FULLERTON, Calif. -- One night after proving it was more than capable of competing with the No. 9 team in the country, the Saint Mary's baseball team returned to Cal State Fullerton with the sole intention of turning that potential into a win.
Thanks to a second straight huge performance from freshman Cameron Neff and one big offensive inning, that plan turned quickly into an emphatic reality.
Just one week after throwing his first career shutout, Neff dazzled on perhaps the biggest stage Saint Mary's will play all year, throwing his second straight shutout to lead Saint Mary's to a 6-0 win over the ninth-ranked Titans in front of 2,343 in attendance at Goodwin Field.
With the win, Saint Mary's improves to 8-9. Cal State Fullerton falls to 9-7.
The arsenal that served Neff so well in his win over Penn State was again on full display against Fullerton. Early command of his fastball gave way to a devastating changeup in the later innings, and with a sharp slider mixed in for good measure, the Salinas, Calif. native kept the Titans off balance all night. For his troubles, Neff improved to 3-2 on the season and extended his streak of scoreless innings to 18.
"At the beginning of the game, some big nerves were going on. I just tried to calm myself down and attack the zone," Neff said. "I'm still kind of on cloud nine right now. I'm just soaking it all in and taking it as it is."
"He's one of those guys that it doesn't matter who he's pitching against. It could be a Little League team or it could be the Yankees and he's going to be the same way," Saint Mary's coach Eric Valenzuela said. "Nothing fazed him. To play here against probably as many people as he's pitched in front of in his life, he wasn't fazed by it at all. I'm proud of him."
For the second straight night, Saint Mary's got the scoring started. This time, the opening rally came in the third and started when a ball chopped by Trevor Ellison to deep shortstop resulted in an error. DonAndre Clark sacrificed Ellison to second and Anthony Gonsolin singled to right to put runners at the corners.
It didn't take long for Gonsolin to take off for second, and as the Gaels' leadoff hitter slid into the bag, the ball ricocheted off the Titan covering and caromed into shallow left field. Ellison scored on the error to give the Gaels the early lead.
Ricky Boas followed with an infield single just over third baseman Matt Chapman's head, and Collin Ferguson brought Gonsolin in with a sacrifice fly. Boas scored one batter later when Anthony Villa drove a double to nearly the exact spot as the one he hit in the 13th inning Friday, and Saint Mary's ended its half of the third with three unearned runs and a 3-0 lead.
Saint Mary's shook off some execution problems on offense to add more insurance in the ninth. Gonsolin drove in a run with a single to left-center and Boas plated two more with his own single to center. That made it 6-0 Gaels going to the bottom of the ninth and Neff set the Titans down in order to close the game out.
Boas finished with a three-hit night to lead SMC offensively. Gonsolin had two hits and scored two runs. And Ferguson and Villa each drove in runs for the Gaels.
While Neff was certainly impressive throughout the night, he was also the beneficiary of some tremendous defense. Several outstanding plays came courtesy of Ferguson at first base, as the junior from Santa Cruz, Calif. made contact with seemingly everything that came his way, making multiple diving plays to take away sure hits. He even got an assist on one unique play, diving to knock down a ball that ultimately bounced far enough to his right that Darian Ramage was able to pick it up and throw to Neff covering for the out.
Just as impressive as Neff's performance was the resolve showed by a Saint Mary's team that experienced its share of heartbreak on Friday. The Gaels lost the first game of the series 6-5 in 13 innings on Friday when J.D. Davis lined a two-out, two-strike single to right field to score two runs and win the game for Fullerton. That served as motivation for the Gaels on Saturday, as they returned to the scene of the crime to claim a win for themselves.
"It's a huge boost, obviously, but they know they can play with anybody. We talked about that from day one. If they play better than the team we're facing, they can beat them," Valenzuela said. "I think last night gave them some confidence too that they can play right with them, regardless of where it's at or against whom or who's on the mound. Last night after losing that game where we had a lead in the 13th, some teams could take it like we played right with them and today they could've put it on us. Today, our guys came back even better."
The Gaels and Titans will be back at Goodwin Field on Sunday for the series finale. First pitch is set for 1 p.m. Saint Mary's returns to Louis Guisto Field on Tuesday to start a brief two-game set with Minnesota. Both Tuesday and Wednesday's games against the Golden Gophers are scheduled for a 3 p.m. start.