Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Titans Baseball Needs a Regime Change

By Samuel Chi

I realize by writing this post I'll offend a strong contingent of coach Rick Vanderhook's supporters. But my loyalty is to the Fullerton baseball program, far and above any individual, so here goes:

Hook was never the right guy to lead this program and that's compounded by AD Jim Donovan's ill-advised decision to extend him last year. But now, Donovan has a chance to take a corrective course of action to save the program.

When Dave Serrano left for Tennessee, it was a pivotal time for the Titans. Under siege from big-budget schools putting more emphasis on baseball, we were faced with a landscape increasingly dominated by BCS powers. We needed an infusion of new blood and new ideas to take us boldly into a more challenging terrain.

Instead, bowing to pressure from alums and some fans, Brian Quinn hired Hook. Not only that, he did not even bother to conduct a meaningful national search to find the right guy for the job.

Now, Hook's loyalty to Cal State Fullerton isn't to be questioned, but that should not be the first, second or third qualification for the job. This is an elite program that needs elite leadership, and Hook doesn't fit the bill.

Hook's a career assistant for a reason, with a temperament ill-suited to be the leader of an elite program. He also betrays a certain amount of small-mindedness, with his decision to meddle with this very message board and then try to shut down live streaming being glaring examples.

In short, Hook's stuck in the past, on and off the field. He does not have the vision that's desperately needed to lead this program.

While I don't personally approve the secret recording of a tirade (IF THAT'S INDEED WHAT HAPPENED), the allegations must be serious enough for Donovan and the administration to take them seriously. And make no mistake, this wasn't an isolated incident.

Viewed in totality, you can make a case for abusive treatment of the players. Please spare me the Junction Boys tales, these are different times whether you like it or not. And the best coaches find ways to adapt. Coach K does not go about his business the same way he did in the 1980s.

The sunflower seed incident, the post-game rant at USD, the 7 a.m. scrimmage after a late-night game, the pregame tirade before the UCSB game - just using a few examples already mentioned on this board - prove to be very illuminating.

It shows that Hook has but one play in his playbook. A few commenters mentioned that Augie went on epic tirades, too - yes, I know, I've seen them personally. But that's not the only thing he does. Augie was - and still is - a master motivator. He has many more devices from that coaching tool box.

Hook, on the other hand, is a one-trick pony - which we all knew. And he's not going to reverse this season's epic meltdown because he's already out of ideas. The constant ranting and raving - and badmouthing the players to the press - is already old and the players have tuned him out.

Now we must not allow this disastrous season go beyond 2014, and the only thing to do is cut Hook loose.

We thank him for all he's done as a player and assistant and these last 2 1/2 years that included a 51-win season (but no trips to Omaha). We go out and conduct an honest and serious national search, trying to locate the best candidate for the job, whether he's ever set foot at Goodwin before or not.

We should never fear whomever we hire would move on to greener pastures, if they do, we wish them well and we move on. We're Cal State Fullerton, there are plenty of top coaches who want to leave their mark here. What we can't do is let the program slip into irrelevance like Titans softball.

That's the danger facing us now. We have failed to recruit top position players after Serrano's departure. We have not been to Omaha since 2009. We have been eliminated by a lower-ranked team in each of the past three seasons. We'll likely miss the postseason for the first time since 1991.

Was it all Hook's fault? Maybe not. But at the same time, Hook isn't going to get us out of this very mess - arguably the program's only major crisis in its 40-year history (I was around in 1989 and this easily tops that) - that in no small part was his creation.

Donovan gets a second chance to make the right move. He needs to find a coach to take Cal State Fullerton back to Omaha and sustain our record of excellence.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Don't Blame Players for Titans' Mess

By Samuel Chi

Where does the buck stop?

When Hook says to a reporter that this team "lacks leadership and accountability" that is the most damning indictment ... of himself.

When the preseason No. 1 USC football team went down in flames in 2012 with a Heisman-worthy QB, did you blame the Trojans players?

But when the preseason No. 1 Titans - with STILL the nation's best pitching staff - about to become the first team since 1991 not to make the postseason, it's all the fault of the players?

When Serrano's teams unraveled in the postseason, did you blame the coach or the players?

You can't have it both ways.

You want to call the players soft and call them a bunch of names, to me that's despicable. Other than the completely understandable loss on Thursday, they have fought hard all season, they just kept coming up short.

So I ask you, other than pitching, which is handled superbly for the most part by Jason Dietrich, who's in charge of everything else? Who recruited these players here? Who's responsible for coaching hitting and fielding? Who's supposed to motivate these players?

That we have a huge talent problem with respect to position players, whose fault is that? Our two best position players are both Serrano recruits. Last year's team that won 51 games had a lineup that was nearly exclusively Serrano recruits.

When things started going south this season, did Hook make any adjustments to right the ship besides ranting and raving at the team AND to the press? How many times has he thrown all the players under the bus, and how many times has he pointed the finger at himself?

Of the 15 losses this season, 10 were one-run games or in extra innings and another two were by two runs. This isn't a team that's not trying hard. This is a team that lacks some talent and the coaching needed to get it over the hump.

I, for one, will salute the players for putting forth the effort and try hard every game. And for enduring the endless tongue-lashing, punishing post-game workouts and early morning scrimmages after coming up just short many times.

These players aren't soft. They needed guidance, leadership and support. They aren't getting it from their head coach. And sadly it seems like they're not getting it from the fans, either.

Shame on you, Titans fans, for throwing these kids under the bus, too.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

CSF Places Coach Vanderhook on Leave

Cal State Fullerton has placed its head baseball coach on leave, the university announced Thursday.

"Effective today, Cal State Fullerton's head coach Rick Vanderhook has been placed on paid administrative leave. The university has received allegations that it is obligated to review," a school release said.

"Assistant coaches Mike Kirby and Jason Dietrich will serve as acting co-head coaches when the Titans take on Cal Poly San Luis Obispo on Thursday afternoon to start a three-game series through Saturday."

Fullerton is 18-13 after losing two of three games last weekend at UC Santa Barbara.

Vanderhook took over the Titans program in 2012, when four-year head coach Dave Serrano left for Tennessee. Vanderhook was 36-21 in his first season and followed up with a 51-10 record in 2013, which tied the mark for the fourth-most wins in program history. Fullerton won 66 games in 1984, 60 in '79, 57 in '95 and 51 in '82, all under Augie Garrido.

Fullerton won its postseason regional last year before losing to eventual national champion UCLA in the super regional.

The Titans won the College World Series in 1979, '84, '95 -- with Garrido at the helm -- and 2004 under George Horton. Fullerton has 12 other CWS appearnces.

Friday, February 14, 2014

CSFBaseball.com Shutdown Announcement

Dear fellow Titans fans:

I'm saddened to announce that I will be shutting down the CSFBaseball.com web site, which has been operating since the 2009 season. The decision will stand for the 2014 season, and perhaps for good.

The reason for the shutdown is that I belatedly realized that the site is doing much harm to the success of our beloved baseball team. FBF's previews and Don's recaps are so accurate and insightful that their continued publication would provide coaches of future opponents too much valuable information.

This falls in line with the school's recent decision to discontinue video streaming of Titans home games. In fact, I would urge the administration to cancel all telecasts planned for ESPN3 and ESPNU and hack the streaming service of our road opponents so that no one will see or read about even one pitch of our games. These measures should greatly enhance our chances of winning a fifth national championship, hopefully in an empty stadium in Omaha.

