Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Arizona State Series Preview

By FullertonBaseballFan
(Courtesy Titan Central)

Cal State Fullerton started off Big West play last weekend with one of the program’s most satisfying series wins in a long time, putting an end to the hex that had plagued the Titans in Riverside by winning two out of three games against the Highlanders.

Before Fullerton takes on UC Irvine in a key Big West series, the Titans will be taking a two game road trip to Arizona State, one of the few programs with a history that can match Fullerton’s.

ASU once again looks like a contender to play in the College World Series, rebuilding on the fly by getting off to a 19-4 start and being ranked in the top five in all of the major rankings. The Sun Devils lost a large number of major contributors to last year’s draft who were responsible for helping to get ASU to Omaha in 2007 and nearly returning in 2008, losing in the super regional to the red hot and eventual national champion Fresno State Bulldogs.

ASU has not played that strong of a schedule for a western team (#52 according to Boyd’s World) and played their first twenty games at home, in contrast to Fullerton’s lengthy road trip around the southern part of the country. The Sun Devils finally played their first series on the road last weekend at USC. ASU has played some solid teams in going 11-4 against Missouri (2-1), Oregon State (1-0), Kansas (2-1), Kansas State (1-1), Arizona (3-0) and USC (2-1) and padded their stats with eight other games against Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Northern Illinois and Holy Cross.

There figures to be plenty of offense scored in this series because both of these teams can put lots of runs up on the scoreboard. Fullerton has scored 6+ runs in 18 of 22 games while ASU has scored in double digits eleven times. In addition to the hitting that both of these teams will bring into this series, Packard Stadium is a bandbox that helps inflate offensive numbers by 20%, according to Boyd’s World, with dimensions of 338 feet down the lines, 368 feet in the power alleys and 395 to straightaway center. Also, the infield grass is usually cut short and tends to be hard as a rock due to the desert heat as balls skip through the infield.

LINEUP

With all of the newcomers to ASU’s lineup, their offense isn’t quite as prolific as last season. The Sun Devils are hitting .301 (.275 against the legitimate teams on their schedule) with 28 HR’s after hitting .342 with 88 HR’s last season and their OBP (.414; .456 in 2008) and SLG (.507; .545 in 2008) numbers are down also. ASU’s hitters have a patient approach at the plate, walking about five times per game while striking out about seven times per game. The Sun Devils won’t do much bunting (12 in 23 games – two hitters with 4 SAC’s each) but will put runners in motion (37-49 SB’s) so the Fullerton P’s and C’s need to be on their toes with runners on. ASU has a solid fielding team with a .969 fielding % and the Sun Devils are especially strong up the middle at C, 2B, SS and CF.

Infield

C – JC transfer Carlos Ramirez (RH – .296-8-28-0) had a tough act to follow taking over for Petey Paramore and has been one of the two main power bats in the lineup. Ramirez leads the team with 23 K’s. He has done a good job defensively, allowing only 14 WP’s/PB’s and baserunners are 12-20 on SB attempts.

1B – FR Riccio Torrez (RH – .298-1-13-2) has started to play more after being part of a platoon earlier in the season. The Torrez brothers at 1B and 3B show the difference between this year’s ASU team and the 2008 version when Brett Wallace and Ike Davis combined for 38 HR’s and 159 RBI’s.

2B – FR Zack McPhee (RH – .286-0-12-0) has done a decent job at the plate but has been good defensively, making only 2 E’s. McPhee is tied for the team lead with 4 SAC’s. All-American pitcher JR Mike Leake (RH – .345-0-4-0) might also see time at 2B.

SS – JC transfer Jared McDonald (LH – .189-2-6-2) has struggled offensively but has been outstanding with the glove, making only one error. McDonald has good range and has been a big reason why ASU’s pitchers have done well.

3B – JR Raoul Torrez (RH – .311-0-12-5) is one of the team leaders as the only returning starter on the infield. Torrez is tied for the team lead with 4 SAC’s. 2008 stats – .341-2-35-12. Torrez is solid defensively and played 2B last year.

LF – JC transfer Kole Calhoun (LH – .260-3-14-5) is a good athlete who is also a relief pitcher. Soph Andy Workman (RH – .320-0-7-0) might also see time in LF or RF.

CF – JR Jason Kipnis (LH – .469-8-36-11) has been one of the best players in America. It was surprising that Kipnis came back to school after a big 2008 (.391-14-73-24) when he was drafted in the 4th round as a draft eligible Soph. He is also patient at the plate with 20 BB’s.

RF – Soph Matt Newman (LH - .308-2-14-2) is a gamer who is a good all around player and one of the few returning players. He is also a pitcher and likely to pitch in this series. 2008 – .322-3-28-2.

DH – FR Zach Wilson (RH – .333-0-6-0) has gotten off to a good start and figures to hit for more power as he makes the adjustment from HS to D1 pitching.

PITCHING

ASU struggled with on the mound last season with a team ERA of 4.64 and allowing 45 HR’s, although they were solid in holding opposing batters to a .258 BA. The pitching staff for the Sun Devils has been outstanding this season with a 2.37 ERA while allowing only 10 HR’s and holding opposing batters to a paltry .209 BA. The ASU pitchers have been allowing around 2.5 BB’s per 9 IP while striking out an average of 10 batters per 9 IP, an outstanding 4-1 ratio.

RHP Mike Leake and LHP Josh Spence have been superb, combining to go 11-1 in 12 starts with a 1.37 ERA. However, since this is a midweek series they aren’t likely to see much action on the mound, if any, with ASU having a series at Washington coming up this weekend. But, nothing is a surprise when it comes to Pat Murphy and his handling of the pitching staff, as he often had Sat SP Josh Satow also start midweek games last year, including one of the two games at Fullerton.

The two midweek SP’s for ASU are usually OF/LHP Matt Newman (1-0, 0.63 ERA, 4 apps, 3 starts, 14 IP, 13 H, 2 BB, 13 K, .232 BA) and RHP Jason Franzblau (1-0, 2.70 ERA, 6 apps, 3 starts, 13 IP, 13 H, 5 BB, 14 K, .265 BA). Sunday SP RHP Seth Blair (2-1, 3.86 ERA, 5 starts, 21 IP, 21 H, 11 BB, 23 K, .256 BA) had been pitching well before getting pulled after allowing 4 R’s in 2 IP at USC and might pitch a couple of innings in this series.

The relievers likely to see action for the Sun Devils are LHP Mitchell Lambson (4-1, 3.26 ERA, 12 apps, 1 save, 30 IP, 22 H, 9 BB, 37 K, .208 BA), RHP Jordan Swagerty (0-1, 6.94 ERA, 11 apps, 3 saves, 12 IP, 11 H, 1 BB, 13 K, .234 BA), OF/LHP Kole Calhoun (0-0, 6.75 ERA, 6 apps, 5 IP, 4 H, 2 BB, 5 K, .200 BA), RHP Kyle Brule (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 1 save, 6 IP, 4 H, 1 BB, 7 K, .167 BA), RHP Jake Borup (0-0, 0.00 ERA, 3 apps, 4 IP, 1 H, 0 BB, 3 K, .071 BA) and Jeeter Ishida (0-0, 3.86 ERA, 3 apps, 5 IP, 6 H, 4 BB, 7 K, .316 BA).

OUTLOOK

Fullerton and ASU come into this midweek series as two of the hottest teams in the country. The Sun Devils traditionally have a strong home field advantage at Packard Stadium but the Titans haven’t been intimidated by going on the road this season, winning 11 of 13 games away from Goodwin Field. Both teams have been hitting well and pitching well, although analyzing the pitching part kind of gets thrown out the window when you are talking about midweek games. This series will probably be similar to last season’s midweek series at Fullerton where the teams split two slugfests 10-8 and 10-9.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Titans Reverse the Curse

GAME 22: TITANS 18, UC RIVERSIDE 1

By Don Hudson

For the first time ever since U.C. Riverside elevated its baseball program to Division I status, the Cal State Fullerton Titans won a series played at the Riverside Sports Graveyard by winning this afternoon's rubber game, 18-1. Freshman pitcher Tyler Pill raised his record to 5-0, pitching seven innings of five-hit shutout ball, while the offense got untracked with some small ball lightning followed by long ball thunder. Khris Davis highlighted a nine-run fourth inning by hitting a double and a three-run homer in the frame.

After two tense pitchers duels to start the series, the same was expected today when Tyler Pill took the hill against UCR's Paul Applebee, who started the series statistically as the Highlanders' best starting pitcher. For the first couple innings, it looked like Sunday would be another low-scoring affair. Each team got one runner aboard in their half of both the first and second innings, but the pitching and defense held their respective opponent scoreless.

Vintage Titans small ball got Fullerton on the board in the third inning. Joe Scott, who obviously demonstrated his bunting prowess on Saturday tying the NCAA record of four sacrifices in a game, led off the inning by pushing a bunt between the mound and the first-baseman and beating the play easily. Jeff Newman came up to sacrifice and he executed nearly the identical play, beating the underhanded toss to the second-baseman covering first. One out after both runners advanced on a wild pitch, Christian Colon drove in the game's first run with a sacrifice fly. Josh Fellhauer followed with a single to left field that scored Newman with the second run.

