Cal State Fullerton was off to the worst start in school history until it walked all over Tulane in the first inning on Friday night.
Or, more accurately, the Titans kept walking to first base. Kaleb Roper issued four free passes and hit another batter in a nightmarish start as the Green Wave fell behind 5-0 and did not recover until it was too late, losing 9-3 in the opener of a weekend series at Turchin Stadium.
This one was problematic before Tulane (5-4) took its first swing. The Titans (2-7), who had scored 22 runs while dropping seven of their first eight after being ranked 17th by D1Baseball.com in the preseason, sent 11 batters to the plate in a nearly 40-minute top of the first.
This, despite getting only one ball out of the infield in the opening stanza.
"It was just one of those nights," Roper said. "We're going to have those games where we come out and struggle a little bit. I have to find ways to get people out and I just wasn't able to do that tonight. I can't blame it on the umpire. I didn't earn any close pitches."
Roper (0-2) was done after two innings, giving up a leadoff triple in the second that left fielder Ty Johnson could not pick up in the corner, leading to another run. Coming off solid starts against Wright State and Ole Miss, Roper threw 73 pitches as the Titans repeatedly fouled off two-strike deliveries and forced him to make another delivery.
Daniel Cope did it twice with the bases loaded and a full count with two outs before taking a pitch low and outside, opening up the floodgates. Roper plunked the next batter, and Jake Pavletich lined a two-RBI single after fouling off three straight 0-2 offerings.
As the missed pitches mounted, Roper grew demonstrably more frustrated with himself.
"He was maybe a little bit over-amped for the situation, the Fullerton name maybe," coach Travis Jewett said. "The thing we've always counted on him is composure, and I saw some uncharacteristic body language, and it just reeled on him. ... He just wasn't himself tonight. He was just a little bit out of control emotionally, and it showed. I hadn't seen that from him. It's something new and I hope it's something that's not a constant, which I don't think it will be."
When shortstop Sahid Valenzuela executed a perfect bunt down the third-base line with the bases loaded in his second at-bat of the first inning, the Titans put the Wave in an even bigger hole.
It was small ball at its best. Three of Fullerton's first five hits stayed on the infield turf.
Tulane reached the outfield three times in its first at-bat but had nothing to show for it, stranding Jonathon Artigues after a leadoff single. Cleanup hitter Trevor Johnson sent one to the warning track, where left fielder Chris Prescott settled under it to end the inning.
The Wave could not manage much offense off Fullerton starter Colton Eastman (1-1), who retired nine of the next 10 batters after Artigues' opening single. Eastman pitched the Titans to the College World Series a year ago, allowing one run in seven innings of a dramatic 2-1 victory in the decisive game of a Super Regional at fellow Big West member Long Beach State.
Houston failed to score in six innings against him last Friday, and Tulane matched that effort. Sal Gozzo finally broke up the shutout with a double in the seventh. Pinch hitter Grant Matthews followed with a two-RBI single up the middle, but Eastman struck out Artigues and Valenzuela snagged Witherspoon's liner to prevent further damage.
"He mixed his change and fastball well," Gozzo said. "There wasn't really a difference between them, and he was able to spot his pitches and get us off balance. He's a real good pitcher."
Despite their rough start, the Titans, who played seven games against ranked teams (Stanford three times, Houston three times and UCLA once), are not used to losing. They have a current streak of 26 consecutive regionals, the second longest in the country behind Florida State, and have finished at least 10 games above .500 in 42 of their 43 seasons.
"We didn't force them to have to do anything tonight," Jewett said. "We didn't give ourselves a chance."
Tulane's Robert Price allowed a solo homer down the left field line in the sixth, but that was all the Wave relievers allowed until the ninth even though Fullerton left at least one runner on base in every inning. Trent Johnson pitched a scoreless third through fifth.
Tulane lost for the first time in six home games and will get another crack at the Titans on Saturday at 2 p.m, with Ross Massey (1-1) opposing Fullerton's Andrew Quezada (0-2) on the mound.
Jewett will be looking for much better results than the 10 walks, one hit batsman and two wild pitches his staff threw Friday.
"We got what we deserved tonight," Jewett said. "I hate to say that, but it's true. I don't think that's us. We're going to have to put our head on the pillow tonight and be upset about it. That's natural. I hope they are because we're going to need to come out punching tomorrow. If we do that again, the same result's going to happen."