I'd like to thank you for your support and suggestions over the years. Our Twitter feed @CSFBaseball will still be active, but only to disseminate non-proprietary information such as what will be on the latest rerun of "Breaking Bad" episodes.

See you at the ballpark, but remember: Do not discuss the game or our team with anyone - you just never know if Mike Gillespie's great grandson might be in attendance masquerading as a fan. Loose lips sink ships!

- Proprietor, CSFBaseball (Class of '91)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Fullerton Super Regional: UCLA Preview

UCLA at Titans (Fullerton Super Regional)
Friday 4 p.m.; Saturday 7 p.m.; Sunday (if necessary) 7 p.m. (All Games on ESPN2)


By FullertonBaseballFan


UCLA Bruins
  • Overall Record – 42-17
  • Conference Record – 21-9 (3rd place)
  • How they qualified for a regional – At-large.  Won Los Angeles regional – Wins against San Diego State 5-3, Cal Poly 6-4 and San Diego 6-0.
  • Last post-season appearance – 2012.  3-0 at Los Angeles regional – wins vs. Creighton twice and New Mexico.  2-0 vs. TCU in Los Angeles super regional.  1-2 in College World Series – win vs. Stony Brook, losses to Arizona and Florida State.
  • RPI/ISR – 14/10 (Fullerton opponent ISR comparison – Oregon 7, Cal Poly 17)
  • SOS – 28 (RPI)/6 (ISR). 
  • Record vs. Fullerton – 0-2.  Lost 6-9 at home on 4/2, lost 2-5 at Fullerton on 5/14
  • Record vs. common opponents – UCLA 18-6, Fullerton 25-6.
  • Record vs. tournament field –  9-8. 
  • Record vs. top 50/top 100 RPI – 7-8/23-13

Season Summary

UCLA was traditionally one of the most underachieving programs in the country prior to the arrival of John Savage nine years ago.  Since Savage took over, the Bruins have finished in the top three in the Pac 11 the last eight seasons, have gone to seven regionals, four super regionals and played in two College World Series, finishing as the runner-up in 2010.  UCLA had a reputation of not being able to win the big game before Rick Vanderhook became an assistant coach in 2009 and took control of coaching the position players and the Bruins had one of the biggest moments in the history of the program when they defeated Fullerton in the 2010 super regional.  The Bruins have always recruited well, even under former coach Gary Adams with many alums ending up playing in the majors, but Savage has taken the program to another level and led UCLA back to Omaha in 2012 for the second time in three seasons.

UCLA expected to be playing lots of low scoring games this season after losing their five most productive hitters from 2012 while returning all four of their starting pitchers and their best reliever and that has been the case most of the time.  The Bruins got off to a 12-3 start heading into conference play after winning series against Minnesota, Baylor and Wright State (the only sweep of the three series) and winning two out of three games in a tournament with Oklahoma, Notre Dame and USC.

UCLA continued their winning ways in going 5-1 against Washington and Cal to start Pac 11 play before the schedule toughened up and the Bruins lost series at Arizona State and at home to Oregon State.  The Bruins rebounded to win their next six series against Loyola Marymount, at Oregon and Washington State, at home against Utah and Arizona and at USC before dropping the final series of the regular season at Stanford.  UCLA’s offense stagnated for three weeks against OSU, LMU and Oregon when they only scored sixteen runs in nine games but their pitching carried them in the Oregon series with two 1-0 shutout wins and UCLA averaged six runs a game in the next four series.  The Bruins were productive last weekend as they hit .308 and scored seventeen runs in their three regional games, taking advantage of a ball getting lost in the lights that turned a fly out into a three run triple in the winners bracket game against Cal Poly, and they rode the momentum of getting that break into a win over the Mustangs and finished things off against San Diego the next day.


Offense

·       Park Factor according to Boyd’s World – 118 (increases offense by 18%).  The outfield dimensions are on the small side for a western ballpark – 330 down the lines, 370 to the power alleys, 395 to center.
·       Batting Average – .252 (NCAA ranking – 251, conference ranking 11th); .251 in conf. games (11th).  2012 – .304.
·       Scoring – 285 (199, 7), 4.8 runs per game; 144 (5th), 4.8 runs per game in conf. games.  2012 – 394, 6.2 runs per game.
·       Home Runs – 19 (154, 7); 13 in conf. games (5th).  2012 – 23.
·       Slugging Percentage – .337 (234, 10); .336 in conf. games (10th).  2012 – .393.
·       On Base Percentage – .360 (125, 5); .349 in conf. games (6th).  2012 – .391.
·       Walks – 261 (26, 1), 4.4 per game; 125 (1st), 4.2 per game in conf. games.  2012 – 228, 3.6 per game.
·       HBP’s – 76 (42, 2); 29 in conf. games (6th).  2012 – 96.
·       Stolen Bases – 65-106 (106, 4); 29-51 in conf. games (4th). 2012 – 62-98.
·       Sac Bunts – 60 (40, 4); 33 in conf. games (7th).  2012 – 64.
·       Strikeouts – 384 (DNR, 2), 6.5 per game; 192 (5th), 6.4 per game in conf. games.  2012 – 341, 5.3 per game.

Unlike last week when Fullerton played against ASU, the team with the best offense in the Pac 11, UCLA has been below average offensively after losing their five best hitters from 2012, including all three outfielders and their catcher.  The Bruins are last in the conference in AVG and next to last in SLG % but have done their best to overcome that by being extremely patient at the plate and led the Pac 11 in walks and were second in HBP’s and while they see lots of pitches they let lots of them go by or swing and miss them because they have had the second most strikeouts in the conference.  UCLA doesn’t have much power with 19 HR’s and only two players have more than two HR’s.  The Bruins have been good at manufacturing runs and have averaged about a SAC bunt per game with five players having at least six SAC bunts.  UCLA will put runners into motion often to avoid double plays, hitting into the second fewest DP’s in the Pac 11, and they are fourth in the conference in SB’s with four players stealing at least eight bases.  The Bruins averaged 4.8 runs per game in both non-conference and conference games and have been held to four runs or less thirty times.

Batting Order

CF – JR #24 Brian Caroll (RH – .259/.369/.286, 0-20-29) only hit .235 as a Soph in 17 AB’s but has been a sparkplug at the top of the lineup as a regular for the first time and is second in the Pac 11 in SB’s, led the team in runs and was honorable mention all-conference.  He has very little power with only four extra base hits and will slap the ball and try to run his way onto base.  Carroll is patient at the plate with a 25/33 BB/K ratio and will crowd the plate because he had 14 HBP’s, which was fourth in the conference.  He is also an excellent bunter who will try to bunt for hits and has 11 SAC’s, which is among the Pac 11 leaders.  Carroll hit pretty well in non-conference games but only hit .231 in conference games and was 2-11 last weekend.

3B – Soph #7 Kevin Kramer (LH – .285/.395/.394, 3-40-9) was honorable mention all-conference and one of the best hitters on the team, leading the Bruins in AVG and OBP and is second on the team in SLG %, R and RBI.  He only walked seven times as a FR but has been much more patient this season and is among the conference leaders in HBP’s with 14 and in walks but also strikes out quite a bit and has a 28/43 BB/K ratio.  Kramer is also an excellent bunter and has nine SAC bunts.  He has good speed and was second on the team in SB’s.  Kramer was 2-11 with 2 RBI last weekend.