The Titans ate up Applebee in the fourth inning - yet another pitcher with gaudy stats coming into the game that got knocked out early. After Nick Ramirez led off with a single, Khris Davis hit a rocket over the head of CF Carl Uhl for a double. Billy Marcoe's single to center field drove in Ramirez to make it 3-0. After Joe Scott got hit to load the bases, Jeff Newman lined a clean base hit into right field to make it 4-0 and Applebee was lifted, replaced by reliever Dustin Emmons.

Gary Brown reached on a fielder's choice (which could have easily been ruled a hit) as Newman easily beat the attempted force-out on a groundball to shortstop. Both Newman and Brown continued up a base when the play at second was mishandled. Emmons, whose wildness cost him six runs on just two hits, allowed both runners to score on wild pitches; Brown's run came when the final ball of a Jared Clark walk bounded a few feet away from the catcher.

With the game now broken open at 8-0, Nick Ramirez banged out his second hit of the inning, bringing up Khris Davis, who was apparently sick during the game. Davis hit one deep to center field, where the smog was blowing out: up and over the wall for his team-leading eighth home run of the year and a lead of 11-0.


From that point on, it was just a matter of the final score, how well the bench would play and how far Pill would go on the mound. After the Titans made it 15-0 with four runs in the top of the seventh on just one hit (Jared Clark's 2 RBI double) - aided by two walks and two HBP - Pill had a three-hit shutout going into the last of the seventh. He allowed two hits to start the inning, but finished off his day's work retiring the next three hitters, the last two on strikeouts.

Colin O'Connell made his Titans debut on the mound and gave up an unearned run in the eighth inning; Kyle Mertins got some work by pitching a scoreless ninth inning. Wes Borba got his first hit in a Titans uniform, knocking in two runs with a double to right-center.

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


So what did we learn here today?

Dude, the score was 18-1, so we're not going to get deeply analytical here. But there are always a few things we can learn.

It was nice to see the ratio of runs to hits swing back to what we have become spoiled by: 18 runs on 15 hits. Five hit batsmen never hurt anybody - oops, unless you are the guy getting hit. A couple of the times Gary Brown got hit yesterday and today looked scary.

We learned that junkball pitchers that rely on batters chasing low pitches out of the strike zone will have to adjust their games against the disciplined Titans line-up.

Khris Davis is proof positive of the Titans development and maturing as a team. In his first two years, he displayed flashes of brilliance, but was too often stymied by poor pitch selection. He has improved as much in one season as any player in recent memory. Credit him not only for the amazing numbers he has posted in the sixth spot in the batting order, but also for eliminating any likelihood of opposing teams pitching around Nick Ramirez hitting ahead of him.

The Titans came within one pitch - the three-run homer by Michael Hur on Friday night - of sweeping a very good U.C. Riverside team. UCR finally made some mistakes today (both defensively and on the mound), but they are a very good team that will be a factor in the Big West Conference this year.

You've got to love the youth (a sophomore and two freshmen) and talent of this weekend's trio of starting pitchers. This is the combined weekend total for Daniel Renken, Noe Ramirez and Tyler Pill: 22 2/3 innings pitched, 3 earned runs (1.19 ERA), 14 hits, 2 walks and 14 strikeouts. Hopefully, Kyle Witten will get his mechanics worked out and make a statement against Arizona State this week. With the compressed schedule and the NCAA tournament format, four starting pitchers of that caliber will be a huge advantage for Fullerton in June.

Think how far the pitching has come since the TCU debacle. We have the aforementioned starting pitching and Michael Morrison and Ryan Ackland have been strong at the back end of the bullpen. Kevin Rath has had a couple good outings and that will hopefully continue over in Tempe. Between Mertins, Dingeman, Kelly, Dovel, Nick Ramirez and O'Connell, there are plenty of other good arms that have potential to become bullpen mainstays.

Finally, there is a very satisfying feeling about winning this series after losing the opener and knowing the ill fates suffered by previous Titans teams playing at the Graveyard. This team has a lot of character and toughness.

I also want to pay respect to the great job done by Coach Doug Smith putting the U.C. Riverside program in such strong standing. They look like the kind of team that is going to give somebody fits in the Regionals.


And while the UCR program is classy and most of the fans were supportive of their team, I always love when the Titans shut up the ignorant loudmouth that comes to the game for the sole purpose of making a spectacle of himself. Hecklers at college baseball games can be very entertaining, particularly if they are witty and original. (University of Arizona is always a favorite trip for me because their student hecklers are very bright, well prepared and hilariously funny.) But the guy last year at Irvine was a moron and the nitwit we heard so much from on Friday and Saturday at Riverside didn't have very much to say today. Do you think he had to leave early to study for mid-terms? Scoreboard, Baby!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Great Scott! Titans Win in Riverside

GAME 21: TITANS 4, UC RIVERSIDE 1 (10 Innings)

By Don Hudson


In a game that had more ups and downs than the playing surface at the Riverside Sports Graveyard, the Cal State Fullerton Titans scored three runs in the top of the tenth inning to win a 4-1 nail-biter against the U.C. Riverside Highlanders this afternoon. Joe Scott tied an NCAA record with four sacrifices in the game, which also saw a brilliant outing by freshman hurler Noe Ramirez in the first weekend start of his fledgling collegiate career. The loss was the Highlanders first at home this season after eight wins and was just the Titans second win in eleven tries at the Graveyard dating back to 2003.

In a game eerily similar to Friday night, Noe Ramirez and righthander Matt Montgomery (UCR) locked horns in a beauty of a pitching duel. The Titans had quiet 1-2-3 innings in the first and second innings, while the Highlanders managed just an infield hit off Ramirez in the first two frames.

The Titans posted the game's first run in the third inning after Dustin Garneau led off with a double and was advanced to third on the first of Joe Scott's four sacrifices. Seeing how good the pitching was, Riverside opted to play the infield in very early in the game, which worked out as Jeff Newman hit a grounder to second base which did not score Garneau, even though 2B Bryan Horst momentarily bobbled the ball. Fortunately for Fullerton, Gary Brown made sure the runner was not stranded when he lined a base hit on a 3-1 pitch.

The Titans had Montgomery on the ropes again in the fourth inning following singles by Josh Fellhauer and Jared Clark to open the inning. With the first-baseman holding the runner, the ball Nick Ramirez scalded down the line - which would have normally been a double into the corner - became a snappy 3-6-3 double-play. Felly was stranded at third base when Montgomery retired Khris Davis on a foul flyball to rightfield.

The Highlanders finally got a runner aboard in the fifth inning, after Noe had retired the previous nine batters almost effortlessly. Their leading hitter, Tony Nix, led off with a triple that bounced off the centerfield wall and skipped past a hard-charging Fellhauer. Joey Gonzales then hit a chopper to shortstop Christian Colon, who threw home to try to cut down Nix and the tying run. The throw and runner arrived pretty close: catcher Garneau and runner Nix got tangled several feet before the plate: out! Oops, the ball escaped Garneau for an error and Nix was safe on an unearned run. Scott helped minimize the damage by starting a pretty 4-6-3 double-play on a nice backhand stop of a hard-hit ball up the middle.


Matt Andriese entered the game in relief for UCR to start the seventh inning and he was met by a leadoff single by Dustin Garneau, who advanced to second on a Scott sacrifice and to third on a wild pitch. Jeff Newman followed with a fly ball to medium-deep centerfield, presumably deep enough to score the runner from third. But CF Carl Uhl looped a high throw to the plate; catcher Robert Brantly caught it high and away from the sliding runner (Garneau). It was a good throw that appeared to get there before the runner, but about the only person in the stadium who didn't see Garneau touch the plate ahead of the tag was our old friend, Mike "Crappy" Gilmore. Coach Serrano gave Crappy an earful; to no avail, as his hearing appears commensurate with his eyesight.

The Titans let UCR off the hook again in the eighth inning. Fellhauer walked with two outs and then stole second base with Clark at the plate. With first base open following the SB, the Highlanders intentionally walked the red-hot Clark. Nick Ramirez hit an opposite-field shot that had "bases clearing double" written all over it, but the ball held up and was run down by the leftfielder.

Noe Ramirez issued his only walk of the game with one out in the eighth inning. After retiring the next hitter on a short flyball, his pitch count reached 100 and he came off to a nice ovation as southpaw Kevin Rath came in to face lefthanded-hitting Carl Uhl, who hit the ball sharply, but came up empty when Gary Brown snared his sinking line-drive.

I considered taking up smoking in the Titans ninth inning. Khris Davis lined a long double to centerfield and Dustin Garneau walked, bringing Matt Larkins out of the UCR bullpen. Scott sacrificed both runners along - hey, this is great: second and third with just one out. Tyler Pill pinch-hit for Newman and hit the ball on the ground to the drawn-in second-baseman, who threw home to nail Davis on the "run on contact" play. With Brown at the plate looking for another clutch two-out hit, a pitch in the dirt bounded away from catcher Brantly. Garneau made a dash for the plate and was tagged out by the pitcher covering: the third Titan of the day thrown out at the plate!


