TIMELY RE­TURN Rested and ea­ger, East­man strength­ens Ti­tans

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Cur­tis Zupke

Colton East­man fig­ured that noth­ing good was go­ing to come out of a trip to the den­tist, but this hit him in two places.

It was Fe­bru­ary, and the Cal State Fuller­ton pitcher dis­cov­ered that he needed to have his wis­dom teeth re­moved. It co­in­cided with tight­ness in his el­bow, and he found out the two is­sues were re­lated.

“They said the nerves in my teeth were con­nected to my arm,” East­man said.

The Ti­tans erred on the side of cau­tion and shut down East­man, a pre­sea­son All Amer­i­can pick as a sopho­more this sea­son, for more than two months. They now ap­pear to be a po­ten­tially big pain for op­po­nents in the Col­lege World Se­ries.

Rested and ea­ger, East­man gives Fuller­ton a No. 1cal­iber starter at its dis­posal just in time for the dou­blee­l­im­i­na­tion tour­na­ment that starts with Satur­day’s matchup against Ore­gon State.

East­man’s re­turn seems to set up the Ti­tans well, par­tic­u­larly if they ab­sorb a loss. Fuller­ton coach Rick Van­der­hook ideally can use him as the third starter, be­hind Con­nor Se­abold and John Gavin, and he even opened the pos­si­bil­ity of East­man com­ing out of the bullpen.

“It just gives us more depth,” Van­der­hook said. “Just to have an­other qual­ity body and arm and com­peti­tor to put in there, it’s not hurt­ing us one bit right now.”

East­man started the de­cid­ing Game 3 of last week­end’s su­per re­gional and no­hit Long Beach State through five in­nings of an even­tual 2-1 win that clinched a berth to Omaha.

East­man’s pitch count has in­creased in­cre­men­tally from 39 pitches in his May 14 re­turn to 106 last Sun­day.

“He’s still get­ting his feel back, which is the scary part, be­cause he’s not all the way there yet,” Se­abold said. “But once he gets there this sea­son, we’re in re­ally, re­ally good shape.”

In the small sam­ple size of his col­lege ca­reer, East­man al­ready has shown that he likes this stage. In his col­lege de­but last sea­son, he re­tired the first 16 bat­ters against Stan­ford. East­man book­ended that in the reg­u­lar-sea­son fi­nale when he went a ca­reer-high 81⁄3 in­nings with nine strike­outs against the Dirt­bags to clinch the Big West ti­tle.

East­man, a Fresno prod­uct who says he wasn’t re­cruited heav­ily by Fresno State, has had that pen­chant for clutch play since late in his high school ca­reer.

“I’m a re­ally in­tense guy when I get into it,” East­man said. “I like large crowds. I like every­one watch­ing one player — the pitcher.”

Fuller­ton takes a sim­i­lar swag­ger into the opener, even as the third-place team from the Big West. The Ti­tans are not na­tion­ally seeded, but they wel­come a matchup against the No. 1 Beavers.

“That’s what we wanted, be­cause we know we’re bet­ter than them,” Se­abold said. “We know we can beat them. If we play the bet­ter game, we’ll win. That’s what we’ve got to be­lieve.”

Ore­gon State won’t have ace Luke Heim­lich, but Jake Thomp­son helped lead the Beavers to a na­tion’s-best 1.80 ERA.

The Beavers (54-4) haven’t lost since April 29.

“Shoot, Ore­gon State’s lost four times this year so I’m sure we have a good chance,” Van­der­hook said jok­ingly af­ter the Ti­tans clinched the matchup.

Van­der­hook had his play­ers do ex­tra run­ning drills to pre­pare them for Omaha’s hu­mid­ity. He thinks that might make the Beavers un­com­fort­able.

“I hope it’s re­ally, re­ally hot,” Van­der­hook said. “I don’t think they’ve seen any hu­mid­ity. Maybe they run out of juice a lit­tle early. We’ll see what hap­pens.”

Se­abold wilted on Omaha’s stage two sea­sons ago when, as a fresh­man starter, he lasted 21⁄3 in­nings in a loss to Louisiana State.

That loss sent the Ti­tans home. They were “two-and-bar­be­cue,” to in­voke the phrase used when a team goes 0-2 and has noth­ing left to do but en­joy the food in Omaha.

Re­demp­tion comes with a chal­lenge for those Ti­tans who haven’t played in as big a venue as TD Amer­i­trade Park, in a na­tion­ally tele­vised set­ting.

“I’ll still be ner­vous,” Se­abold said. An­tic­i­pat­ing a packed sta­dium for the open­ing game, he said, “it’s go­ing to be a lit­tle nerver­ack­ing. But once I set­tle down, and get into my rhythm, I’ll be fine.”

Luis Sinco Los Angeles Times

COLTON EAST­MAN gives Fuller­ton a No. 1-cal­iber start­ing pitcher at its dis­posal just in time for the Col­lege World Se­ries, which starts today.

Luis Sinco Los Angeles Times

EAST­MAN could be used as a third starter or re­liever in Omaha.

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