Fullerton slides into second place with defensive win against Saddleback

Hornets snap their 12 game, four year losing streak against the reigning OEC champion Bobcats.
Sophomore Andrew Pyle reaches first base, but advances to third due to a Bobcats fielding error by freshman center fielder Makani Tanaka. This allowed the Hornets to tie up the ball game on Tuesday, March 19, 2024.
Sophomore Andrew Pyle reaches first base, but advances to third due to a Bobcats fielding error by freshman center fielder Makani Tanaka. This allowed the Hornets to tie up the ball game on Tuesday, March 19, 2024.
Danielle Rivera

The last four years for Fullerton College have not gone well when they matchup with the Saddleback College. The Bobcats have defeated the Hornets in the last 12 meetings in Orange Empire Conference play. The dominance over the Hornets can be seen throughout the conference. After all, the Bobcats are the reigning OEC champs. However, the Hornets played a clean game defensively and pitched eight scoreless innings to turn their losing streak against the Bobcats into an impressive 4-2 winning effort Tuesday afternoon at Fullerton College.

All three of the Bobcats’ errors occurred in the bottom of the fourth inning. The dangerous freshman first baseman Trevor Schmidt leads the Hornets in all hitting stats. Knowing that, freshman starting pitcher Damon Anderson Wolf pitched around Schmidt, not allowing him to see a fastball until the third pitch which was fouled.

With the next offering, Schmidt sent a ground ball screaming at the freshman first baseman Robert Gray who was not able to get back to the base in time as Schmidt used his speed to reach base safely for his only hit of the game to start the inning.

Carrying the spark lit from Schmidt, sophomore third baseman Ryan Kirk jumped at the first opportunity Wolf offered, sending a first pitch double to deep left-center field putting two runners in scoring position. Kirk says he loves hitting behind Schmidt.

“It’s really different because I don’t get to see the pitcher out of the wind up and when they’re in the stretch, I usually get a lot more fastballs,” said Kirk. “I’m a lot more ready to hit whenever there’s runners on.”

Sophomore Ryan Kirk fielding a routine ground ball to nab the baserunner at first. (Danielle Rivera)

With Fullerton down 2-0, sophomore catcher Andrew Pyle stepped up to bat. While approaching the batter’s box, the supportive dugout screamed “extend it Pyle” in hopes of a two-out rally. The message was received, as Pyle sent a ball to the warning track in center field. Positioned on the dirt, sophomore center fielder Makani Tanaka lost the high-flying ball in the sun and dropped the routine catch. Schmidt and Kirk scored the tying runs off the Oral Roberts University commit’s error, which also allowed Pyle to slide into third base.

Sophomore shortstop Landon Runge hit a ground ball that brought Pyle in to score via fielder’s choice RBI. Runge’s RBI would be the only earned run for the Hornets. The mistakes continued for the Bobcats (13-9, 3-4), as sequential errors by sophomore shortstop Andrew Nykoluk allowed the Hornets to score two more runs for a 4-2 lead.

“The Orange Empire Conference is a lot of different baseball,” said manager Chad Baum. “We’re not facing teams that we are far superior to, it’s a very tough conference. So, it’s going to be like games like this. We have to learn to win close games and we have to learn to win one run games and luckily today was just a two-run game.”

The error laden fourth inning shifted momentum for the Hornets to make a defensive stand, as the pitching staff led the way the rest of the game.

“I guess when you score nine runs a game like we do most of the time, everybody thinks that we’re going to score like that,” said Baum. “So, it’s nice to have a defensive and pitching game.”

With the last two outs remaining in top of the 9th inning, the Hornets dugout continued to support their teammates. Every Hornet (17-8, 5-2) in their navy blue jerseys were on their feet screaming at freshman pitcher Ryan Franson to close the game. Franson struck out half the batters he faced, including the last two of the game.

Sophomore starter Matt Romero (3-1) pitched five innings allowing two runs, seven hits, while punching out two. Sophomore Andrew Carren and Franson combined for four innings of hitless baseball, while striking out three batters each. Franson grabbed his fourth save of the season.

Sophomore Ryan Franson closed out the game for the Hornets on Tuesday, March 19, 2024. (Danielle Rivera )

“It feels good,” Franson said. “(The team) put me in that situation, the rest of our pitchers. Carren kept us in the game for the the sixth and seventh. They want me to go in, in those situations and I just got to do my job and throw strikes.”

Romero began the game throwing hard fastballs at 87 mph, but it was the movement of the side arm Franson clocking in at 82 mph that made the desperate reigning OEC champs miss more later in the game.

“I just rely on my movement and my deception, and I get weak contact and occasional K’s; I just let it work for me,” said Franson. “Mixing around different pitches and different locations helps out a lot and it’s kind of going one pitch at a time.”

The Hornets will resume their three-game series with the Bobcats this Thursday at 2 p.m. this time on the road at Saddleback. With 15 games remaining in the season, the Hornets hope to improve their second-place standings in the OEC.

“I’m glad we’re keeping pace with the other people in the conference and keep getting wins and I like the direction our team is headed,” said Baum.

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