There's an old joke: what do you do with an elephant with three balls? Answer: walk him and pitch to the giraffe. That story came to life in the bottom of the ninth, a tense game tied at 1-1. Ryan Ackland relieved Rath and easily retired the first two (righthanded) hitters before allowing a double to lefthanded-hitting Ryan Goetz. With the winning run at second base and first base open, righthanded Tony Nix (hitting .425 with .457 OBP and .685 SLG%) is coming to the plate, followed by lefthanded Joey Gonzales (.235 hitter, .300 OBP and .370 SLG%). Don't you walk the elephant and pitch to the giraffe? But Dave made the aggressive move: he brought in his closer (Michael Morrison) and rolled the dice: my best against your best. Morrison won the battle, striking out Nix to strand the potential winning run at second base. (In a game with a dozen plays that could be "the" play of the game, I thought this was "the" play of the game.)

Kolby Moore entered the game for UCR on the mound in the top of the tenth and was greeted by Gary Brown's base hit. Brown took off for second on the first pitch and Colon masterfully poked the ball through the hole vacated by the second-baseman, sending Brown easily to third base. Felly hit a grounder to shortstop that plated the go-ahead run - but it got even better: the throw to second for the force play on Colon got away and Colon ended up on third base and Felly on second.

A one-run lead was "nice", but Jared Clark had an opportunity to give the Titans some breathing room. The senior team leader came through in style, lining an 0-2 pitch into centerfield for a base hit that gave the Titans a 4-1 lead. Clark stole second base - making him 7-7 on the year in stolen bases - but was doubled off when he went too far on a hit-and-run play and was retired easily after a fly ball by Nick Ramirez.


The Highlanders had a modicum of hope in the bottom of the tenth inning when Joey Gonzales hit an 0-2 pitch from Morrison for a single. But Morrison threw some great pitches and struck out Brantly. With Clark playing back and not holding the runner, Gonzales headed towards second base on a 1-2 pitch to pinch-hitter Michael Nesbitt, assuming he would arrive uncontested on "defensive indifference." Wrong! Morrison blew a third strike past Nesbitt and Garneau made a strong throw that Colon scooped out of the dirt and applied the tag to end the ballgame.


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

So what did we learn this afternoon?



Nineteen-year-old Noe Ramirez has handled every assignment given to him with great composure. He was brilliant today in his first weekend start, going 7 2/3 innings, 100 pitches, and allowing just three hits, one walk and one unearned run - wow!

How many times have you seen an offense perk up when a dominating starting pitcher is finally removed and they get a crack at the bullpen? Kevin Rath, Ryan Ackland and Michael Morrison combined in 2 1/3 innings of shutout relief to make sure the Titans didn't waste Noe's great outing.

All told, Titans pitchers allowed just five hits, one walk, one unearned run and ten strikeouts in ten innings of work on a hot, sunny day. Dustin Garneau led the offense with three hits. Scott's record-tying sacrifices and his stellar defense made him the game's unsung hero.

We learned that runs are going to be much tougher to come by in Big West Conference play. During the non-conference schedule, the Titans were recently enjoying sick ratios of runs to hits. For example, 16 hits against University of Rhode Island yielded 17 runs. While 9 hits against Oral Roberts University was good for 10 runs in a game last weekend, the same number of hits plated just one run Friday night against Big West Conference foe UCR. At one point today, the Titans had just one run on ten hits - combined 2 runs on 21 hits in the two games at that point - before posting three runs in the tenth inning. Teams in the BWC have deep, quality pitching staffs and tend to play good defense.

This year's team has some potent hitters and I love how the coaches have adapted their offensive strategy to take advantage of how well these guys can swing the bats. It will be interesting to see if the offensive style is reined in a little more during conference play when games are tighter and each run is precious.

Case in point: when is it right to take the bat out of Nick Ramirez' hands? He is a hitting machine like we have not seen in years: he is hitting .397, with .443 OBP and .740 slugging percentage and is second on the team in RBI. Like Erik Komatsu last year, Nick's at-bats are being maximized by letting him hit away, seemingly without regard of the situation. On Friday night, with the Titans leading 1-0 in a tight pitching duel against a quality left-handed pitcher, Jared Clark led off with a single. The Titans eschewed the bunt: Ramirez grounded into a 5-4-3 double-play, which cost a big run when Khris Davis and Dustin Garneau followed with hits. Today, Ramirez came to the plate with runners at first and second, nobody out, again with the Titans holding a slim 1-0 lead. He slammed the ball hard on the ground: 3-6-3 double-play and rally thwarted. In the tenth inning today, he batted with the Titans now leading 4-1 and Clark on second with nobody out. Again, he was allowed to hit away and another double-play resulted when Clark took off on a hit-and-run and was unable to get back to the base following Nick's flyball to rightfield. In "the old days", Clark might have been bunted to third to try to give the Titans the four-run lead that needs a grand slam to make it a one-swing game for the opponent.

This is what makes baseball the greatest game ever invented: we can sit in the cheap seats spitting our sunflower seeds all game long and second guess every call by the umpires and every decision by the coaches. It sure is easy up here in the bleachers - baseball is a game of decisions and consequences that occur quite quickly - talk about art imitating life!



This was a very big win for this team. With all the past failures at this field - described today as looking like a golf course with its rolling hills and bunkers - and every possible break seeming to go Riverside's way, these guys gutted it out and came away with a win. Sunday's rubber game should be another beauty - both teams will once again put a good pitcher on the mound and another tight game is expected. I hope to see you out at the Graveyard.

The Curse of the 909

GAME 20: UC RIVERSIDE 3, TITANS 1

By Don Hudson

Horton became Serrano and we still can't win there. Windsor became Romero became Roemer became Renken and we still can't win there. Gee whiz, they even changed the area code from 909 to 951 - and we still can't win there!


Just what is it about Riverside?

The answer last night was quite simple: U.C. Riverside got excellent pitching, played great defense and got the game's only home run in defeating the Cal State Fullerton Titans by a score of 3-1 last night at the Riverside Sports Graveyard. Paul Bargas (UCR) and Daniel Renken locked up in a pitcher's duel that was ultimately decided by one swing of the bat: designated hitter Michael Hur delivered an opposite field three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning to account for all of the Highlanders runs in the contest.

The game started in promising fashion for the Titans. With two outs in the first inning, the cleanly shaved Josh Fellhauer sliced a double to left field and scored on the first of Jared Clark's three singles. After an infield single by Nick Ramirez placed two runners aboard, Bargas pitched out of the jam by inducing a Khris Davis flyout.

Renken surrendered a soft line drive single to leadoff man Carl Uhl and then exhibited lockdown command of his pitches: he retired the next fourteen Highlanders hitters. He was hitting his spots and varying speed and location very effectively.

Highlanders' third baseman Ryan Goetz flashed the leather all night at third base, starting in the second inning when he made a great stop, looking into the popcorn machine, of a hard smash by Dustin Garneau. On the next play, Goetz made a nice play on a bunt by Joe Scott. Goetz had seven assists on the night in support of his pitcher.

The Titans had a golden opportunity to extend their 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning when they had three hits but were unable to score. After a leadoff hit by Clark, Goetz started an around-the-horn double-play on a grounder by Nick Ramirez. Khris Davis followed with a base hit to right field and advanced on Garneau's bunt single in front of the plate. After both runners moved into scoring position on a passed ball, Bargas reached back for something extra and struck out Scott to end the threat.

With one out in the fateful sixth inning for Riverside, the speedy Carl Uhl hit a slow bouncer to shortstop and just barely beat Christian Colon's rifle throw. (Doesn't it seem like Uhl has played for these guys longer than Yaz played for the Sox?) Uhl stole second base easily and was held at third base following a sharp single to rightfield by Trevor Hairgrove. (Had he been sent, Uhl would have been out by a mile on Khris Davis' great throw to the plate.)

With runners at the corners and one out, Michael Hur came up looking for a pitch to drive: a game-tying sacrifice fly at a minimum and hopefully more. When the count went to 2-1, Renken threw a pitch that was high and on the outer half of the plate: Hur roped it deep to the opposite field and over the rightfield fence for all the runs the Highlanders would get (or need) in the game.

Both Bargas and Renken pitched deep into the game. The Riverside bullpen didn't get active even in the eighth inning when the heart of the Titans batting order came up, as Bargas had plenty of gas in the tank to retire Colon, Fellhauer and Ramirez, sandwiched around a Clark single. Renken seemed to be tiring in the eighth inning when he allowed a leadoff single by the #9 hitter, Bryan Horst, and walked the pesty Uhl. The Titans bullpen was ready to go, but Coach Serrano displayed confidence in his Friday starter and left him in. Renken justified the show of confidence by striking out Hairgrove and inducing a double-play ball from Hur.

Highlanders coach Doug Smith also showed confidence in his starter by sending Bargas out to start the ninth inning. Khris Davis got behind in the count and then took a couple borderline pitches called balls and he reached base, much to dismay of the associate umpires rooting for the home team. In came the flame-throwing closer, Joe Kelly. Garneau hit a potential double-play ball to Goetz at third base, but the relay throw from second-baseman Horst went into the dugout and Garneau was at second base. Kelly nailed down the Highlanders' win by striking out pinch-hitter Tyler Pill and getting pinch-hitter Billy Marcoe to ground out.


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

So what did we learn last night?

