Cal State Fullerton ousted from NCAAs

FULLERTON, Calif. -- Nick Ramirez took a vicious swing and walked away slowly once he realized the ball would stay in play and get caught in foul territory. He held on to his bat and didn't let go. The season wasn't supposed to end like this, with Cal State Fullerton players consoling each other after a shocking 7-5 loss to Illinois on Sunday in an elimination game of the NCAA regionals at Goodwin Field.

Ramirez, the Titans' home run leader, represented the tying run in the ninth but his game-ending pop out dashed top-seeded Fullerton's dreams of reaching the College World Series in Omaha. Fourth-seeded Illinois pulled off the upset by scoring six times in its final three at-bats -- three off Ramirez, the Titans' closer who absorbed his first loss of the season.

"I'm very disappointed right now," a teary-eyed Ramirez said. "I never thought, in playing baseball here, that it would end in a regional. I think I was almost spoiled my freshman year [in 2009] when we made the College World Series. The next year we were one out away from the College World Series. We wanted to get back there so bad. It hurts."

With the loss, Fullerton (41-17) had a string of eight consecutive super regional appearances snapped. The Titans led 4-1 heading into the sixth inning and 4-2 into the seventh. They had clobbered Illinois, 10-4, in the regional opener on Friday night.

"We just allowed them to hang around," Fullerton head coach Dave Serrano said. "In this kind of atmosphere, you can't do that. A team is fighting for its life. We had the door cracked open enough for them to come back."

A two-out, run-scoring liner into left field by Pete Cappetta tied it at 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh. Serrano would call on Ramirez, who moved to the mound from first base. Matt Dittman blooped a two-out, RBI single off Ramirez in the eighth before Davis Hendrickson drove in two more with a double. Dittman and Hendrickson, both left-handed hitters, went the other way against the lefty Ramirez.

"The pitch that Dittman hit was a good pitch, it was down and away," Ramirez said. "The double that I gave up was a slider that I left up."

Illinois, the Big Ten Tournament champions, advanced to play second-seeded Stanford in the regional final.

The Titans jumped out to a 4-1 advantage after three but stalled offensively despite outhitting the Fighting Illini, 12-7.

"We allowed them back in the game," Serrano said. "A few times in the dugout we kept telling our team, 'We can't let them back in, we can't let them back in.' We were easier outs once we put four on the board. We just didn't put them away and we're paying for it now."