LOS ANGELES — Cal State Fullerton's first two chances at a walk-off win came up short Saturday. Kelly Ford didn't panic with each missed opportunity. The head coach knew the third time was going to be the charm this weekend.
In their third straight trip to the Los Angeles Regional, the Titans finally knocked off host UCLA, upsetting the third-seeded Bruins 3-2 with a walk-off bases-loaded single from senior Sammie Vandiver on Saturday at Easton Stadium. The Titans (35-23) snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Bruins, a skid that included four straight postseason losses. UCLA (51-5) had not lost a regional game in four years, winning its past 13, all at home.
"That was a lot of work starting way back in August," Ford said. "To see our team simply focus on getting better every game and they bought into that, that's why today, we had this opportunity."
Fullerton advances to Sunday's regional final at 7 p.m. ET needing just one more game to get to the Super Regional while UCLA needed to survive an elimination game against Texas State on Saturday night to extend its season. The Bruins, who run-ruled Texas State 14-1 in the elimination game, need to win twice Sunday to get to the Super Regional.
Fullerton pitcher Trish Parks threw nine innings Saturday, allowing nine hits, five walks and two runs after throwing a complete game Friday night. The junior has thrown 239 pitches in the past two games but didn't back down from UCLA's offense that entered the weekend as the second-best batting team in the country.
"With (my teammates) behind me, I feel like I can go endless amount of innings," Parks said. "Knowing that they have my back, I'm going to keep going for them as long as they keep going for me."
The Fullerton defense backed up its pitcher with third baseman Bryanna Ybarra turning an show-stopping double play in the fifth, catching a line drive from Aaliyah Jordan and gunning Kylee Perez down as first before the UCLA senior could get back on base. Vandiver made impressive catches in left center and shallow left field in the seventh.
UCLA has struggled at the plate this postseason with 15 hits on 57 combined at-bats without a single extra base hit in the first two games. The Bruins entered the regional with a .340 batting average and ranked fourth in the country in runs scored (6.54).
UCLA pitcher Rachel Garcia, who tossed a one-hit shutout Friday, entered the game in relief in the third inning after Fullerton chased UCLA starter Holly Azevedo. Garcia, the Pac-12 Player of the Year, had four strikeouts while allowing a walk and two runs, both unearned, as UCLA committed two errors. One miscue came on the winner from Vandiver, who smacked a hard ground ball at shortstop Briana Perez, who couldn't handle the ball to get off a throw.
Fullerton took one-run leads in the bottom of the third and fifth innings, but each time, UCLA tied it up. The Bruins threatened to break through in the sixth, loading the bases twice, but mustered only one run. UCLA left 12 runners on base Saturday and has stranded 27 total runners in two games against the Titans this season.
After the win that put Fullerton one victory away from their first Super Regional berth since 2007, an assistant hoisted Ford in the air as teammates swarmed Vandiver on the field. Beaming, the Titans shook hands with the Bruins.
"We're not done yet! We're not done yet!" players chanted in front of their cheering section seated along the third-base line.
The fans joined in, wildly waving orange towels.
This article is written by Thuc Nhi Nguyen from Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.