With the loss, the Titans record at the Graveyard dropped to 1-9 since 2003. It's almost at the point that I look forward to games at the Sunken Diamond more than going to Riverside. But as much fun as it is to attribute failure to curses (sorry, folks, I'm a lifelong Red Sox fan, so I was brought up this way), in each case you have to give credit to U.C. Riverside for coming up with the big hits when needed and combining good pitching with defense.

Paul Bargas pitched a great game last night and he was supported by All American closer Joe Kelly when he needed help in the ninth inning. Bargas was ahead in the count to most Titans hitters and he did not walk or hit anybody until Khris Davis drew a leadoff walk in the ninth inning (only the second inning the Titans got the leadoff man on base.)

Jared Clark got three hits for the Titans, while Dustin Garneau and Nick Ramirez had two apiece. Although Bargas gave up nine hits, he avoided crooked numbers by not allowing free baserunners or long balls: eight of the hits were singles. He (and Kelly) also got stingy after getting through the middle of the Titans line-up: the 8-9-1-2 spots in the batting order went a combined 0-15. Hopefully, this is just a one night result of the Curse of the 909: the Titans recent hot play has been largely a result of excellent productivity throughout the lineup.

The leftfield position remains a work in process. Against two tough lefthanded starting pitchers at Oklahoma State, Tony Harkey was inserted in the line-up to give the Titans an extra bat, but with a trade-off of Jeff Newman's outstanding defense. Newman got the start against Riverside's tough southpaw last night but was removed for a pinch-hitter when the Titans fell behind.

Renken pitched a complete game and was in command - except for the one pitch to Hur. If you want to understand why Dave Serrano is a winner, look no farther than what he had to say afterwards about the home run pitch: "Daniel Renken took a big step forward despite the loss. He made one bad pitch and I'll take the blame for it. We went outside and he stepped on it. We should have gone inside." (Quote from article at http://www.fullertontitans.com/.) That is what leadership is all about and why I expect this team to go very far this season. The days are long gone when the Titans had to play a monstrous non-conference schedule to compensate for weak opponents in the conference: the Big West includes some of the toughest teams in the country and the Titans will be challenged to the brink nearly every time, made an even bigger target with the lofty national ratings and that word "Fullerton" on the fronts of the jerseys.

Finally, I loved the way the game coverage began at the Highlanders website:

"A season-best crowd of 756 UCR faithful came out to the Riverside Sports Complex Friday night to watch the Highlanders take on the number one team in the nation, Cal State Fullerton. they didn't go home disappointed....."

That's funny: approximately 400 of the UCR faithful demonstrated their loyalty with caps that had a big "F" and shirts and jackets that said "Titans." I'm guessing at least half of the season-best crowd went away disappointed - but they're going to be back today with new hope. There's always another day. Mike "Crappy" Gilmore will be calling the balls and strikes this afternoon - maybe he can be the lucky charm the Titans need to break the Curse of the 909.


Friday, March 27, 2009

Diamond Club: Tuffy's Titans

CSF Baseball is proud to host the Diamond Club newsletter - Tuffy's Titans. The March 29 edition is posted below ... please click on each individual page to enlarge for easy reading.







UC Riverside Series Preview

By FullertonBaseballFan
(Courtesy Titan Central)

Cal State Fullerton returned home last weekend after an 8-1 road trip and swept three games from Oral Roberts to improve their record to 16-3 and move into the #1 spot in the rankings in Baseball America.

But, all of what the Titans have accomplished is in the past now that the conference season is starting with the first Big West series in a location where the Titans have had nothing but misery and failure – Riverside. Fullerton is 1-8 in three previous trips to UC Riverside since the Highlanders joined the conference.

UC Riverside won the Big West championship in 2007 but lost many of the contributors to that title run, including almost the entire pitching staff. The Highlanders got off to a terrible 6-12 start in 2008 going into their first conference series, also against Fullerton, and didn’t play well in non-conference games after that series, losing 11 of 12. But, it was another story during the conference season as the Highlanders finished tied for 3rd place at 14-10 and won series with regional participants Long Beach State, UC Irvine and UC Davis and split marathon extra inning games (28 innings in those two games) with Fullerton before losing the third game at Goodwin Field.

UC Riverside brought an experienced team into this season both on the mound and at the plate and the results have definitely shown that. The Highlanders have gotten off to a red hot 15-4 start, including 8-1 at home, and are ranked #22 by Rivals.com College Baseball and #24 in the USA Today Coaches poll. In the computer rankings at Boyd’s World, Riverside has an RPI of 22 and an ISR of 2.

Riverside started their season with a 2-1 series win at California, went 3-1 against San Francisco, 3-1 at the Palm Springs Tournament (beating Texas Tech and Gonzaga, splitting games with Oklahoma State and Oregon State) and swept three games from Columbia. Most recently, the Highlanders split two games at UCSB last Sunday and Monday.

The ballpark at Riverside is pretty neutral offensively, according to Boyd’s World. The dimensions are 330 down the lines, 380 to the power alleys and 400 to center. The fences are normal heights except for the batter’s eye in center, which is 20+ feet high and can turn potential HR’s into 2B’s. Another quirk of the field that will occasionally turn a bloop single into a double are drainage slopes behind the infield grass down the 1B and 3B lines that veer towards foul territory where the outfield drops several feet below the infield.

OUTLOOK

Both teams come into this series with a quite a bit of momentum with Fullerton winning 15 out of 16 games and Riverside winning 12 out of 14 games. The Titans have been the better offensive team, scoring 6 runs or more in 17 of 19 games while the Highlanders have been held to 5 runs or less in 7 of 19 games. The pitching for both teams has been pretty comparable, with similar numbers in ERA and BA. The fielding for both teams has also been pretty comparable, with Riverside a much better fielding team this year although Fullerton has done a better job against the running game – a key area in this series to watch with the Highlander catchers against the Titans. The obvious edge in intangibles goes to Riverside playing at home, where the Highlanders have absolutely owned Fullerton.

If the Titans are going to win this series, they are going to have to get their offense going early in the series and their pitchers are going to have to keep Riverside’s hitters off balance. If the pitching staff of the Highlanders dictates the approach of the Fullerton hitters (something that the Titans have struggled with in previous seasons against the Highlanders) to hold down the Fullerton offense and the Riverside batters are productive against the Fullerton pitchers, this could end up being another long weekend for the Titans in Riverside.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Titans Complete Sweep of Oral Roberts

GAME 19: TITANS 7, ORAL ROBERTS 1

By Don Hudson



The Cal State Fullerton Titans beat the Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles this afternoon at Goodwin Field by a score of 7-1, completing the sweep of the three-game series and extending their winning streak to four games and 15 of the last 16. Freshman hurler Tyler Pill upped his record to 4-0, scattering seven hits over eight innings and striking out ten.

Pill demonstrated command right away, easily retiring the side in the first inning: three up, three down.

Former Dirtbag pitcher Andre Lamontagne toed the rubber for the Golden Eagles against a Titans team that had scored four first-inning runs in each of the first two games. Lamontagne had a comparatively successful start, allowing just one run on the strength of a leadoff single by Gary Brown, an error on a made-for-order-double-play-ball hit by Christian Colon, a passed ball and a Jared Clark RBI groundout.

Pill encountered his only real trouble of the day in the second inning. P.J. Sequira hit a one-out double to rightfield and, one out later, advanced on a wild pitch and scored on an RBI single by Michael Notaro. The threat continued when Colby Price singled, but Pill got out of the inning by striking out Kyle Price.

For the next few innings, Lamontagne and Pill battled to a virtual standstill. ORU's defense was poor - five errors on the day - but Lamontagne held the hot-hitting Titans to just one unearned run and two hits until the fifth inning. Meanwhile, Pill never faced more than four batters in an inning for the remainder of his outing.

The Titans broke the tie score in the bottom of the fifth inning, with Jeff Newman leading off with a walk and then stealing second. After Brown popped out attempting a sacrifice bunt, Colon struck out but reached base on a passed ball by catcher Seth Furmanek. Things got worse for ORU when Furmanek's throw to first base sailed into right field, allowing Newman to score the go-ahead run and sending Colon to second base. Josh Fellhauer reached on a four-pitch semi-intentional walk. Jared Clark hit a sinking line drive to left field and was retired on a nice shoestring grab by LF Robert Barbosa. But Nick Ramirez came through with a clutch two-out rope into rightfield to give the Titans a 3-1 lead.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Titans plated a couple insurance runs on a single by Billy Marcoe, a Joe Scott HBP, a Jeff Newman sacrifice bunt and an RBI single by Gary Brown, who gave the Titans a 5-1 lead moments later when he scored on a wild pitch.

Lamontagne's day ended with one out in the seventh inning after Khris Davis got the green light on a 3-0 count and took a mighty dribbler - that rolled about fifteen feet and hugged the infield grass for an infield single. Reliever Drew Bowen faced Dustin Garneau, who reached on an error. Joe Scott blooped a base hit: Davis held up to see if it would be caught and Garneau ran full speed knowing it would drop in. Unfortunately, the differential in their approaches ended up with two runners and just one third base bag: Davis was tagged out in a rundown. Jeff Newman came through with a sharp RBI through the middle to make it 6-1.

The Titans added their final run of the day in the eighth inning on singles by Colon and Ramirez and an RBI double by Davis.

Michael Morrison pitched a crisp 1-2-3 ninth inning to end it.

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


So what did we learn this afternoon?