RF – Soph #4 Eric Filia (LH – .266/.382/.349, 1-24-8) only hit .245 in a reserve role as a FR and is a line drive hitter who led the team in doubles but hit in some tough luck this season and only hit .236 in conference games.  Filia was second on the team and was fifth in the Pac 11 in walks and had an excellent 31/21 BB/K ratio.  He is also a good bunter and has eight SAC bunts.  Filia was one of the leaders on offense last weekend and went 6-12 and scored four runs.

SS – JR #10 Pat Valaika (RH – .260/.361/.413, 5-42-8) was the only position player to receive All-Pac 11 honors for his all-around contributions on offense and defense, for which he also received the Pac 11 Defensive Player of the Year award.  He doesn’t hit for much of an average but he has solid power and led the team in HR’s, SLG % and RBI.  Valaika is very patient at the plate and led the team in walks but strikes out at a decent rate and has a 32/37 BB/K ratio.  He was only 2-9 last weekend but had three RBI.  Valaika is expected to be the highest drafted position player on the team in this week’s MLB draft and is projected to be picked in the 10th-12th round range.

DH – JR #5 Kevin Williams (LH – .238/.333/.314, 1-11-2) was the only returning starter who hit over .300 in 2012 but missed the first five weeks of the season and has only been able to play DH until recently after starting at 2B last year.  He hasn’t hit well after getting off to a late start and only hit .206 in conference games.  Williams isn’t a patient hitter with only 21 walks in the last two seasons and has struck out almost thirty percent of the time.  He had the hit that turned the regional around last weekend against Cal Poly when his fly ball to RF got lost in the poor lighting at UCLA and turned into a bases clearing triple.

C – Soph #14 Shane Zeile (RH – .239/.344/.318, 2-19-2) hit .371 in a part-time role as a FR but has seen his offense stagnate with the responsibilities that come with being the starting catcher.  He got off to a bad start before hitting much better in conference games, where he was second on the team with a .286 AVG and 14 RBI.  Zeile is a good bunter and has six SAC bunts.  He was 2-10 last weekend.

2B – SR #18 Cody Regis (LH – .240/.350/.293, 0-18-1) provides veteran leadership as the only player still on the roster from the 2010 team that beat Fullerton in the super regional.  He is a versatile player who has played all over the infield during his career and settled in at 2B this season.  Regis hit much better in his first two seasons with a .300 AVG and 15 HR’s but has only been hitting in the 230’s over the last two years with one HR, although he did lead the team with a .291 AVG in conference games.  His power has mostly disappeared with only eight extra base hits (all doubles) but he does a good job of working counts with a 25/32 BB/K ratio.  Regis went 3-10 last weekend.

1B – JR #27 Pat Gallagher (LH – .272/.381/.340, 1-17-0) has been part of a platoon getting most of the playing time vs. RHP’s.  He doesn’t have much power for a 1B but is one of many patient hitters on the team and is second in OBP but he also strikes out about 1/4 of the time.  Gallagher is a good bunter with six SAC bunts.  He was the MVP of the regional last weekend after going 5-9 with four RBI.

LF – JR #23 Brenton Allen (LH – .255/.349/.362, 2-12-1) was one of several players getting playing time in LF earlier in the season but has been the starter most of the time over the last month.  He has the most potential among the regulars as a big guy who was a 9th round pick out of HS but most of that potential has been unfulfilled.  A major part of Allen’s problem is a poor approach at the plate and he has struck out about 1/3 of the time.  He was 2-7 last weekend.

Reserves

1B – Soph #25 Chris Keck (LH – .188/.301/.304, 1-10-0 in 69 AB’s)
2B – FR #8 Trent Chatterton (RH – .260/.361/.298, 0-10-2 in 104 AB’s)
OF – FR #29 Ty Moore (LH – .208/.293/.292, 0-10-0 in 72 AB’s)
OF – FR #3 Christoph Bono (LH – .231/.363/.354, 2-10-2 in 65 AB’s)


Defense

·       Fielding – .980 (5, 2) – 47 errors, 25 unearned runs.  UCLA has been one of the best defensive teams in the country this season.  Gallagher and Regis are solid on the right side of the infield.  Valaika and Kramer are excellent as one of the best left sides of the infield in the country.  Allen is average in LF, Carroll has excellent range in CF and Filia has good range in RF.
·       Stolen Base Attempts – 41-61 (DNR, 5).  Zeile didn’t catch before this season but has done a solid job of being converted to playing behind the plate.  Runners are 34-47 against him.
·       WP’s/PB’s Allowed – 61 (DNR, 8).  Zeile had a very tough time blocking pitches earlier in the season but allowed only fourteen WP’s in conference games.


Pitching

UCLA returned all four starting pitchers and six of their seven leaders in innings from 2012, losing only closer Scott Griggs, so it was expected that the Bruins would have a strong pitching staff as they almost always have under Savage, who is also the pitching coach.  UCLA is in the top twenty nationally in ERA, AVG, fewest walks allowed, WHIP and K/BB ratio and they have allowed four runs or less forty-three times, going 38-5 in those games.  The Bruins pitchers are tough to hit and don’t hand out too many free bases other than the occasional HBP by pitching inside so they don’t make it easy on their opponents and have also been helped by having an excellent defense playing behind them.
  • ERA – 2.75 (13/3); 2.93 in conference (2nd). 
  • AVG – .224 (11/2); .246 in conference (3rd). 
  • HR – 19 (DNR/6); 9 in conference (3rd). 
  • SLG – .299 (DNR/3); .326 in conference (3rd).  
  • Walks – 150 (11/1), 2.5 BB’s/9 IP; 64 (1st) in conference, 2.1 BB’s/9 IP. 
  • HBP – 54 (DNR/6); 31 in conference (6th). 
  • OBP – .255 (DNR/2); .308 in conference (2nd). 
  • Strikeouts – 420 (87/2), 7.0 K/9 IP; 217 in conference (1st), 7.2 K/9 IP. 
Starters

JR #9 Adam Plutko (RHP – 8-3, 2.51 ERA, 16 GS, 1 CG, 104 IP, 78 H, 26 BB, 75 K, .210 AVG, 5 HR, 7 HBP, 1 WP, 11-16 SB) has been part of the backbone of UCLA’s team as a three year starter, a three time All-Pac 11 selection, an All-American and has 27-10 with a 2.35 ERA during his career.  He struggled at times with his control in 2012 with six starts in which he had at least four walks but those issues haven’t popped up this season and the most walks that he has had in a start is three, which he has done four times.  Plutko isn’t a hard thrower with a fastball that sits around 90 but has an excellent changeup and a solid slider and he attacks the strike zone, using his fastball to get batters to hit pop ups and fly outs and he has struck out five hitters or less in four of his last five starts.  He has been throwing very well down the stretch and has allowed two runs or less in seven of his last eight starts.  Plutko has been tough to hit and is fifth in the Pac 11 with a .210 AVG and has allowed six hits or less in eleven of his starts.   He allowed two runs (1 ER) on six hits and one walk last weekend against San Diego State and has been outstanding in his career in post-season games with a 5-0 record in five starts with a 0.97 ERA.  Plutko was a sixth round pick out of HS and is expected to be drafted around the fifth round this weekend.

