Coming off extra innings heroics in consecutive playoff games, it appeared the Hornets might be destined for a championship. However, Fullerton baseball’s mercurial ride finally ended on Sunday at the Super Regionals after dropping two straight to Santa Barbara City College.
After sweeping Cypress in the first round, the Hornets traveled up the coast to scenic Santa Barbara for a Super Regional showdown against the Western State Conference North Champs, SBCC. Looking for another upset, FC got off to a promising start against the Vaqueros on Friday with yet another extra inning victory, defeating the Vaqueros 2-1 in 13 innings.
However, after playing a combined 29 innings in their previous two playoff games, the Hornets might have been worn a little too thin. Behind Justin Bruce’s complete game shutout on Saturday the momentum shifted to the Vaqueros and the Hornets never regained it. The Vaqueros dusted themselves off after a disappointing end to game one, tossing 18 straight scoreless innings to take the final two games.
Game one was the ultimate pitchers duel between two of the top pitchers in Southern California, Dylan Prohoroff of FC and Sean Berry of SBCC.
Prohoroff battled control a bit, hitting three batters and walking four, but managed to pitch 9.1 innings allowing just one unearned run with five strikeouts.
His counterpart, Berry went an impressive 10 innings, also allowing just one unearned run with eight strikeouts and two walks.
The game was decided in the 13th inning on a single by Justin Row, bringing home Julio Rivera, who reached base on an error. Both of the Hornets runs, as well as the Vaqueros one run were all unearned.
On Saturday the Vaqueros got on the board in the fifth inning, when Hornets pitcher Kyle Lazcano threw a wild pitch that allowed James Brakka to score, then Colby Taylor who was on second base scored right behind him on a poorly executed pickle run down.
The Vaqueros added one more insurance run in the eighth when Matt Henderson singled home Matt Gimenez. That was more than enough for the Vaqueros starting pitcher, Bruce who hurled a complete game, two-hit shutout with four strikeouts.
The Hornets bats made a lot of contact, hitting the ball squarely at least 11 times but the Vaqueros always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Conversely, the Hornets gave away runs on multiple miscues.
“This was one of those games in which, had we broken out early and scored a couple runs I think we would have had this team down in the dumps, but this is baseball and they are not going to just roll over,” Hornets Head Coach Nick Fuscardo said.
Row and second baseman Laine Huffman were banged up in the seventh inning as the two collided converging on a grounder up the middle. Huffman struck his middle infield counterpart with what looked like his knee right in middle of his back. Huffman appeared to be ok, but Row clearly got the worst of it and was shaken up. After the game, Huffman stated he was doing OK. The Hornets shortstop however, was clearly in pain, needing treatment on his back and ribs.
Sunday was the rubber match to decide who goes home and who moves on to the SoCal Sectional Championship.
Spurred on by the Hornets shaky fielding and a clearly less than 100 percent Row, the Vaqueros jumped on the board early with three runs in the first inning.
Cameron Jones scored on a sacrifice fly by Connor McManigal. Henderson followed with a single to left field. Then James Hill reached base on an error by Row at shortstop, on what looked like a tailor made double play ball. After a wild pitch allowed the runners to advance to second and third, Brakka hit a routine grounder to short, but Row was shielded by the base runner Hill taking his lead off second and the ball got through the infield, bringing both Hill and Henderson home.
Hornets starting pitcher Gordon Cardenas only lasted 1.1 innings, but his undoing had more to do with fielding miscues than anything else.
Fullerton’s best opportunity came in the third inning. Row singled and Oscar Heredia followed with a double into the gap in right-center. The next batter, Trent Hammond walked, leaving the bases loaded with only one out. The next two batters, Marco Rivera and Austin Obanion both struck out swinging.
Left hander Lucas Jacobsen picked up the win, going five innings with seven strikeouts and scattering five hits.
The Hornets made a lot of contact with the ball, but never seemed to find the grass. This was primarily due to the Vaqueros successfully utilizing defensive positioning, coupled with a consistent pitching approach to take away the gaps. Additionally, home field advantage was a major factor throughout the series, as the Vaqueros level of comfortability and knowledge of terrible field conditions swayed many of the close plays in their favor. In a tightly contested series, the game of inches went the way of SBCC.
Hornets reliever Randall Ortiz made two quality appearances in the series, picking up the win in game one with 3.2 scoreless innings of relief and going two scoreless innings in game three, with a total of six strikeouts.
The Hornets could not get the hits when they needed them, stranding nine base runners. The Hornets defensive liabilities and lack of timely hitting were their undoing.
Credit is due to the Vaqueros though for earning home field advantage and executing a near flawless game plan and utilization of their extremely burdensome field throughout the series.
“I thought we had a streak there where we fell out of first place, so we had to come up and play at this place, this place is horrible, but that’s no excuse, these guys played extremely well in their own element,” Fuscardo said. “Credit [SBCC], they earned it, I think they had 31 wins and won their league.”
The Hornets season perfuse with peaks and valleys has finally come to an end. Fullerton began the season scorching hot, but alas the team came back down to earth, slumping down the stretch, making the playoffs by the narrowest of margins. Then a seemingly downtrodden team that limped into the playoffs suddenly appeared to recapture that early season magic, sweeping Cypress and taking game one against SBCC in an uncanny fashion. However, the remarkably consistent pitching and sharp utilization of home field advantage, coupled with superior defense of the Vaqueros prevailed in the Super Regionals, ending the Hornets season short of their goal.
“Overall, I saw a lot of guys improve and unfortunately some that did not,” said Fuscardo. “You know we would have liked to go on, but that didn’t happen, so now it’s on to prepare for next year.”