The #3 (Pill) and #4 (Noe Ramirez) starters are two savvy freshmen that are making a huge impact on this team and this season. Pill now leads the team in innings pitched (29 2/3), just ahead of Ramirez and Daniel Renken (tied at 28 innings each). This is not a "be all and end all" statistic, but it is reflective of two pitchers at the back end of the rotation pitching deep into their starts.

What I like best about Pill on the hill is how he scatters his hits and doesn't hurt himself with walks: just five walks (versus 27 strikeouts). While Noe holds opposing hitters to a paltry .189 batting average, Pill is somewhat more hittable (.286 opponent B.A.) - but Pill is very effective because of how well he scatters the hits.

Khris Davis led the offense today with three hits (a single and two doubles). He boosted his batting average to .368 and he leads the team in home runs (7) and slugging percentage (.736).



The way I saw this series, Oral Roberts never had a prayer. With today's 11 strikeouts (10 by Pill and 1 by Morrison), 37 of ORU's 81 outs came on strikeouts. They also committed eight errors, which led to seven unearned runs allowed in the three games. I was hoping for a more competitive series after hearing how these guys had beaten Rice - so now we need to root for them to start hitting and fielding better so they can help our RPI by winning games the rest of the year. (It's amazing how much of a TCU, Southern Miss, Oklahoma State and URI fan I have become - add ORU to the list now.)


It was great to see Christian Colon, Jared Clark and Josh Fellhauer visit (and show off their moustaches) with Rob Walton, their coach on the 2008 undefeated Team USA squad. This guy is obviously one of the premier coaches in the country, in his fifth year at Oral Roberts, so it must be a great challenge for him to lead a team so bereft of NCAA Division 1 experience after leading the incredibly talented and deep international team last summer. I have a feeling his team will learn from their visit to Fullerton and become stronger from the experience.

The "new" winning streak is now up to four, albeit against slightly weaker opponents after that meat grinder schedule. URI and ORU were a welcome respite between the epic, hellacious road trip against ranked opponents and the upcoming series against U.C. Riverside, Arizona State and U.C. Irvine. After a little bit of shelter from the storm, the Titans have to get right back into high gear when they hit the road to open Big West Conference play against an excellent team that has given them fits on the road. Leave work early on Friday afternoon, bring your smog masks and get out to support this team!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Rath Passes Oral Test

GAME 18: TITANS 10, ORAL ROBERTS 6

By Don Hudson

Relief pitcher Kevin Rath posted nine strikeouts in his first extended duty of the season and got the win as the Cal State Fullerton Titans beat the Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles, 10-6, last night at Goodwin Field. The Titans improved their record to 15-3 and were led at the plate by Christian Colon, who went 3-3 and was on base all five times he batted (walk and HBP).

Kyle Witten started on the hill for the Titans and it was immediately evident that he was struggling to find the strike zone. He got a break when the leadoff hitter chased a 3-1 pitch out of the strike zone and popped up before issuing a four pitch walk to Tyler Garewal, who advanced on a groundout and scored on a base hit by Seth Furmanek after Witten fell behind in the count, giving ORU a short-lived 1-0 lead.

Jameson Dunn started for ORU and probably knew he was in trouble after plunking leadoff man Gary Brown with a pitch: Brown hadn't even discarded his protective gear and headed to first base when a cadre of pitchers and catchers ran down towards the Eagles' bullpen to start warming up. That's a confidence booster! Brown raced around to tie the score when Christian Colon laced a double to rightfield.


Josh Fellhauer then ripped a line drive that just barely made it over the leaping shortstop (his glove may have tipped it), which caused Colon to hold up momentarily and he could only advance to third. After Felly advanced to second on a wild pitch by Dunn, a passed ball allowed Colon to score the second run and move Felly to third. Dunn then walked Jared Clark and Nick Ramirez to load the bases. He struck out Khris Davis but then walked Dustin Garneau to score the third run. Out came ORO skipper Rob Walton and Dunn was done. Reliever Mark Serrano easily got the second out on a force out at the plate on a Joe Scott bunt (I hate bunts when there is a force play at the plate), but was touched for an infield single by Jeff Newman that gave the Titans a 4-1 lead after one inning.

Witten continued to miss the srike zone in the second inning, but he got defensive support via a 6-4-3 double-play (the first of three Titans twin-killings in the game) after allowing two singles to start the inning. With two outs, Danny Duffy smoked one towards the fence in deep right-centerfield: Fellhauer made a great running catch.

The Titans added another run in the bottom of the second when Colon was hit by a pitch, advanced on a wild pitch and a passed ball and scored on a groundout by Clark.

Witten remained unscathed in the third inning, but his wildness remained in evidence. Garewal got a one out single and was forced out on a Juan Martinez slow hopper to Joe Scott. Martinez went to second on a Witten throwing error on a pickoff attempt and went to third on a wild pitch. Michael Notaro popped out to end the threat.

Khris Davis hit a "no doubt about it" home run leading off the third inning for CSUF, his seventh bomb of the year.

Witten's evening came to an early close when he hit the leadoff batter on a 3-1 pitch to open the fourth inning. Kevin Rath entered the game for the Titans - his first appearance in a while. Rath immediately looked good, striking out Johnny Roberts before inducing a 3-6-1 double-play ball from Kyle Price: just like they do it in infield practice!

The Titans increased their advantage to 7-1 in the bottom of the fourth inning when Christian Colon hit a cue shot into rightfield: a single that was misplayed, allowing Colon to reach third base with nobody out. Fellhauer drove him in with a groundball to second base (which was booted to allow Felly aboard.)

Rath's most scintillating inning was the fifth: he struck out the side on just ten pitches. Fullerton scored another run in the bottom of the frame on doubles by Davis and Brown. Rath later struck out the side again in the ORU seventh inning.

The first three Titans were strikeout victims in the seventh inning, yet the team somehow scored two runs. Say what? The third victim was Jeff Newman, but he reached base on a third strike wild pitch. After Brown was hit by a pitch (second time of the game), Colon and Fellhauer delivered RBI singles to make it 10-1.

Rath retired the first two hitters in the ORU eighth inning before appearing to tire and bringing his pitches up and out of the strike zone. He walked two and gave up a single to load the bases and prompt a visit by Serrano. When Johnny Roberts delivered a two-run single, Rath came off the field to a nice ovation. Kyle Mertins gave up a double to Price, allowing both inherited runners to score and making the score a little closer, 10-5.

Michael Morrison gave up a home run in the ninth inning to Robert Barbosa before striking out the side to end the game.

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

So what did we learn last night?

Oral Roberts is getting beat up by Christian (how ironic): Colon is 7 for 8 in the first two games in the series, and has reached base in 9 of 10 plate appearances.


We learned that Khris Davis is extremely strong and continues to make great contact, even when he falls behind in the count. His home run seemed to still be rising when it went off into the night. Righthanded hitters like Davis and Colon continued hitting the ball hard to the opposite field last night.

It was a strange game in which neither starting pitcher ever seemed to get comfortable and threw an inordinate ratio of balls to strikes, yet somehow each team's pitching staff mustered thirteen strikeouts against the other. Since the Titans did not bat in the ninth inning, 13 of their 24 outs were of the whiff variety. Both teams got nine strikouts from its long reliever: Rath for the Titans and Mark Serrano for ORU.


Kevin Rath was fantastic in relief. The first time I saw him as a freshman in the 2007 Fall scrimmages, he reminded me of Ryan Paul: a tall lefthander with filthy breaking stuff and a propensity for wildness. Once Paul started hitting the strike zone, he became a major force in the Titans bullpen: I still think we would have won it all in 2006 if we had a healthy Vinnie Pestano and Ryan Paul pitching lights out in the bullpen during the playoff run that season.

We caught a glimpse of the "good Kevin" when he came into the game. His line would have been incredible had he finished after the first two hitters in the eigth inning: 4 2/3 innings, two hits, no runs, no walks and nine strikeouts. We also caught a small glimpse of the "evil Kevin" when he tired in the eighth inning and walked two and allowed two singles: all four runs scored to slightly tarnish an otherwise brilliant performance. He will be as good as his control: he is tied for the staff lead in walks for the season with 9 - and he has pitched only 8 innings. I really hope to see more of him - it's hard to improve your control if you hardly ever get to pitch.

Kyle Witten threw 52 pitches: 28 balls and 24 strikes, in his 3+ innings outing. Umpire Frank Pflugradt rang up 26 strikeouts on the night, so you can't blame the strike zone: I've seen closer pitches on intentional walks than some of tonight's offerings. Kyle just doesn't look comfortable on the mound and his mechanics (particularly his legs and feet) just seem out of sorts. (Landing on the mound after his deliveries, he reminded me of a kid with muddy feet trying to walk undetected across Mom's just-swept kitchen floor.) He has an incredible arm and great game, so I am confident he'll figure it out. I'd much rather see a pitcher scuffle a little bit in March against Oral Roberts and become a clampdown pitcher as the season progresses into the Big West Conference schedule and the NCAA playoffs.

Did you see the quote from Coach Serrano in the Orange County Register following the Thursday game and Noe Ramirez' continuing run of impressive pitching? "He's probably pitching better than anybody on our pitching staff right now. He's pushing somebody right now. He's showing he wants to be part of that weekend rotation."