JR #21 Nick Vander Tuig (RHP – 11-4, 2.51 ERA, 16 GS, 2 CG, 108 IP, 91 H, 17 BB, 77 K, .233 AVG, 4 HR, 7 HBP, 9 WP, 6-11 SB) didn’t get off to the fast start that Plutko did as a FR, working out of the bullpen as the closer and picking up nine saves while recovering from elbow surgery that prevented him from pitching as a HS SR.  He was inconsistent as a starter in 2012 with a 4.43 ERA and a .318 AVG in Pac 11 games but the light bulb started to go on down the stretch and he had a 3.09 ERA in his last seven starts.  Vander Tuig won six of his last seven decisions and he threw well in picking up wins against New Mexico in their regional and TCU in their super regional.  He has been much more consistent this season and allowed more than three runs in only one start before allowing five runs at Stanford and four runs last weekend against Cal Poly.  Vander Tuig has been a workhorse and is second in the Pac 11 in wins, fourth in IP and sixth in strikeouts and was a first team all-conference selection.  He has excellent control and hadn’t walked more than two batters in a start before walking three batters against Cal Poly.  Vander Tuig’s fastball sits in the low 90’s and he has a very good slider that he buries to get ground balls, which will sometimes lead to wild pitches, and a solid changeup.  He is expected to be drafted around the fourth round this weekend.

Soph #12 Grant Watson (LHP – 8-3, 3.22 ERA, 16 GS, 87 IP, 89 H, 15 BB, 52 K, .271 AVG, 2 HR, 5 HBP, 6 WP, 2-4 SB) was a midweek starter and middle reliever on the weekends as a FR, going 9-2 with a 4.45 ERA in 35 appearances (15 GS) and 89 IP.  He was moved into the weekend rotation this season and has been a solid Sunday starter, allowing more than three runs only three times.  Watson usually won’t work deep into games, letting the excellent UCLA bullpen do most of the heavy lifting, and threw five innings or less in nine straight starts before an excellent start against San Diego in the regional clinching game last weekend when he threw seven scoreless innings and allowed only one hit.  He isn’t a hard throw with a mid-upper 80’s fastball and an excellent slider that he uses as a swing and miss pitch or to get batters to pound the ball into the ground. Watson has excellent control and allowed more than two walks in only one of his starts. He is the only of UCLA’s starters that Fullerton has faced previously, making two midweek starts in 2012 when he went 1-0 and allowed four runs (3 ER) on ten hits and five walks in 10 2/3 IP

Relievers

The bullpen for UCLA has been outstanding all season and has allowed their starters to shorten games and come out after six-seven innings and feel confident that the game is over and the Bruins are 35-0 when leading after seven innings and they are also 7-1 when games are tied after the eighth inning.  UCLA has relied primarily on three relievers who are all in the top ten in appearances in the Pac 11 and they are 8-1 with a 1.45 ERA and 22 saves and have held opponents to a .193 AVG.

Soph #26 David Berg (RHP – 6-0, 0.81 ERA, 20 saves, 44 apps, 67 IP, 45 H, 7 BB, 69 K, .190 AVG, 2 HR, 4 HBP, 2 WP, 1-2 SB) came into the program as an unheralded walk-on but he was lights out as a FR because hitters were unable to pick up the ball coming out of his hand with his sidewinder delivery that is reminiscent of Kent Tekulve and Dan Quisenberry.  He was a FR All-American with a 1.46 ERA, held opponents to a .165 AVG and led the nation with fifty appearances as the set-up man for Scott Griggs.  Berg has been even better this season as the closer, once again leading the nation in saves, and had a 36 inning scoreless streak broken in the last weekend of the season and was the first reliever to ever be honored as the Pac 11 Pitcher of the Year.

FR #11 James Kaprielian (RHP – 0-0, 1.46 ERA, 2 saves, 29 apps, 37 IP, 19 H, 21 BB, 50 K, .152 AVG, 0 HR, 4 HBP, 10 WP, 2-3 SB) was projected to be drafted in the first ten rounds out of HS but he had a strong commitment to going to school and wasn’t picked until the last round of the draft.  He was going to be the closer but didn’t pitch for the first couple of weeks and eventually became a dominant set-up man for Berg with a low 90’s fastball, a solid changeup and a power curve that can sometimes end up in the dirt and lead to wild pitches.  Kaprielian can sometimes have control issues, averaging five walks per 9 IP, but has also been blowing hitters away and averaging 12 strikeouts per 9 IP.  He faced Fullerton in both midweek games and allowed five runs (2 ER) on three hits and four walks in 5 2/3 IP with nine strikeouts.

JR #32 Zack Weiss (RHP – 2-1, 2.37 ERA, 40 apps, 38 IP, 33 H, 12 BB, 27 K, .237 AVG, 1 HR, 9 HBP, 6 WP, 3-6 SB) was in the weekend rotation in 2012, going 3-3 with a 4.28 ERA in thirteen starts and had problems with his control, hitting ten batters and averaging over four walks per 9 IP.  He has thrived as a middle reliever this season and is second only to Berg in the Pac 11 in appearances, usually pitching one inning in either the sixth or seventh inning as the bridge between the starters and Kaprielian and Berg at the back end of the bullpen.  Weiss has a low 90’s fastball that can tend to straighten out along with a solid changeup, slider and curveball.  He was drafted in the 10th round out of HS and will be drafted around the 10th round again this weekend.

FR #34 Cody Poteet (RHP – 4-6, 4.84 ERA, 29 apps, 11 GS, 71 IP, 57 H, 31 BB, 56 K, .227 AVG, 3 HR, 9 HBP, 7 WP, 13-16 SB) was the midweek starter and a middle reliever on the weekends who would come into games if one of the starters came out early.  He is a hard thrower with a fastball that sits in the 92-94 range and a decent breaking pitch. Poteet started both midweek games against Fullerton and lost both of them, allowing eight runs on nine hits in seven innings.

JR #40 Ryan Deeter (RHP – 2-0, 4.24 ERA, 21 apps, 17 IP, 12 H, 12 BB, 10 K, .194 AVG, 1 HR, 6 HBP, 3 WP, 2-2 SB) served a similar role to Weiss last season when he had a 0.89 ERA over 30 innings in 36 appearances but has been relegated to more of a mop-up role this season.  He can run his fastball into the 92-94 range, which will probably get him drafted in the low teens this weekend, but has had issues with his control and made the coaching staff reluctant to use him in high leverage situations.


Outlook

With the pitching staffs that Fullerton and UCLA have, there don’t figure to be too many runs scored this weekend with both teams ranked in the top 20 nationally in ERA, AVG and walks allowed per nine innings as well as in fielding with both teams possessing strong defenses.

Both offenses led their conferences in walks and relied on getting runners on base on walks and hit batters to scratch out some runs, especially the Bruins due to their low batting average.  Fullerton has had the more dynamic offense when they have been clicking and have much more power than UCLA, which makes them more of a threat to score runs in bunches.

There won’t be too many secrets between the coaching staffs with Vanderhook coaching at UCLA for three seasons before returning to Fullerton in 2012 so he is very familiar with the players on the Bruins roster from either recruiting and/or coaching them.  Goodwin Field has been a house of horrors for Savage, where his teams have gone 4-18 during his career including being eliminated by the Titans in a super regional in 2007 and a regional in 2008. This will also be the first time that UCLA has played on an opponent’s home field in the postseason since that regional in 2008.

These two teams are pretty evenly matched but Fullerton has been even more consistent than UCLA has been this season with the Titans winning every weekend series they have played and has a little more offense than the Bruins do and along with the home field advantage that Fullerton has they should be able to win a hard fought and tightly contested series and advance to the College World Series.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

For Titans, a Seminal Series

By Samuel Chi

This weekend's Super Regional matchup against UCLA is nothing short of a must-win series for the Titans. The program hasn't had one this important since these two teams last met in the Supers in 2010, when a seismic shift in Southern California college baseball landscape began to take shape.

