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) June 8, 2018