Right now, I think his current role makes Noe the team's most valuable pitcher, especially in this new era of NCAA baseball where the compressed schedule increases the significance of the midweek games. The coaching staff has generally demonstrated great patience with the weekend rotation so far, but I'd expect that patience to get thinner as we get into the Conference schedule and head towards the playoffs.

Dustin Garneau and Joe Scott each moved up a slot in the batting order and Newman was dropped into the #9 slot. There were no spectacular results last night from that change, but having a good bat behind Davis in the #7 slot is becoming increasingly important. Run totals tend to decrease in Conference play, where every team is intimately familiar with their opponents.

Finally, the energy level in the last two home games seems several notches below what it was on the road trip. This is understandable and could be based on several factors (thrill of playing in front of large crowds at partisan venues; better competition; the national attention of the epic road trip; etc.) We can win this weekend on just superior talent and experience, but we'd be in trouble next weekend if we can't get the energy level cranked up to what it was in Mississippi, Texas and Oklahoma. (Even I have reduced energy - just the shift after living on Central Time zone for two weeks has me too tired to write my articles when I get home at night. I'm sure it has been a drag for the players to catch up on their classwork, get back into 'normal' routines, etc.) They can use our support - let's really get behind these guys!



Friday, March 20, 2009

Christian Beats Oral Roberts

GAME 17: TITANS 8, ORAL ROBERTS 3

By Don Hudson

The Cal State Fullerton Titans made a successful return to Goodwin Field on Thursday evening, as they upended the Oral Roberts University Golden Eagles, 8-3, on the strength of a combined four-hitter with a season-tying high thirteen strikeouts and four hits by shortstop Christian Colon.


Daniel Renken permitted a one-out walk in the first inning to Juan Martinez, who promptly stole second and advanced to third when Dustin Garneau's throw sailed into center field. But as he has done often recently, Renken cranked it up a notch with runners on base and stranded the runner at third with strikeouts of Seth Furmanek and Michael Notaro.

Christian Colon got the Titans rolling in the bottom of the first inning off ORU ace Jerry Sullivan with a high chopper to third base for an infield single. Josh Fellhauer continued his red hot hitting, stroking a double to right field that scored Colon with the game's first run. Jared Clark then made it 2-0 with a run-producing double to left field before Nick Ramirez added an exclamation mark with a line drive home run to right-centerfield, his sixth of the season, staking Renken to a four run advantage.

The Titans defense got sloppy in the second inning: they made their second and third errors of the game and essentially forced Renken to get five outs in the inning. With one out, Robert Barbosa reached on a throwing error by Gary Brown following a routine groundball and advanced to third base on a solid line drive single to right field by Johnny Roberts. Robert Barbosa then hit a slow bouncer to third base - seemingly too slow for an around-the-horn double play, so Brown threw home and would have easily nabbed Barbosa at the plate had his throw been accurate. Unfortunately, the throw was low and bounced away from Garneau, making the score 4-1 with the tying run coming to the plate with just one out. Again, Renken bore down and struck out the next two batters.

The Golden Eagles mounted another rally in the third inning as Renken hit the first batter (Martinez) and walked the second (Furmanek). After a fly ball to left field advanced Martinez to third base, Oral Roberts coach Rob Walton called for a safety squeeze play. P.J. Sequira got the ball down, but it went straight to Renken, who threw home to easily retire the runner at the plate. Renken worked out of the inning with a groundball to Colon.

The Titans had an opportunity to break the game open in the bottom of the third inning when Fellhauer reached on a one-out HBP and advanced to third on a base hit to right field by Clark. Nick Ramirez was given a second chance when the catcher dropped his foul pop-up, but he struck out as Clark stole second base. Khris Davis left both runners in scoring position on an infield pop-out.

After Renken struck out the side in the top of the fourth, the Titans scored a pair of two out runs when Christian Colon tripled to right field, scoring Jeff Newman (HBP) and Gary Brown (infield single). Watching Brown wheel around the bases is an awesome sight to behold.

Now enjoying a 6-1 advantage, Renken pitched another 1-2-3 inning in the top of the fifth before faltering an inning later. In the sixth, he walked the bases loaded (around a strikeout) and was lifted in favor of versatile freshman Noe Ramirez. Kyle Price greeted Noe with a sacrifice fly to make it 6-2, before a groundball to Joe Scott ended the inning.

Ramirez pitched an easy seventh inning before the Titans added another tally on a double by Christian Colon, followed by a sharp single to right field by Fellhauer. Coach Bergy held Colon initially but waved him in when the outfielder misplayed the ball for an error (no RBI for Felly). Two outs later, Khris Davis delivered a sharp double which went out of play, forcing Felly to return to third base by ground rules - he scored easily otherwise. Both runners were stranded in scoring position when Newman grounded back to Sullivan on the mound.

Noe continued his impressive pitching, striking out the side in the eighth inning, while giving up an infield single to Barbosa - just the second of the game for the Golden Eagles.

Christian Colon came to the plate in the bottom of the eighth with two outs and Scott (single and passed ball) on second base needing a home run to give him a 'cycle.' He did not deliver a blast, but he did deliver the Titans final tally of the game with an RBI single to right field.

Ryan Ackland mopped up in the ninth and was a bit shaky. A walk, two singles and an HBP gave ORU a run and loaded the bases, but Sequira flied out to Khris Davis in right field to end the game.

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

So what did we learn last night?





We learned that the Titans are very tough against teams called "Golden Eagles" (3-0 vs. Southern Miss and now 1-0 against Oral Roberts.)

Once again, the Titans faced a pitcher with gaudy statistics entering the game and jumped out on top quickly, resulting in 6+ runs and double-digit hits - generally a formula for success. ORU pitchers appear to throw over to first base with runners aboard much more than most teams: I was surprised Sullivan was still in the relatively one-sided game in the eighth inning after so many pitches and throws to first base.

I really like the way the hitters are going with the pitches and hitting balls hard to the opposite field. Righthanded-hitting Jared Clark, Christian Colon and Joe Scott each had hits to right field (two apiece for Scott and Colon). Davis has had a lot of opposite field hits during the hot streak, as have Nick Ramirez and Gary Brown.

With his three hits, Joe Scott lifted his season average to .273: I hear that steak sizzling!

Another good question might be: "What did Coach Walton learn?" He was the coach of the undefeated collegiate Team USA last summer. The three Titans players he coached (Colon, Fellhauer and Clark) went a combined 8-13 with three doubles and a triple. If there is any indication just how these guys are playing, there you have it: eight hits against a very good pitcher and an excellent coach that knows your strengths and weaknesses inside out and backwards. Great job, guys!

Renken had another strong outing, giving up just one hit and one earned run in 5 1/3 innings with nine strikeouts. He did walk five batters, his second consecutive game where wildness was a factor. However, just as he did against Oklahoma State, Renken was at his best with runners aboard.

Noe Ramirez faced nine batters and gave up just one dinky infield single, striking out four. He is quickly becoming in invaluable part of this pitching staff: he goes deep into his starts and he comes back quickly as a "lockdown" reliever. When he enters the game in relief lately, he has reminded me of a lockdown cornerback in the NFL.

Finally, not only is Clark crushing the ball and cranking out great blogs every week, his stolen base last night made him a perfect 6-6 on the year in that category. Watching the speed of Newman, Brown and Colon circling the bases on CC's triple was pretty, but perhaps not as much as J-Rod pilfering a base.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Q&A with Baseball America's Aaron Fitt

By Samuel Chi

For various reasons, Aaron Fitt of Baseball America seems to be a lightning rod for some Titan fans. Maybe because he's not Will Kimmie, maybe because we haven't liked BA's rankings sometimes, or maybe because you didn't agree with him during a live-chat session.

But whatever you think of him, Aaron was gracious enough to provide us a lot of interesting and thoughtful answers when CSF Baseball asked him a whole host of questions.

So here they are. And as Vin Scully would say: Pull up a chair. This will take a while:

CSF Baseball: Let's go right to it, who are your picks to go to Omaha this year. And who will win it all?

Aaron Fitt: If you ask me today, I'm going with North Carolina, Texas, Texas A&M, Cal State Fullerton, Rice, LSU, Clemson and Arizona State. I've gone back and forth between UNC and Texas A&M to win it all since last summer, but I went with the Tar Heels in our College Preview issue, and I'll stand by them.

CSF: What do you really think of Fullerton's program?

AF: I don't know how anyone (aside from folks in Long Beach and Irvine, maybe) could have negative feelings toward Fullerton, which has simply been one of the very best programs in college baseball for 30 years--and you can make a strong argument that it has been the best. The Titans do things the right way. They recruit hard-nosed players who appreciate the game, they maximize their talent just about every year, they rise to the occasion with their backs to the wall, and I love their style of play. I always had and continue to have a wonderful relationship with Coach Horton and his staffs, and the same is true with Coach Serrano and his staff. I have the utmost respect for everyone associated with that program, and I have praised them effusively since I took over the college beat. Some Fullerton fans apparently think I have some agenda against the Titans, and it absolutely baffles me. I think a lot of it stems from last year, when we made the mistake of omitting Fullerton from our preseason top 25. Hey, that was a mistake--it's pretty obvious to see that in hindsight. And just because we were off on our evaluation doesn't mean it was because we don't like the Titans or have some anti-Titan bias. We pegged Fullerton as a strong regional team, a likely No. 2 seed, and they exceeded our expectations, earning a No. 1 seed and winning a regional. We undersold the Titans, mostly because we didn't think they had the kind of shut-down power arms to get to Omaha. In that respect, at least, we were right. Jeff Kaplan, Cory Arbiso and Co. were solid college pitchers who gave the Titans a very good chance to get back to the CWS, but they were not dominant, and they couldn't quite hold down a good Stanford offense enough.