When the Titans emerged as a powerhouse in the late 1970s and early 1980s, their first local nemesis was USC, whose five-year reign was snapped by the first-year Titans in the 1975 regional. Over time, the Titans have developed rivalries with Stanford and Arizona State, with the former largely owning the Titans while the Titans mostly dominating the latter, including this past weekend.

But then UCLA burst onto the scene; and the one person most responsible for the Bruins' sudden emergence as a national power is John Savage.

Before Savage took over, UCLA had been a major-league talent-producing machine under former coach Gary Adams. An affable man who was able to recruit future stars such as Eric Karros, Troy Glaus, Jeff Conine and Chase Utley, among others, Adams was an absolute underachiever when it came to on-field success. In his 30 years at the helm in Westwood, the Bruins made it to Omaha exactly once - in 1997.

Savage came to UCLA from UC Irvine in 2005 and went about changing the culture of the place. While he was able to continue to reel in elite players - something UCLA never had trouble doing - he wanted to instill a focused toughness that had sorely been lacking in Westwood. Winning, instead of padding stats and looking good for pro scouts became more of a priority as UCLA won six Pac-10 titles in his first eight seasons.

A key hire he made in 2009 changed the Bruins' fortunes in the postseason. Rick Vanderhook, a longtime Fullerton assistant who was passed over for the head job when George Horton left for Oregon, brought a measure of scrappiness and nastiness to Westwood. In essence, he instilled the Fullerton Way to toughen up the oft-soft Bruins.

And in 2010, a key moment for UCLA arrived.

The Titans had always had UCLA's number, in postseason or otherwise. There was without a doubt which was the most dominant baseball program in Southern California, going back 35 years. By 2010, UCLA had made it to Omaha just twice in its history, whereas the Titans were in the College World Series six times in the previous nine years, winning their fourth national title in 2004.

And everything looked about more of the same in that 2010 Super Regional showdown in Westwood - the first time the Bruins ever hosted the Supers. After having eliminated UCLA in the 2007 and 2008 postseasons, the Titans were one out away from doing it a third time in four seasons, and with it, another trip to Omaha.

But then the Bruins dug in and, thanks to a lapse in attentiveness on the Titans' part, the fortunes of both programs changed. Tyler Rahmatullah's two-run shot would indelibly alter the dynamics of Southern California baseball for the immediate future.

The Bruins went on to win that Super Regional in three games, despite being outplayed for the first 53 outs, and they would go to Omaha again in 2012. This series will be their third Supers appearance in four years.

Meanwhile, the Titans fell on hard times, by Fullerton standards. They matched their longest Omaha drought in the program's history when the Titans failed to even get to the regional final in 2011 and 2012. Dave Serrano left for Tennessee after the 2011 season and Vanderhook returned to Fullerton after three years at UCLA, this time as the head man.

After a disappointing season in 2012 when the Titans again came up short, Vanderhook has been nothing short of brilliant in his second season as Fullerton's head coach. He hired UC Irvine's Jason Dietrich as the pitching coach, who promptly tutored one of the nation's best pitching staffs, headed by two true freshmen. The Titans won the Big West by six games and at 51-8, have the fewest losses of any team entering Super Regional play.

But none of that would mean squat if the Titans can't vanquish the Bruins on home soil this weekend.

This series is a war between Old Money and New Money; a contest between a program backed by a loyal and vocal fan base vs. one adored by the national media and few others; a bout between two programs that might be mirror images of each other on the field, but two schools that were galaxies apart in everything else.

If the Titans lose this series, that would mean for the first time a senior who played all four years in Fullerton didn't make a trip to Omaha. It would mean a four-year drought made worse by the fact that UCLA were in the CWS three times during that period, including twice at Fullerton's expense. It would  signal the possibility that the baseball program might be going the way of Titans softball.

A Titans victory this weekend would go a long way of restoring order in SoCal baseball. By winning this series, the Titans will finally be able to put the 2010 nightmare to rest and treat it as a mere hiccup in the glorious and improbable history of Fullerton baseball. Getting past UCLA also means the Titans will be back in Omaha for the 17th time (but for the first time since the new ballpark opened) to continue their quest to be the only school to win a national title in every decade since the 1970s.

In short, a victory will allow the Titans to resume business as usual. That's why this series isn't just life and death - only a lot more important than that.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Not Giving the Devils Their Due

Titans Win Fullerton Regional (3-0)
def. Columbia 4-1, def. Arizona State 1-0, def. Arizona State 6-1


By Don Hudson

You either saw the games in person or on ESPNU – no need to rehash the details of what you already witnessed.  Rather than detailed recaps, I feel in more of a reflective mood as we get ready for the Super Regionals against the UCLA Bruins.

Game 1 Reflections: Arizona State Sun Devils 4, New Mexico Lobos 3

Coming into the Regionals, both teams had advanced billing as prolific offenses, with ASU having better pitching.  Both teams started their regular “Friday guys”, albeit with NMU’s Josh Walker coming in with an 11-0 record matched up with ASU’s Trevor Williams, who is a highly regarded pro prospect (selected #44 overall today) but had scuffled this year after earning all-conference honors and pitching for Team USA in 2012.

Part of the intrigue of this quartet of teams was that it included three pitchers with 11-0 regular season record: Walker, Fullerton’s Justin Garza and ASU’s Ryan Kellogg.  All three pitched impressively and certainly well enough to win, but Walker and Kellogg ended up with their first losses of the season before the weekend was finished.

The lasting impression from this game was that neither team hit as well as their advance press clippings.  The Lobos outhit the Devils, 8-4, but committed three errors and allowed three unearned runs and gave the game away.  Two of the errors were by shortstop Jared Holley, who was named to the All-Regionals team; the other was committed by Walker himself, who struck out three, walked four and allowed just four hits in 7-1/3 innings.  Williams was “good enough” for ASU, allowing eight hits, three walks and three hit-batsmen in 7-2/3 innings.

It’s a strange feeling sitting at Goodwin Field when you don’t have a dog in the fight – you feel no stress, enjoy no adrenaline, don’t get too mad, don’t get too thrilled – don’t even get mad at Blue.  It’s a nice reminder of how partisan we are when we watch a baseball game: the neutral fan sees a pitch low and a foot outside, while the die-hard fan with emotional investment sees it perfectly “painting the black” and screams “That’s on you, Blue!” when the hitter drives the next pitch into the alley.

Game 2 Reflections: Cal State Fullerton Titans 4, Columbia Lions 1

Wiest dominant
(Fullertontitans.com)
Maybe I worry too much.

Even against an Ivy League opponent that had played just one game in the last three weeks, I was worried.  I think I was worried as much about the Titans not wearing the orange uniforms in a Friday night opener as I was about eschewing our top two pitchers and going with Grahamm Wiest, a pitcher I have utmost confidence in but who had an ERA of 8.59 in his three prior starts.

But my worries were misplaced: Wiest did a great job and pitched a complete game, allowing just one run (a home run by Columbia third-baseman David Vandercook) on three hits with no walks and three strikeouts.  It was a very efficient outing for Wiest, who threw just 86 pitches.

By completing the game, it allowed the Titans to eschew the use of closer Michael Lorenzen, lest he use up pitches and give his next opponents a chance to see him pitch in person.

Chapman goes deep
(Fullertontitans.com)
The offensive standout was Matt Chapman, who smoked a line-drive single to centerfield in the first inning to drive in Richy Pedroza with the game’s first run, then led off the fourth inning with a home run that gave the Titans a little breathing room.

