Monday, March 9, 2009

Titans Complete Sweep in Convincing Fashion


By Don Hudson

HATTIESBURG, Miss. - Early in Sunday's series finale between visiting Cal State Fullerton (blue jerseys) and home team Southern Mississippi (white home unis), a man sitting behind me had brought his Little League-aged son Johnny to the game to teach him some of the game's finer nuances. As the Titans mounted their third consecutive display of awesome hitting and defense, Dad's cell phone rang: it was Grampa, who advised, "Make sure to tell Johnny to learn from the blue team."

Behind six strong innings by Tyler Pill and a potent offensive display, led by Gary Brown's three hits and home runs by five different players, the Cal State Fullerton Titans completed a series sweep of the University of Southern Mississippi by a score of 11-3 on Sunday afternoon at "The Pete" in Hattiesburg.

Gary Brown once again gave the Titans a jump start when he led off with a single, stole second, advanced to third on a grounder by Christian Colon and scored on an RBI single by Josh Fellhauer. Further damage was averted when the Eagles induced a double-play ball from Clark.

After Tyler Pill pitched a scoreless first inning, Nick Ramirez led off with a single that brought a sudden cloudburst downpour. As the fans scampered for cover, Khris Davis squared to bunt before the pitcher even reached his set position: as poorly as USM had defensed the bunt all series, you've got to figure the Titans are going to apply even more pressure making them field a bunt on a slick infield, right? Wrong! It was the butcher boy play: Davis got upright from out of the bunt position and lined a shot off the light stanchion in left field for a two-run homer. By the time the ball landed, there was bright sunshine.

The Golden Eagles bounced back in the bottom of the second frame, with all the damage coming after two quick outs. Joey Archer doubled, Michael Ewing walked and Tyler Koelling drove them both around on a gap-job double.

The game was tight early on mainly because the Titans grounded into double-plays in each of the first three innings.

The wheels began to fall off the Southern Miss wagon in the middle innings. Nick Ramirez led off the fourth inning with a no-doubt-about-it home run, his third straight game with a bomb. The lead was stretched to 5-2 when Davis reached on an error, advanced to third on a wild pitch and a groundout and scored on a Dustin Garneau grounder.

Clark made it 7-2 with a two-run blast in the fifth inning: it was a nice shot, but looked quite mortal compared with Friday's moon launch.

Pill continued to pitch well as his teammates pounded away at Southern Miss pitching on a windy day in Hattiesburg. The Titans ran away and hid with four more runs in the seventh inning. After hitting a long "foul ball home run" with one out, Dustin Garneau knocked the next pitch over the left field wall for a "fair ball home run." Joe Scott and Gary Brown followed Garneau with base hits before Christian Colon belted a three-run homer, his first of the season. It was the fifth Fullerton home run of the game and the tenth of the series.

Pill surrendered a solo homer in the last of the sixth inning to James Ewing. He left after six innings with an 11-3 lead and his second collegiate win well in hand.

Nick Ramirez made his first pitching appearance since his Hindenburg-esque outing against TCU and was very impressive: six up and six down. The pitching has relied almost exclusively on righties so far, but it is imperative that we have some portside strength, even if it is for just one hitter or one part of the batting order. Between Nick Ramirez, Jason Dovel and Kevin Rath, it is important that at least one (and preferably more) of them can be counted on in big game situations.
Other than more Titan hit batters (seven total in game) and more USM double plays (four total), the last few innings were just a barrier between the Titans and an evening in The Big Easy. Michael Morrison went out for the last inning just to shake off the rust of no save situations in a week: he walked a couple guys but presumably benefited just by getting in some work.


So what did we learn there yesterday?

First, we learned to always listen to the advice of Grampa. The Titans conducted an absolute baseball clinic all weekend. It remains hard to gauge just how good Southern Miss is, because I don't remember the Titans playing that well in a long time. Surely USM lacks top-tier pitching, but the way the Titans swung the bats this weekend was incredible and the defense (despite several defensive stalwarts making their first errors of the season) made some spectacular web-gem plays. Jeff Newman made a couple of eye-popping catches in left-field on Sunday. Tony Harkey also made two excellent diving stops playing first-base in the ninth inning.

Several lifelong USM fans opined that they had never seen a team play better at The Pete in 30+ years and Jared Clark's tape measure home run Friday remained the talk of the town. It was the first time the Golden Eagles had been swept at home by a non-conference opponent since William Carey College did it to them thirteen years ago. (Bring on Bill Carey College!)

There were lots of comments to the effect that "this is baseball the way it was meant to be played." I think sometimes the bar has been set so high at Fullerton by the success of the past few decades that we might take for granted (even if it's just slightly) just how good a quality of baseball this team treats us to year in and year out.

The series run totals of 37-11 hardly tells the gap in play. The Titans hit into four double-plays on Sunday and held down the scoring two of the games by making mid-game substitutions and playing station-to-station baseball once the leads became comfortable.

Gary Brown had his second consecutive three hit game. He played a great all-around series. After hitting just six home runs as a team in its eight previous games, the Titans flexed their muscles with ten home runs in a three-game series. There wasn't one of them that was cheap. The field is short in the power alleys, the wind blew out and the opposing pitching wasn't very good, but nevertheless it was a sight to behold. I just hope the payback isn't two weeks of warning track flyouts.

We learned that business should be brisk this week at the local jewelry store that gives away gift certificates whenever the Eagles pull off a double-play.

We learned that Christian Colon is human defensively: he made his first two errors of the season on Sunday. He has been making every play - the routine ones and the spectacular ones - so I'll settle for his first couple errors coming in an 11-3 win.

As great as the baseball was, perhaps the most enduring memory of this trip will be the people. The Titans were treated like baseball royalty in every respect and everybody we met was remarkably friendly. It was a privilege for both me (left) and Titans ardent supporter Tim Munroe (right) to spend some time with Butch Davis (center); a.k.a "Easy Eagle Rider." If you recall, Butch is a retired businessman who rode his Honda motorcycle across country last season to watch the CSUF/USM series played in Fullerton. (The thread is still available in the archives at You will also be able to read his blogs from that trip in the Hattiesburg American website archives.)

He has ridden his motorcycle in every state - except Alaska. Guess where he is headed this summer on his motorcycle? Yep - Alaska - possibly routed through Omaha.

So it was off to LSU today to practice while en route to Texas A&M for a Tuesday showdown. I'll be curious how the pitching is arranged for that game and the four game tournment at Oklahoma City, especially with Noe Ramirez making an unplanned appearance Saturday following Witten's early injury-related departure. Hopefully the weather will cooperate: things were looking gloomy when I connected through Houston today. I'm sorry to miss the A&M game at one of college baseball's most enthusiastic environments, but I'll be back out there again for the Stillwater event.

1 comment:

katherine said...

I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.