CSF: George Horton and Oregon ... what about the Ducks in their first year?

AF: We knew they would be competitive right away, because Horton's teams always play hard, no matter what. For my money, he's the best coach in college baseball, and he's showing it right now. That team has a very real chance to make a regional this year, which is absolutely remarkable. In another year or two, I expect Oregon will be vying for the Pac-10 title and knocking on the door to Omaha.

CSF: The BA poll ... can you shed some light on how that works? How many people actually vote on it and is it a points poll or a consensus poll?

AF: It's more of a caucus. We try not to refer to it as a "poll"--you'll notice we almost always refer to it as the top 25 "rankings". That's because it's not a straight vote. A group of our staff members, led by John Manuel and myself, sit in a room with a printout of all of the week's results, records against the top 25, and other factoids, and we discuss how we think the teams should line up. We don't always agree, and there are plenty of times when I don't get my way, though certainly I have the most influence. But there has never been a week where the official top 25 matches up exactly with my personal top 25 heading into the meeting. I think it's good to have a variety of opinions in the meeting. We usually have about a half-dozen or eight people in the meeting, and not all of them keep tabs on college baseball as closely as I do, but that perspective can be very valuable, because they are sometimes better able to step back and look at the big picture than I am, as enmeshed as I am in the day-to-day grind of the season. Our rankings always stem from the previous week's rankings--we don't just rank 1-25 fresh each week. That means that our rankings early in the year are inherently weighted toward our preseason rankings. Isn't that why people come to Baseball America, to get our perspective on things? Our preseason rankings serve as our expectations of the talent, coaching and overall potential of each team. As the season progresses and we learn more about each team based on what happens on the field, the preseason rankings and our talent judgments matter less, and results matter more. We place the most stock in weekend series, because that is when teams have their best pitchers competing against other teams' best pitchers. Midweek games are also relevant, but we simply don't weigh them as heavily; they can be used as a tie-breaker, and certainly if a team loses multiple midweek games it could drop in the rankings even if it wins its weekend series, but it won't drop a whole lot usually. That's just how we do things--I understand there are other approaches to doing rankings, and fans are welcome to disagree with our methods or disregard our rankings if they like. I find that oftentimes, fans are likely to disagree with every poll except the one that places their team the highest. But I think our rankings are more transparent than anyone else's: We have a podcast and a chat every single week where we explain our thinking and our methodology. Who else does that?

CSF: More on the poll ... last year you guys caught a lot of flak for making UCLA the preseason No. 1. Any regrets? Or is it really the Bruins' fault for not living up to their potential?

AF: Obviously I wish we had selected another team for No. 1, because UCLA was a disappointment. But it seemed like the right choice based on the information we had at the time. UCLA was loaded last year, and the bottom line is those guys did not play up to their talent. There is no question about it: that team underachieved. That said, maybe it was unreasonable for us to expect them to play up to their talent based on what the program had achieved in the past, but I don't think it was such a huge leap when you consider that UCLA was two wins from Omaha in 2007 and returned most of the key players from that team. So, "is it the Bruins' fault" for not living up to their potential? I'm positive that team did not live up to John Savage's expectations either, and I doubt he blames Baseball America for what happened on the field. UCLA's failure is its own. That doesn't change the fact that our prediction was a failure, too--and that's our fault for putting too much stock in a team that lacked the toughness to make the most of its talent. But hey, a big part of our job is to make predictions, and when you do that, you're going to be wrong sometimes. It just so happens that the misses are what people remember, not the hits. Funny how I never hear anyone talking about how we were the only ones to rank Fresno State in the preseason last year...

CSF: How much does tradition impact college baseball programs?

AF: It's clearly a significant factor. I was talking with a scout the other day about Miami, and he said that team is really not that talented (especially compared to last year's team), but they have that "Miami mystique" that gives them an edge in tight situations. When you always believe you're going to win, you stand a much better chance of winning. The same is true of Fullerton or Texas or Florida State or Rice or a few other programs. That doesn't mean a team without that kind of tradition can't win it all--ask Oregon State or Fresno State. Tradition, then, is not the ONLY factor or even the most important factor. I would argue that the most important factors are talent and the mental toughness to utilize that talent. Oftentimes that mental edge goes hand-in-hand with tradition, but not always.

CSF: Do you think West Coast teams get a fair shake from the selection committee, both in terms of selection and also seeding and placement?

AF: I think the West Coast is significantly under-represented in the field of 64 every year. The West Coast Conference, Big West and Pac-10 almost never get as many bids as I believe they should. That said, I get tired of West Coast teams and fans whining about how they always knock each other off in regionals and super regionals. The same is true of any other region: you think Texas A&M is tired of having to play Rice every year in supers? You think Bethune-Cookman likes having to go to Miami or Florida State every year for regionals? You think South Carolina would like to face somebody other than North Carolina with a trip to Omaha on the line? Yet you don't hear Charlotte or UNC Wilmington or Elon or College of Charleston constantly complaining about how it's unfair that the teams from the Carolinas always knock each other off in regionals. If you think of baseball as "West Coast" and "everybody else", than yeah, there are more "everybody else" teams in Omaha every year than "West Coast" teams. But if you think of California as a region, just as Texas is a region and Florida is a region and the Carolinas/Georgia is a region, it really isn't so unfair. I understand there are a lot of teams in California, but there are a lot more teams in the "everybody else" category, and I think West Coast teams have as fair a chance to get to Omaha as anybody else.

CSF: Being in Durham, some fans accuse BA of certain biases toward the ACC and/or the Tar Heels. As an UNC grad, what do you say to that?

AF: I love this one. You've got to have your office somewhere, don't you? Sometimes I think we'd be better off if we were located in Mozambique, because at least then nobody would hold the location of our headquarters against us. The funny thing is UNC fans think we're biased against UNC because we're trying to overcompensate for our undergraduate degrees, so we really can't win with anyone. I think we bag on the ACC pretty regularly for its perennial failure in Omaha, and anyone who listens to our podcasts or reads our analysis really ought to understand how highly we regard West Coast baseball. To say we have an ACC bias is absurd. I'm not shy about saying that I think there are more good teams in most Western conferences than in, say, the ACC. Whenever West Coast teams play other teams in the postseason, we talk a lot about how the West has had everyone else's number, and we talk about why that is. I'll tell you what else: I grew up in Massachusetts, and frankly I didn't have any college baseball loyalties to anyone, which makes it even easier for me to remain neutral, I think. If I were covering the AL East for a living, fans might at least have some basis to question my impartiality, but even then I'd like to think that I'd be professional enough to put aside my childhood rooting interests and cover teams fairly. We are professionals at Baseball America--we do this for a living. When you go to journalism school, they drill into your skulls the importance of being neutral. It cracks me up when fans of a particular team (who are inherently biased by the very nature of being a fan) try to label us as biased. The single most frustrating thing about my job is the way many fans are unable to see past their own allegiances and take a look at the bigger picture. What it usually boils down to is this: criticize my team (even if it's thoughtful, reasonable criticism), or "don't show enough respect" to my team, or rank my team lower than somebody else ranks my team, and you must be biased. That doesn't mean that I don't have opinions--a big part of my job is to express my opinions. That's why people turn to Baseball America--they want to know what we think. But only if we think their team is the best, I suppose.

CSF: Who was the best college baseball player and which was the best college team of all time?

AF: Why, Mark Kotsay and the 1995 Cal State Fullerton Titans, of course!

CSF: Is college baseball getting to be too big? Should it continue its recent growth or is it right where it should be?

AF: I think it's in a pretty good spot. I don't think you're going to see a lot of schools add baseball in the current economic climate, and if anything I think more baseball programs could be on the chopping block, which is a shame.

CSF: Are you gonna miss Rosenblatt Stadium?

AF: Absolutely. I think it's a real shame that the NCAA was dead-set on building new instead of renovating. I grew up a Red Sox fan, and it would have been a travesty if Fenway had been torn down. I love what the Sox ownership group was able to do, updating the park without sacrificing its charm. The same could have been done for Rosenblatt, and it would have been more affordable than building new. The NCAA's logic was, "Well, if we're going to spend $60 million to renovate Rosenblatt, we might as well just spend $120 million and build new." That doesn't make sense to me. $120 million is still twice as much as $60 million, and you lose all the tradition and emotion that comes along with Rosenblatt.

CSF: Why are you a college baseball fan?

AF: I grew up watching Cape Cod League games, and it bred in me a certain reverence for baseball at this level. Players just seem hungrier at this level than many of them are in pro ball, and it's a lot of fun to watch young players develop into stars. I like seeing players before the mainstream baseball world sees them. I also love the college game itself, particularly the West Coast brand. The strategy and gamesmanship of West Coast baseball is incredibly entertaining to me. I enjoy West Coast games quite a bit more than ACC/SEC games. I suppose now I'll be hearing it from ACC/SEC fans about my "West Coast bias", but I can deal with that. ...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Titans Championship Videos

It's time to relive some of the greatest moments in Titan history. Below are a few videos of Fullerton's championship seasons.