But what stands out the most to me was the amazing defense played by the infield.  Pedroza demonstrated every possible shortstop skill in dazzling fashion – backhands deep in the hole; ranging far to his left (like somewhere in shallow centerfield) and throwing guys out; charging slow-hoppers and grabbing in-between hops; and eating up balls smashed hard.  Third-baseman Chapman also had some late-game web-gems where both his glove and howitzer arm were on display.  First-baseman Carlos Lopez also had some great scoops and stretches – there were a couple plays where “both ends” of the play were spectacular.

Game 3:  Columbia Lions 6, New Mexico Lobos 5  (too many innings)

College baseball has grown astronomically since ESPN began televising selected College World Series games back in 1980, in addition to a few locations at both the Regionals and Super Regionals. Based on the inaugural popularity, they began televising all the CWS games played in Omaha.  This year’s progression to cover all games at all sites is a huge game-changer, albeit there being a pretty major difference between games shown on ESPN2 and ESPNU versus ESPN3 (internet only).

For all their investment, ESPN gets to call the shots – which I can’t fault.  They decide the starting times, when to resume play after commercials, when the national anthem shall be sung, whether supplementary lights will be used (to make for better picture quality), etc.

Being selected as a frequent host site for ESPN telecasts has been a mixed blessing for the Titans, although the pluses have far outweighed the negatives.  The biggest plus is the national exposure given to the Titans “brand” and its powerful benefits recruiting players who want to play on the game’s biggest stage.  One of the trade-offs has been the late starting times – especially an issue in Sunday night games or any game involving John Savage and his UCLA Bruins.

It would have made infinitely more sense to play Game 3 (e.g. the game shown only on ESPN3) early in the afternoon, since the loser would be eliminated and the winner wouldn’t play again until the next day.  That way, if the game went long, it wouldn’t impact the nationally telecast feature Game 4.  But that isn’t what King ESPN wants, so the game began at 4:05 p.m. and just might have finished in plenty of time – until the Lions woke up and overcame a 5-0 deficit and tied the score in the top of the eighth inning.

If you want to know what eternity feels like, just watch the reply of this game starting in the ninth inning.  The Titans and Sun Devils fans lined up to watch the feature game ended up standing there for 3+ hours.  Mercifully, the Lions scored a run in the top of the thirteenth inning and the Lobos rallied but were unable to tie the score in the bottom of the frame.

After the Lions roared back and tied the score, it became a lengthy battle of bullpens and relief pitchers walking tightropes.  Columbia’s Joey Donino was the game’s eventual winning pitcher, throwing 103 pitches and striking out eight Lobos in 6-2/3 innings of relief.  Donino was the intended starter for their next game had Columbia advanced, so his stellar effort on Saturday afternoon/night created a big hole that they couldn’t overcome in their next game.

It was cool to see an Ivy League underdog get their first-ever NCAA playoff win – just wish it didn’t take 4 hours, 36 minutes and 437 pitches to accomplish.  The teams combined for 27 hits and there was just one error (by Lobos’ shortstop Holley).

Game 4 Reflections:  Cal State Fullerton Titans 1, Arizona State Sun Devils 0

The game pitted the aforementioned 11-0 freshmen pitchers – Fullerton’s Garza and ASU’s Kellogg – in what delivered on its promise to be a classic pitchers’ duel.  This game was one of the best I’ve ever seen – too bad it started at almost midnight on the east coast and most of the national TV audience was sound asleep.

Garza brilliant
(Photo: Jorge Lopez)
The lasting impression: no matter how many ways the Titans invented to squander scoring opportunities, Garza was simply going to will the Titans to victory.  While renowned for his fastball that begins in the 91-92 mph range and increases to 94-95 in the middle innings, it was Garza’s change-up that befuddled the Sun Devils, as he struck out nine and allowed just three hits and no walks in 8-2/3 innings of work.

Kellogg wasn’t nearly as sharp as Garza, but he was very impressive nonetheless.  He stranded two Titans runners in the bottom of the first inning and was the beneficiary of some dubious strategy and poor execution by the Titans in the second inning when they had a golden chance to give Garza an early lead.  His infield defense was shaky – for sons of former MLB infielders, you’d expect more defensively from third-baseman Benjamin and shortstop Stankiewicz – but Kellogg was at his best when the Titans had runners in scoring position.

Husky invasion
(Photo: Jorge Lopez)
But before the inning got really strange, a beautiful husky ran out on the field and provided some much-needed comedic relief to what was shaping up as a white-knuckle affair. (Video)

After the dog left through the gate beside the leftfield fair pole, Chad Wallach walked and Greg Velazquez blooped a single to start the inning. Hooky eschewed having Jake Jefferies bunt in a situation where it was pretty obvious, even though it isn’t the strength of JJ’s game.

After Jefferies flied out on the first pitch and neither runner could advance, Austin Diemer singled to rightfield, where the ball was quickly charged by ASU’s strong-armed Trever Allen, who already had nine outfield assists this season.  Wallach’s running is timed with a sundial instead of a stopwatch, so it was stunning when he was given the signal to try to score – Allen’s throw was perhaps fifteen feet up the third-base line, but Wallach was still another ten feet away before catcher Max Rossiter caught it and made the uncontested tag.

The peculiarities continued in the bottom of the fourth, as Velazquez reached second base with one out on a single and groundout.  Diemer lined the ball sharply to centerfield and Velazquez made a quick determination that the ball was going to drop in for a hit, so he sprinted aggressively towards third base and was a “dead duck” when the ball hung up and was easily caught by ASU centerfielder Kasey Coffman, who lobbed the ball to second to double off Velazquez and end the threat.

Both pitchers were nails throughout the middle innings, but with Kellogg’s pitch count rising rapidly and his throws-to-first count getting up into the 30’s.  I loved how the home crowd switched from booing the ASU pitcher’s tosses to first to mock cheering them.  It was a great “in your face” move when Lopez stole a base off him after about eight straight pickoff attempts.

The defense behind Garza was stellar, most notably a great diving grab by leftfielder Diemer on a sinking line drive.

Jefferies doubles, scores winning run
(Photo: Jorge Lopez)
The Titans finally scored in the bottom of the seventh.  Right after that time honored tradition, Jefferies led off and launched a deep fly off the wall in leftfield for a double.  Diemer bunted the ball back to Kellogg, who clutched once and ignored the catcher’s instruction to throw to first base.  On his second clutch, Kellogg threw to third, where third-baseman Michael Benjamin caught the ball and made no attempt to tag Jefferies, as though it was a force-out situation.  I doubt Benjamin would have had Jefferies even with an attempted tag, but it might have been different had Kellogg thrown the ball on his first clutch.

With runners at the corners and nobody out, Pedroza delivered a flyball just shy of the warning track in leftfield, allowing Jefferies to trot in with what would prove to be the game’s only run.  Kellogg left the game to a well-deserved ovation from the partisan supporters of both teams.

When Rossiter singled with one out in the top of the ninth, Hooky wasted no time in bringing in closer Lorenzen.  Similar to when Kellogg left the game, fans on both sides gave Garza a hearty ovation for pitching a great game.

Lorenzen came in blazing – he struck out the two batters he faced to nail down the 1-0 win.  It was Lorenzen’s 35th career save – breaking the tie with Chad Cordero and Nick Ramirez and making him Fullerton’s all-time leader.  Garza and Lorenzen combined for eleven strikeouts and allowed just four hits.

