Friday, February 20, 2009

Won and 'Oh'


By Don Hudson

The Titans won a hard-fought battle with a walk-off pinch-hit double by Tyler Pill in the bottom of the ninth inning on Friday night, with Fullerton prevailing by a 7-6 score over TCU. There were several encouraging performances, as well as a few reminders that there is a big difference between 'high expectations' and 'high performance.'

Daniel Renken started and pitched 5 2/3 reasonably strong innings, tarnished only by two solo homers that knocked even more lights out of the Goodwin Field scoreboard. Renken and the Horned Frogs' Tyler Lockwood locked up in a scoreless pitchers' duel through three innings before Jason Coats gave TCU a 1-0 lead with a two-out homer to left field. The Titans responded in the bottom half of the fourth inning with a solo tally on a single by Jared Clark, a passed ball and a two-out RBI single by freshman DH Nick Ramirez.

Shortstop Taylor Featherston gave TCU a 2-1 lead with a long home run to left field in the top of the fifth inning. Once again, the Titans responded promptly with a tying run in their half of the frame: Joe Scott walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch and to third on a single by Gary Brown. Jeff Newman followed with a successful safety squeeze to knot the score at 2-2.

Renken breezed through the first two batters in the sixth inning before allowing a single by Matt Curry on his 89th pitch of the evening. With Coats coming to the plate, the chess game began in earnest between coaches Serrano and Schlossnagle: when Dave headed to the mound, the 2,155 assistant coaches in attendance assumed it was simply to discuss how to pitch Coats, lest the ball leave the yard again - but Dave waved towards the bullpen for Travis Kelly. After Coats roped a single, Kelly worked out of the jam by inducing an infield pop-up that seemingly entered the flight path of a French satellite. Schlossnagle went to his bullpen in the bottom of the sixth and the score remained tied after Fellhauer singled and was thrown out stealing (for the second time in the game) and Khris Davis struck out, the third of the night for him en route to the golden sombrero.

The Horned Frogs came out ripping at Kelly's offerings in the seventh inning, with two solid hits putting runners at the corners with nobody out to greet reliever Kyle Mertins. He surrendered an RBI single to Corey Steglich and a sacrifice fly gave TCU a 4-2 lead.

Trailing by two runs following "Take me Out to the Ballgame," the Titans rallied once again. Nick Ramirez led off with another sharp single (he was 4-4 in his dazzling debut) and Garneau was plunked by a pitch (one of four Titans' HBP) to place the tying run on base. Joe Scott did his job with a sacrifice bunt, made better than dreamed when pitcher Steven Maxwell's throw sailed into Riverside County. Ramirez scored on the play and Garneau came in to tie the score at 4-4 on a sacrifice fly by Gary Brown. Newman reached base again on a HBP. With Newman running on a hit and run, Colon smacked a hard single past the moving infielder: Scott scored from third base and Newman scored all the way from first on the single, with the aid of Coach Bergy's aggressive waving him around and catching TCU off guard. Although the Titans took a 6-4 lead, the inning could have been much bigger: Colon was picked off, followed by a Clark walk and a Fellhauer single. Davis struck out, leaving the menacing Ramirez in the on-deck circle, to end the bottom of the seventh inning.

Mertins pitched a stellar 1-2-3 eighth inning for the Titans. Fullerton threatened again in the last of the eighth inning when Ramirez led off with a double. After pinch-runner Shima was bunted to third base and Scott was hit by a pitch, Brown hit a chopper along the third base line that Matt Carpenter made a nice 'do or die' play on: there was no chance to nab the speedy Brown at first, but he made an off-balance throw home to nail Shima.

The coaching wheels continued to grind. Do you bring your closer in to start the ninth inning with a two run lead when the guy out there looked so great in the eighth? Mertins was allowed to start the ninth inning: a leadoff walk and a hit batter put the tying runs on base with nobody out before Ryan Ackland was summoned. After an infield ground-out moved both runners into scoring position, Ben Carruthers hit a towering blast towards the left field corner: perhaps a home run in the earlier innings, but a game-tying double nonetheless in the cool, damp ninth inning air. The cat-and-mouse game continued between Serrano and Schlossnagle - both excellent coaches - Ackland struck out Coats to leave the bases juiced after a pair of intentional walks.

Colon led off the ninth inning with a HBP and advanced to second base on a wild pitch, which led to an intentional pass for Jared Clark. With Fellhauer at the plate (three hits already) and the on-deck hitter with four K's on the night, do you have Felly bunt? If you are TCU, what do you do with the next batter if there is a successful sacrifice? Felly laid down a pretty good bunt, but pitcher Marshall fielded it cleanly and threw a pea to third base to force out the lead runner. As Davis looked towards the coaching box for the signs, freshman Tyler Pill emerged from the dugout and put on his helmet and his best "What, me worry?" look. When the count went to 2-1, Pill hammered a shot deep into the gap over the head of the center-fielder. Clark trotted home easily with the winning run before the Titans swarmed out of the dugout to congratulate Pill.


So what did we learn here tonight? You could not help but be impressed and encouraged with the way Nick Ramirez swung the bat: his three singles and one double in four at-bats were all hit hard. When you add in Pill's hit, it is great to see two true freshmen combine for a 5-5 night at the plate.

Fellhauer had three hits and provides great protection in the line-up behind Clark. This isn't exactly breaking news, but it was nice to see him get off to a good start.

None of the pitchers was flawless, but each got some key outs. Notwithstanding the two intentional walks by Ackland, Fullerton pitchers allowed only one other walk Friday night.

Perhaps the most encouraging part of the game is that whenever the opponent scored, the Titans immediately responded. You could feel that the Titans confidence never waned the three times they fell behind this quality opponent.

On the "things could have been better" side of the ledger, the aggressive offense resulted in five "unforced" outs on the basepaths: Ramirez out at second after his single; Colon picked off first; Fellhauer out stealing twice (although one looked like a possible missed sign on a hit and run); Brown out at third base after rounding the bag wide on an infield hit by Colon. In the long run, the aggressive style will produce many more runs than it prevents, but tonight came up short.

The bullpen allowed four of the five inherited runners to score. This is going to be a situation that will be interesting to see develop. Inherited runners stranded in June are much more important than in February.

It will also be important to see how Fellhauer is protected by the #6 slot in the batting order.

Tonight should be another interesting game and a chance to see a pitcher considered key to an Omaha run. Not only will you get to see two excellent teams and their coaches, but I can't wait to see Mike "Crappy" Gilmore's first home plate umpiring assignment since his debacle last year down at Blair Field.


Kelly said...

Wow - you're quick! Great recap, Don, as usual.

HereWeGoTitans said...

Thanks for the great write-up, Don! I always enjoy discussing the game with you at Goodwin and reading your comments afterward. And now we wait to see what "Crappy" Gilmore has in store for us on Saturday night!