Fullerton Regional Championship Game - Cal State Fullerton 9, Minnesota 5 - Cal State Fullerton advances to super regionals
The unique world of college baseball - especially in the crowded, cluttered context of the regional format - puts a lot of pressure on long relievers and middle relievers. Raymond Hernandez conquered this particular challenge, and as a result, a familiar powerhouse is moving on in the 2010 NCAA baseball tournament.
Hernandez put an abrupt half to the Minnesota Golden Gophers on Monday night in Southern California. His three innings of stellar middle relief enabled the Cal State Fullerton Titans to advance to the super regionals and come within two wins of yet another College World Series appearance. CSF has reached the big show in Omaha on 16 prior occasions. If the Titans can thrive this upcoming weekend, they'll be able to make it 17.
They need to thank Mr. Hernandez for being a Johnny - or perhaps Raymond - on the spot.
The game did not start favorably for the favored Titans. Minnesota bats rapped seven hits in the first 3 2/3 innings to chase CSF's shaky starting pitcher, Dylan Floro. The Golden Gophers broke quickly out of the gate and grabbed a 4-2 lead to put a Fullerton crowd on edge. Someone needed to emerge from the Titans' bullpen and put a stop to the hemorrhaging. Hernandez became that man. He kept Minnesota off the scoreboard in the fourth through sixth innings while Fullerton scored six runs (two runs each in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings) to grab an 8-4 lead and assert complete control. Hernandez tired and lost steam in the seventh, as the Gophers plated their fifth and final run, but the middle reliever had done his job by steering the game to the latter innings. The back end of the CSF bullpen, Noe and Nick Ramirez, didn't allow the Gophers another run in 2 1/3 innings of very effective work.
Nick Ramirez had to be especially satisfied with his performance... and not just the spotless ninth inning he pitched to punch his team's ticket to the super regionals. In the top of the fifth, with two outs, one half of the dynamic double-Ramirez combo smashed a two-run shot to break a 4-all tie and propel the Titans to a position of leverage. The electrifying long ball, which roused the home folks in Fullerton, came one inning after the Titans got their other crucial hit of the night, another two-run, two-out hit by Christian Colon which tied the game at 4-4 in the top of the fourth. Two-out run-scoring hits make champions in baseball, and the Titans got more of those hits than the Gophers did.
Ramirez's home run made a winner out of Hernandez (1-0), and it also gave Minnesota starter Austin Lubinsky (1-3) the loss. Lubinsky gave up six runs in 4 2/3 innings. Only four of those runs were earned, though; an error paved the way for Colon's two-run single in the fourth.