Game 5: Arizona State Sun Devils 10, Columbia Lions 5

This was a typical Sunday afternoon elimination game, with both teams in the losers bracket in a dogfight to see which has enough pitching left to try to climb back into contention, facing the daunting task of subsequently having to beat the undefeated team twice.  It really underscores the importance of winning the Saturday night game.

Columbia fought gallantly and even outhit the Devils, 12-5.  From a Titans fan’s perspective, the good news was that the Sun Devils used five pitchers, including their third-best starter, Zak Miller.

ASU lit up the depleted Columbia pitching staff for all ten runs in the first four innings, including home runs by Coffman and Nate Causy. The Devils enjoyed the largesse of the Lions’ first two pitchers, with ten runs on five hits, four walks and two hit-batsmen in those four innings.  Columbia relief pitcher Zak Tax threw five no-hit shutout innings.

My favorite recollection from this game: sitting behind a couple of ASU fans as their boys were pounding Columbia, they were in adamant agreement that “Fullerton definitely doesn’t want any part of us!”

We’ll see.

Game 6:  Cal State Fullerton Titans 6, Arizona State Sun Devils 1

 It was a comforting feeling to be sitting in the Titans’ position: it’s Sunday night, the other team has to beat you twice, their pitching staff is running on fumes and you’ve still got your Friday guy ready to go.

The Titans’ Thomas Eshelman was matched with ASU sophomore Adam McCreery, a 6-9 sophomore left-handed pitcher from Bonita High School in lovely La Verne – a teammate one year ahead of Garza.  He has a live arm but has yet to establish control, yielding a disproportionate number of walks and hit-batsmen.  With the patience of the Titans’ offense, you knew this was not a match-up favorable to Arizona State.

It was actually painful to watch McCreery pitch – he was nowhere near the plate.  First inning walks to Pedroza, Chapman and J.D. Davis loaded the bases for Lorenzen, who sharply lined a two-run single into rightfield to give the Titans a quick 2-0 lead.  With two outs, Velazquez walked to re-load the bases and Jefferies followed with an RBI walk.  The Titans scored three runs on one hit and five walks in the first inning, with McCreery throwing 46 pitches before Eshelman threw his first.

After a quick 1-2-3 bottom of the first, McCreery returned to the hill and showed no better command.  There was a scary moment when Lopez was hit in the helmet on a high, inside fastball.  When Chapman followed with a walk, ASU coach Tim Esmay had seen enough and called right-handed side-armer Josh McAlister from the bullpen.

Davis jumped on McAlister right away with an RBI single that scored Lopez and sent Chapman to third.  Lorenzen executed a perfect squeeze bunt and Chapman scored to make it 5-0 – a very comfortable feeling with Eshelman and the orange jerseys working for you.

Eshelman mows down ASU
(Fullertontitans.com)
Eshelman threw strikes in his habitual machine-like manner.  McAlister got into trouble in the third but escaped with the bases loaded and no runs across for Fullerton.

It felt like a one-sided game, but McAlister pitched great and the Sun Devils scored a run in the bottom of the fourth against Eshelman.  Rossiter lined a one-out sinking line drive that Lorenzen made a diving attempt to catch when it appeared certain to be a single – the ball went by him for a triple.  Allen singled with two outs to drive in Rossiter with ASU’s only run of the game.

Not much else happened.  Much has been written elsewhere about incidents that happened in the stands – I wasn’t anywhere near it, so I’ll leave it to others to describe and opine.  My focus was directed towards the game and the team – and I was very pleased with the outcome.

Eshelman scattered seven hits over eight innings of work, striking out seven and walking – yes, you guessed it – zero.  Tyler Peitzmeier finished it off with an easy 1-2-3 ninth inning.

The Titans and Devils both had six hits, but the Titans were aided by eleven walks and two hit-batsmen – Eshelman and Peitzmeier had zero walks and hit-batsmen.  The Titans definitely won the WTF battle in this game.
 
Game 7 Reflections: “Not Necessary”

I save the ticket stubs from every game.  There is no better ticket than the one that goes unused because the Titans have already clinched a series.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

So what did we learn in the Regionals?

Even though the pitching had been dominant throughout the season, there is always that bit of uncertainty when the playoffs begin.  Wiest came in after three weekends of shaky performances (most notably at Riverside and Northridge) – it was huge for him to set the tone for the Regionals with a complete game victory and no walks allowed.

There is also the uncertainty of how freshmen pitchers will pitch in the pressure of nationally televised playoff games and at that juncture of the season when there is concern that they will “hit the wall” as they amass innings and pitch totals far beyond their pre-collegiate experience. But Garza and Eshelman certainly were outstanding.

In total, the pitching staff allowed just two runs and zero walks in 27 innings in the Regionals.  Besides their obvious talents and skills, I think Eshelman and Garza were well prepared by the number of road games played against quality opponents in hostile environments, plus they had each pitched in televised games during the regular season.  It’s cliché to say “they are no longer freshmen,” but it is obvious they both demonstrate the pitching command and maturity of juniors or seniors.

I liked how Paul Lo Duca made several mentions how much Wiest has contributed to the rapid development of both freshmen phenoms.

Pitching and defense are what wins championships – but defense doesn’t seem to matter much when they select the All Regionals team.  Congratulations to Wiest, Garza, Chapman (4-for-10, 3 RBI home run), Davis (4-for-11, 4 RBI) and Jefferies (2-for-7, huge hit and scored only run in crucial winners bracket game) for their selections, with Garza named MVP – all well-deserved honors.

New Mexico’s Holley batted .571 (4-for-7), while Pedroza was just 1-for-10 and scored three runs.  But Pedroza was spectacular on defense and was a HUGE factor in the Titans’ wins, while Holley made three errors and almost single-handedly kicked away the opening game against Arizona State.

Pedroza didn’t hit for much, but he got on base with walks and drove in the game’s only run with a sacrifice fly to beat ASU in the 1-0 game on Saturday night/Sunday morning.  I understand how they try to have at least one player from each team and that Holley’s offensive numbers were outstanding, but if you actually watched the games and didn’t just scan the stats sheet, Pedroza was the obvious choice.

Overall – including the regular season games and this weekend’s series – I wasn’t greatly impressed by Lo Duca.  He was strong in certain areas – good insights on in-game action and strategies, plus he exhibited absolutely no bias towards Arizona State, his alma mater.  (If anything, he sounded like a Fullerton sycophant.)

But I don’t think the ESPNU broadcast team did much homework.  Lo Duca worked five Fullerton games (regular season games against Long Beach State and UC Irvine, plus the three games in Regionals) and told the exact same stories each time about the Titans players whose dads he knew from MLB. (Paul, we get it: Jake learned to swing the bat under water and Chad used to be your batboy but now is a foot taller than you.) But every other player has a story to be told, not just the kids of guys who played with you on the Mets or coached you on the Dodgers.  Not once did I hear any mention on ESPNU of Nick Hurtado or why #56 was so ubiquitously on display – contrast that with the FSN West telecast of the second UCI game that talked about Nick’s passing and what it has meant to his teammates.

Big Glove Man earns lots of airtime
(Photo: Jorge Lopez)
I was ready to let Lo Duca off the hook when he told the heart-warming story about Columbia designated hitter Joey Falcone celebrating his 27th birthday – which makes him even older than Carlos! – and how he had done three tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan as a military medic.  It was an incredible story about a remarkable young man – after I heard it, I stood and applauded every time Falcone came to bat – but then I realized the only reason LoDuca knew about it was because he had played with the kid’s father, Pete Falcone, who pitched for the Giants, Mets, Cardinals and Braves.

