June 12, 2010

By Jonathan Raber
Special to NCAA.com

LOS ANGELES - His two most reliable pitchers have gotten him this far, so Cal State Fullerton coach Dave Serrano was either going to sink or swim with sophomores Noe Ramirez and Nick Ramirez.

The Titans stayed afloat.

Noe Ramirez worked out of a crucial jam in the seventh inning and Nick Ramirez did the same in the ninth as Fullerton fended off a late rally to hold on for a 4-3 victory over sixth-seeded UCLA in the opener of the NCAA Division I baseball Super Regional at Jackie Robinson Stadium on Friday night.

"My heart was pumping through my jacket, I think," said Serrano of the tense moments.

There won't be much time for the feeling of relief to settle in with Game 2 of the best-of-three series slated for Saturday at 4 p.m. PDT, to be aired on ESPN. Game 3, if necessary, will be played at 7 p.m. PDT Sunday (ESPN).

When Noe Ramirez (12-1) ran into some trouble in the seventh, loading the bases with no outs, Serrano didn't even consider pulling him in that spot.

"When you get in situations like this, you tend to go with a guy who may have a little bit more mentality than he does stuff," Serrano said. "There might be a fresh arm in the bullpen, and nothing against those guys, but you're going to stick with mentality in those situations."

The staff ace made his coach look smart, retiring a pair of batters on devastating changeups and getting some help from shortstop Christian Colon, who made a leaping grab of a line drive for the third out in the inning to strand the tying runs on base to maintain a 4-1 lead for the Titans (46-16).

Things got even dicier when Noe Ramirez was lifted after Tyler Rahmatulla doubled to lead off the eighth.

Raymond Hernandez entered in relief and nearly surrendered the lead. Rahmatulla came home on a throwing error by the pitcher and Niko Gallego drove in a run with an infield single to cut the deficit to 4-3. Hernandez buckled down and induced a pop fly to the shortstop to end the threat.

The drama wasn't over yet as the Bruins (46-14) refused to go quietly in the ninth as runners reached the corners with no outs. Nick Ramirez then picked off the runner at first, guessing right on the attempted steal after throwing over on multiple occasions.

"It was gamble," UCLA coach John Savage said. "And we lost."

The burly lefty, who when not pitching is the Titans' first baseman, got a swinging strikeout and a groundout to convert his 11th save.

Nick Ramirez drove in a pair of runs and Colon homered to supply the offense as the Titans did all of their damage in two innings.

The runs were plenty of support for Noe Ramirez, who settled down after allowing a first-inning run and got stronger as the game went along by retiring 17 of the next 20 batters.

"Ramirez is special," Savage said. "He's as good as there is out there."

The right-hander struck out a career-best 13 batters, flashed superb control and changed speeds all night to keep the Bruins guessing in winning his sixth straight start as Ramirez outdueled UCLA ace Gerrit Cole (10-3)

"My changeup just felt great off my hand," Noe Ramirez said. "That was definitely my pitch tonight."

The Titans entered the fourth having yet to record a hit off Cole, but struck for three runs in the inning. Following a walk and a hit batter, Tyler Pill hit a bloop single to right to load the bases and bring the ever-dangerous Nick Ramirez to the plate. The sophomore first baseman responded with a two-run single to left-center field.

After a groundout, Carlos Lopez lifted a sacrifice fly that scored Pill to tack on another run for a 3-1 lead.

Colon, the fourth overall pick and the first four-year college player taken in Monday's MLB amateur draft, hit a solo homer - his 17th of the season - on the first pitch he saw in the fifth.

"Good hitters are going to punish you," Cole said.

UCLA opened the scoring in the first inning on a pair of doubles. Beau Amaral led off with a double and scored easily when Rahmatulla hit his own. But Noe Ramirez then settled down as Fullerton moved to within one win of its sixth trip to the College World Series in eight years.