Irvine uses a little luck, a lot of baseballs to knock out Cal State Fullerton

OMAHA, Neb. -- It took UC Irvine and Cal State Fullerton 96 baseballs and five hours and 40 minutes to play their elimination game at the College World Series here Monday afternoon.

And shortly after the Anteaters beat their fellow Big West Conference member for the third time in four meetings this season -- on Bryan Petersen's two-out single to shallow center that let Cody Cipriano end the epic struggle with a too-easy trot in from third base -- Fullerton's veteran coach George Horton might have needed some extra tissues, as well.

You see, it's not easy -- win or lose -- to have to match wits with someone you once coached and later spent eight seasons showing the ropes to before he went off to build his own college baseball power.

Horton's "reward" for those teachings was to have Dave Serrano's third Irvine club rally from a 3-1 deficit to win the longest game in CWS history.

"In defeat, this will be a day I remember for a long time," said Horton, who gave Serrano a hearty postgame hug and also wasn't too proud to shed some tears, not all of which contained sadness. "I told him I loved him -- and I do. And I told him to win the tournament."

Serrano's club has quite a bit of work ahead of it yet -- needing three straight victories, to be precise -- to advance to the best-of-three championship series.

But if Monday's outcome was any indication, don't count out these Anteaters.

They sent Fullerton (38-25) to its first 0-2 showing at the CWS in nine appearances despite making six errors and stranding 16 runners.

They also refused to blink after Taylor Holiday, trying to score from second on a single by Matt Morris, got gunned down at the plate for the second out of the 13th inning on a perfect throw by left fielder Josh Fellhauer.

"It was a huge letdown," said Holiday, who'd homered earlier in the game but, after being tagged out, had a momentary flashback to how Irvine's 2006 season had ended with a 14-inning NCAA regional loss to Missouri. "I went as hard as I could, and the kid made a great throw. I came into the dugout, and I felt I let them down.

"But Petey, two seconds later, took care of it."

Morris had taken second on Fellhauer's throw home. Cipriano -- who had tied the score a final time by hitting a solo homer in the seventh after fouling off eight 3-2 pitches -- had been intentionally walked after Holiday advanced on a sacrifice, and was at third.

You're not supposed to dwell on how tired you are, and not put a lot of pressure on yourself and just kind of do what you've been doing. ... Baseball's a game that'll beat you down. There's always that one more at-bat you have.

Bryan Petersen

The Titans then called on junior lefty Dustin Birosak to extend the game to the 14th. But Irvine's No. 5 hitter, already 2-for-5 on the day, got enough on a 1-1 swing to poke it up the middle.

"You're not supposed to dwell on how tired you are, and not put a lot of pressure on yourself and just kind of do what you've been doing," Petersen said. "It was tough to see [Holiday] thrown out, but you've got to stay positive.

"Baseball's a game that'll beat you down. There's always that one more at-bat you have."

Of course, that's what Petersen has been trained to say and think. But, come on now, didn't he have at least a tinge of a negative thought after Holiday was erased?

"You do for about five seconds," Petersen confessed. "You're like, 'Oh, man! That stinks.' But I can't take Taylor getting thrown out at the plate to my at-bat."

Fullerton first baseman Matt Wallach wished he had. If so, maybe the son of former major leaguer Tim Wallach, who'd mumbled some words of luck into his mitt when Fellhauer came up throwing on Morris' hit, could have gotten a turn at playing hero in the 14th.

Now, he'll have to wait until his sophomore season to give it a go.

"You knew that the game was lying in Josh's hands, on if he was going to make a good throw or not, and you see the play and the crowd goes wild and you're just excited," Wallach said of his first emotion. "Then the pitching change, [and] once they get the hit, it's just like 'Season's over.'

"Your heart drops for a second just knowing that you're not going to play with some of the guys on the team ever again."

It was yet another chapter of cruel endings for the four-time national champions, now 0-6 all-time in CWS extra-inning games.

In their only previous extra-inning game this season, the Titans also lost to rival Long Beach State.

And now, they have the distinction of being the other team besides Arizona State to lose a 13-inning game here that took five hours to play. The Sun Devils (who lost to defending champion Oregon State 12-6 later Tuesday) lost the previous long CWS game, 11-10 to Oklahoma State in 1981.

"We got to the park today about 10. What is it now, about 7?" asked Irvine third baseman Tyler Vaughn. "Just another day in the life, I guess."

Well, not exactly.

"I had to say goodbye to my mentor, my coach, my friend, my second father, a guy that I love a lot. That's the toughest part about it," Serrano said. "I wish our win wouldn't have been at their expense, but we both knew going into this that one of us was going to be happy and one of us was going to be sad."

Those feelings will pass. In fact, the sad guy Tuesday didn't look so glum as he prepared to leave Rosenblatt Stadium.

"I know the baseball purists were watching that game and on the edge of their seats," Horton said. "Even though the length of it was ridiculous, it was a great college game."

Then he put in a plug for his pal's Anteaters, who will face the Sun Devils on Tuesday (ESPN2, 7 p.m. ET).

"Whoever's going to beat them is going to have their work cut out," Horton offered. "I know their pitching is a little thin after 13 innings -- but they'll find a way."

Curt McKeever is a reporter for the Lincoln Journal Star.