I’m still not sure Lo Duca has figured out that “the guy with the big glove” is a heckler … he made numerous mentions to him having “the biggest glove I’ve ever seen” to catch foul balls hit into the stands.

Lo Duca is one of the players I respect most for “owning” his inclusion in the Mitchell Report and publicly apologizing for his “mistakes in judgment.”  He is an earnest guy and a likeable personality – I would like to see him work harder at becoming a student of color commentary if he is going to make that his vocation.  Conversely, FSN West’s John Jackson did an amazing job in Game 2 of the UCI series, providing insightful commentary and a deep bench of stories about players and coaches from both teams.

Pedroza named BWC top defender
(Fullertontitans.com)
The honors keep stacking up for the Titans.  Congratulations to Eshelman and Lorenzen (utility, recognized as two-way player) for being amongst the seventeen players named Louisville Slugger first team All-Americans, while Garza was named second team All-American.  Eshelman and Garza were both named this week to Collegiate Baseball’s Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American team, with Eshelman named Freshman Pitcher of the Year.

Lorenzen and Eshelman are also Golden Spikes Award semi-finalists.  Lorenzen is also a semi-finalist for the John Olerud Award (best two-way player) and Dick Howser Trophy (best closer).

The Titans also dominated Big West Conference honors, with Rick Vanderhook named Coach of the Year; Garza was Pitcher of the Year; Eshelman was Freshman Pitcher of the Year; Lopez was Co-Field Player of the Year; and Pedroza was Defensive Player of the Year.  First-team All Big West first team honorees included Lorenzen, Pedroza and Lopez, while Chapman, Chad Wallach and Austin Diemer were on the second team.  Wiest, Koby Gauna and Tyler Peitzmeier received honorable mention accolades.

Of all the awards recognition, my favorite might be Carlos Lopez being named third-team Capital One Academic All-America honors, just the second Titans baseball player to earn this distinction.  Carlos also has a slim lead in voting for the Senior CLASS Award – have you voted today?

And on Thursday night, Michael Lorenzen became the 15th Titan to be taken in the first or sandwich round when the Cincinnati Reds selected him 38th overall. He's the first Titans to go in the top round since both Christian Colon (No. 4) and Gary Brown (No. 24) were taken in the first round in 2010.

Vedo: Stupid words
Do you remember Matt Vedo?  We spoke about him here last season:  Matt was the UC Santa Barbara pitcher who pitched brilliantly against the Titans in the middle game last season, but then shot his mouth off in the newspaper: “I knew they were a good-hitting team, but I know I have great stuff and I can make hitters look stupid.  I made some of their better hitters look stupid, and I was loving it.”

It was kind of a dumb thing to say in the press – especially since the series wasn’t finished.  Karma bit Vedo in the ass the next day when his comments became bulletin board fodder and the Titans and their traveling fans broke out of their somnambulant state when Vedo entered the finale in the seventh inning of a 3-3 game. He got lit up for six runs (one in the eighth and five in the ninth) and grabbed his crotch and gestured with his junk towards the Titans side of the stands.  After the 9-3 win, Hooky told the same reporter, “Number 27 popped off and said ‘it was fun making them look stupid (on Saturday), so I think we made him look a little stupider today.”

Didn’t you just know karma would bite Drew Stankiewicz in the ass when he made comments in the Arizona newspaper the week before the Regionals: “Fullerton is just another team on our way.  The only thing that’s going to be special is my grandparents live in Fullerton, and they’re going to see me play.”

Stankiewicz: Stupid words II
I can understand lingering bitterness or resentment by Stankiewicz, who had signed a letter of intent with Fullerton out of Gilbert High School but was released following the Serrano-to-Vanderhook coaching transition and subsequently signed with ASU.  It’s completely understandable that he would have added impetus to show that the incoming coaching staff had made a huge mistake … but the best way to do that is with your actions on the field, not with your words through the press.

After making himself the lightning rod for attention, how did Stanky perform in the four games he played?  He went 0-for-12 and was mediocre in the field: he made a couple decent plays but also misplayed a few.  It was poetic justice that he was the final out in the loss to “just another team.”

Instead of arguing with the fans, ASU pitching coach Ken Knutson might think about teaching his pitchers how to keep runners close using a slide-step.  I felt badly for both Kellogg and McCreery for the incessant signals from the dugout to throw over to first to hold runners close.  Notwithstanding irritating the crowd – who cares about that? – it took the pitchers out of their rhythm, took away their focus on the batter, consumed throwing energy, got the ASU fielders back on their heels and probably also impacted the ball/strike calls.

So much for last weekend – this UCLA series ought to be epic.  I have seen computer projections and message board polls that favor the Titans, but I believe this series is virtually a 50/50 coin flip: two virtually mirror image teams with dominating pitching, outstanding defense, opportunistic offenses and great coaching.

There are two factoids that have me encouraged: the Titans are 9-1 against the Pac-11 and are riding a ten-game winning streak, their fourth such streak of the season.

There are also two factoids that scare the shit out of me: the Titans are 9-1 against the Pac-11 and are riding a ten-game winning streak, their fourth such streak of the season.

The Garza vs. Kellogg match-up was fantastic, but the Friday match-up between Garza and UCLA’s Adam Plutko takes it to another level.  Plutko is 5-0 in his five career playoff starts, with an ERA of 0.97 – you can’t underestimate the importance of experience in these games as the stakes continue to get higher.

Eshelman against Nick Vander Tuig before a jam-packed sellout crowd on Saturday night should also be fantastic.  It will be interesting to see how the Titans offense adapts to facing right-handed pitchers in the first two games after facing three southpaws in the Regionals.  Anthony Hutting and Austin Kingsolver will get an opportunity to become offensive factors as the left-handed component of the corner outfield platoons.

Perhaps the biggest weapon the Bruins hold, besides the post-season experience of their starting pitchers, is closer David Berg, the first reliever ever to be honored as Pac-11 Pitcher of the Year on the strength of a 6-0 record with 20 saves, ERA of 0.81, and a 69-7 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 67 innings pitched.  That is a staggering amount of innings for a closer – compare to 22-2/3 by Lorenzen.  If you want to beat UCLA, you’d better be ahead by the sixth inning – after that, you’ll face formidable headwinds in the late innings against Berg and set-up men James Kaprielian and Zack Weiss.  The Sheriff is obviously not afraid to bring Berg into the game earlier than most closers.

UCI Super Fan pulling for Titans
Finally, I wanted to share a note I received the day before the Regionals from Keith Franklin, better known as “The UCI Superfan.”  To me, Keith is the epitome of a great college baseball fan – he fervently roots for his team from first pitch to last, first game to last, whether they are ahead or getting their asses kicked.  And win or lose, he is the first guy to shake hands and extend congratulations and best wishes to the fans of UCI’s opponents.

Subject: Best Wishes from Irvine

Donny Boy, now's the time, perpetuate destiny. You and your Titan comrades on the terraces are the bugle sound the charge for the boys, smell the muskets and the horses’ breath and dispel all who oppose you into certain death.


With love from Superfan


To me, it’s what makes college baseball such a great experience that transcends mere winning and losing.  Whether it’s The UCI Superfan, Dr. Dan from Long Beach State, “Tempe Tim,” the witty hecklers from Texas A&M and University of Arizona, the Cal Poly parents, the UCLA and USC alums, the incredibly hospitable people at LSU and Southern Mississippi, etc., I truly treasure meeting and befriending fans whose passion for the sport is simply directed towards a different set of young student-athletes.  Not every kid can be lucky enough to be a Titan!