(User's guide: If you click on the video and it does not play, click on it again and it should take you directly to the YouTube video site and it should play automatically.)

2004 Season




1995 Season




1992 Season

Editor's Note: Yes, we realize that we didn't win it all that year. This remains the most-heartbreaking episode in Titan baseball history. But the players deserved to be honored for the Herculean effort put in at this CWS, particularly with an elimination game played in a monsoon, 12 hours before the title game, as criminally sanctioned by the NCAA and CBS.




Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pill: The Right Medicine

GAME 16: TITANS 4, RHODE ISLAND 3

By Don Hudson

STILLWATER, Okla. - The Cal State Fullerton Titans completed their long southern odyssey on Sunday morning/afternoon with a 4-3 hard-fought comeback win over the scrappy University of Rhode Island Rams in a contest played before 72 fans at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium in Stillwater, OK. With the Rams' 5-4 win over the host team Oklahoma State Cowboys in the series finale, the Titans "won" the tournament with a record of 3-1. (I wonder if the team dogpiled on the plane when the pilot announced the final score of the OSU/URI game?)


The game pitted CSUF's freshman pitcher Noe Ramirez against Eric Smith, the ace of the URI staff: he entered today's action with an ERA of 1.38 and an opponents' batting average of .182.


The ushers had barely seated the 72 fans when Gary Brown laced a triple into the gap in left-center field to start off the game. His incredible speed and quickness was in evidence when the URI catcher muffed a pitch, which rolled barely to the edge of the home plate circle - Brown was off like lightning and simply beat Smith to the plate. I've seen a couple hundred thousand baseball games and I don't think I've ever seen a runner score on a passed ball or wild pitch so close to the plate.

Smith allowed a double by Fellhauer after Brown put the Titans up 1-0, but Smith was tough and struck out Christian Colon and Nick Ramirez and retired Jared Clark on a groundball.

Noe Ramirez seemed snakebitten in the first inning when leadoff man Zoe Angolo hit a routine grounder to third and reached when Clark could not scoop Brown's low errant throw out of the dirt. Oliver Palmer followed with a double and both runners scored on a base hit by Rob DeVeney. Noe's control was off in the first inning, as he hit Jeff Cammans with a pitch, which was followed by an RBI single by Mike LeBel. The damage was minimized to a 3-1 deficit when the Titans executed correctly on defense when the Rams attempted to steal a fourth run by getting LeBel caught in a rundown between first and second: Cammans was thrown out at the plate to end the first inning.

For the next five innings, Smith pitched masterfully and the Titans hit like a team in a hurry to catch a plane. Smith was overpowering at times and had Titans hitters swinging at "pitcher's pitches" much of the day. He scattered his hits and didn't walk anybody or hit any batters. Two of the few Titans to reach base were removed on unsuccessful steal attempts (in one case, a foiled hit and run when Smith threw high heat up and in to Joe Scott.)

Fortunately for the Titans, Noe settled down and pitched a great game after the shaky first inning. After allowing three hits in the first, he permitted just one harmless hit over the next six innings. It is a remarkable luxury to have a pitcher of this caliber as the fourth starter.

The Titans finally got something going in the seventh inning. Khris Davis hit a one-out double into the left-field corner and advanced to third base when Jeff Newman beat out a beautiful drag bunt to the right side. The always-alert Newman saw second base uncovered and he sped towards the bag when the Rams' first-baseman tossed the ball back to the pitcher without calling time-out.

With runners at second and third and one out, Billy Marcoe lifted a fly ball towards short center field. Rhody CF DeVeney came in quickly and made a nice catch while tumbling to the ground. Unfortunately, Davis was not in position to tag up on the play and he had to remain at third base, bringing Joe Scott to the plate with the tying runs on base.

In the immortal words of the late, great Joe Besser, "Not so fast!" (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JfKZvi6PwVE)

Tyler Pill came up to the plate to bat for Scott. Just as he had done in the season opener against TCU, Pill came through with a clutch double to tie the score, 3-3. He hit a rocket between the first-baseman and the first-base line: he never had a chance. Rhody coach Jim Foster came out with the hook for his ace and brought in his closer, Luke Lemko, a 6-6 289 pound pitcher from Gilford, NH. Lemko retired Brown on a groundout to end the inning.

After Noe pitched a perfect seventh (and final) inning - including two strikeouts - Colon led off the eighth inning with a sharp single up the middle and advanced into scoring position on a two-strike surprise sacrifice bunt by Felly. Clark was semi-intentionally walked before Nick Ramirez dumped a short fly ball into no-man's land in right-center. Both runners had to hold up to see if the ball would be caught, so the bases were loaded with Davis coming to the plate with one out. Khris did his job perfectly, launching a sacrifice fly to give the Titans a 4-3 advantage. Lemko escaped further damage by striking out Newman.

Ryan Ackland entered the game in the bottom of the eighth and had his best stuff, easily retiring the three batters he faced. After Lemko threw a scoreless ninth inning against the Titans, Michael Morrison came in attempt to nail down the save.

Good thing I took an extra Lisinopril (blood pressure pill) this morning. DeVeney led off the inning with a five-hopper into the shortstop hole. Colon appeared to have no play, but with his cannon arm, we've thought wrong about that before. Unfortunately, Jared Clark could not scoop Colon's errantly low throw out of the dirt and the Rams had the tieing run at second base with no outs.

With Cammans attempting to bunt DeVeney to third base, Morrison threw some filthy pitches and struck him out. Morrison seemed to have matters in hand when he struck out Pete Mastors following a frightening play in which Khris Davis' gave us his best Spiderman impersonation - he was hustling all out to catch a foul ball when he struck the wall and flipped completely over it.

The game got more interesting than Titans fans wanted: with the strike zone tightening, Morrison walked LeBel and Adams to load the bases. Michael then induced a game ending dribbler to second base by Dan Haverstick. Whew!

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

So what did we learn this morning/afternoon?

We learned what type of character this team has throughout this road trip. They faced righties and lefties. They played in hot weather and igloo weather. They faced ace pitchers entering games with microscopic ERA's. They played in front of big crowds and gatherings smaller than the family picnic. They played in front of super-friendly people (Hattiesburg), a fervent student crowd (Texas A&M) and people as cold as their weather (Stillwater). If anybody had asked you how many games you thought Fullerton would win on this eight-game southern tour, would you have been satisfied to know they would go 7-1, sweep Southern Miss, beat Texas A&M by ten runs in front of their frenzied crowd and win the Oklahoma State Tournament? Hot ziggity!





Did you see some of the stats listed in the article at the school website: some incredible stuff! The team batted .392 on the trip, with 23 doubles, 4 triples and 17 home runs. Felly left home hitting .289 and arrived back at John Wayne Airport with a .459 batting average.

Jared Clark's twelve-game hitting streak ended today, but he, Nick Ramirez and Khris Davis were a force in the 4-5-6 spots in the batting order: pick your poison. We also saw some hitting spark off the bench, especially towards the end of the trip. Tony Harkey and Billy Marcoe are each hitting .556 (5 for 9) and Tyler Pill is at .500.

We saw the trio of freshmen - Nick Ramirez, Tyler Pill and Noe Ramirez - continue to grow and develop into top flight contributors. It has to be tempting to try to find more playing time for Pill in between starts. Notwithstanding his costly dropped fly ball at SDSU, it may be time to give him another shot in left-field. Jeff Newman has been a major contributor defensively and does a lot of "small ball" things very well - like taking second base today when Rhody didn't call time-out - but his bat is a deficiency and we need a stick in the seventh spot to back up Davis. Harkey could be that stick against lefthanded pitchers, but so far he looks like a first-baseman-trying-to-play-left-field.

I found it curious that the official scorer gave Newman a double on his heads-up play. It seems to me last year that Christian Colon was credited with a stolen base when he did essentially the same thing last year against U.C. Davis; I've also seen it scored as advancing on the throw (back to the pitcher), which is how I think I would have scored it.

I still think it was Mickey Mouse that the host team, Oklahoma State, was designated as home team in all four of their games. That makes no sense in a three-team round robin format where you play each opponent twice. I was very glad to see my home-state Rhode Island team beat them on their own field.

I think Rhody coach Jim Foster played it perfectly the way he lined up his pitching. His team was clearly overmatched and it would have been suicidal for them to try to win three or four games this weekend. By saving good pitchers for today's games against Fullerton's and Oklahoma State's #4 guys, he very nearly came away with a 2-2 record: had URI beaten CSUF today, all four teams would have gone 2-2, which would have been a major victory for the Rams. They could be a very live #4 seed later this spring.

Now the Titans get to sleep in their own beds and enjoy a home-cooked meal before starting a three-game series Thursday night against Oral Roberts University. I hope they get rousing support from the home fans for the awesome success they had on this road trip. Our expectations are so high at Goodwin Field that I sometimes think they get more love from the fans at road games. We are spoiled by seeing this caliber of team all the time, while fans at places like Southern Miss gave them the respect of the best team they have seen in the last thirty years. Let's really make some noise on this homestand!