Friday, March 13, 2009

Titans Conquer Triskaidekaphobia

By Don Hudson

STILLWATER, Okla. - Neither Friday the 13th, frigid weather nor playing two games against opponents who entered play today with combined records of 18-4 could derail the red-hot play of the Cal State Fullerton Titans in the opening day of play of the Oklahoma State Tournament at Allie P. Reynolds Stadium in Stillwater, OK. The Titans won the opener against the University of Rhode Island Rams by a 17-3 score, behind the solid pitching of Tyler Pill and another offensive onslaught that included sixteen hits and five hit batsmen. In the nightcap, the Titans won an 8-4 verdict against the host team and perennial powerhouse Oklahoma State Cowboys, beating nationally recognized lefthander Andy Oliver on the strength of a fourteen hit attacked led by Jared Clark (5-5), Josh Fellhauer (3-5 with an RBI) and Tony Harkey (2-2 with 4 huge RBI).

Game 1 Recap: Cal State Fullerton 17, Rhode Island 3

URI came out swinging in the first inning looking like the little train that could: hitting the ball sharply despite blustery cold playing conditions made tougher by steady winds that made it feel even worse. Pill surrendered a run in the first on sharp double by Oliver Palmer following a single by Zoey Angulo. The Rams' 1-0 lead was shortlived, however, as Fullerton responded with two in the bottom of the inning on a two-out double by Nick Ramirez, driving in Gary Brown and Christian Colon, who had each singled.

After a LeBel triple and Adams double tied the score for Rhody in the top of the second, the Titans continued to work deep into the counts against starting pitcher Tim Boyce. The Titans scored three runs (and lost another when Billy Marcoe, substituting to allow Dustin Garneau to rest for the nightcap, led off with a single but was promptly picked off) on a Joe Scott HBP, another Brown single, a Colon HBP, a sacrifice fly by Josh Fellhauer and a two-ribby hit by Jared Clark.

The Titans broke the game wide open in the third inning with four runs after Pill had pitched a 1-2-3 frame. The rally was started by the bottom third of the order: Newman led off with a single and stole second; Marcoe walked and Scott was hit by a pitch. Gary Brown hit a two-run double and subsequently came around to score on Felly's two-run single.

From that point on, the game was a matter of avoiding frostbite - both in the stands and dugout and on the field. Jared Clark spiked another monster home run through a stiff breeze blowing in. You know the game has gotten out of hand when the focus of our fans was discussing the respective merits of the diners at small Southern California airports. Flo's Country Kitchen at the Chino Airport was the concensus winner, but strong support was given for the diners at Brackett Field (La Verne), Cable Airport (Upland) and Corona Municipal Airport.

Pill ended up going seven innings, surrendering three runs on eleven hits, walking none. With the win, Pill upped his record to 3-0 on the season. Derrick Dingeman pitched the last two innings, finishing strong after allowing a four-pitch walk and a single when he entered the game in the eighth inning.

Game 2 Recap: Cal State Fullerton 8, Oklahoma State 4

In a battle of top-flight pitchers, Cal State Fullerton was able to prevail largely because Daniel Renken played Houdini during his 5+ innings - working out of some very tight jams with minimal damage - while his teammates were able to come up with clutch hits against the very formidable left-hander Andy Oliver. (That guy threw some gas on a very cold night and was consistently around the corners - I thought he was the best starting pitcher we've yet to face this year.) The Cowboys stranded thirteen runners, to just six for the Titans.

After a scoreless first inning in which both pitchers looked sharp, the Titans scored a run in the top of the second on a Jared Clark double and a clutch two-out RBI single by Tony Harkey, making his first start of the season in left-field in order to get another potent right-handed batter in the line-up against a tough southpaw.

Daniel Renken pitched into and out of his first big jam in the bottom of the second. Oklahoma State loaded the bases with nobody out on a Doug Kroll walk and singles by Neil Medchill and Dean Green. This is when Renken got tough: he struck out Tyrone Hambly and Michael Dabbs and retired Dusty Harvard on a grounder to Scott.

After Oliver pitched a dominant 1-2-3 third inning, the Cowboys got Renken back on the ropes in their half of the inning. Davis Duren led off with a walk and went to third on a single by Kevin David (their catcher can stroke the ball): runners at the corners with nobody out. Cleanup hitter Tom Belza lifted a short fly ball to left field - brought back even closer to infield by the wind, which made it too short to tag up. Renken got Kroll to pop up to Colon and Medchill grounded to Scott to end the inning harmlessly - but with a mounting pitch count.

The Titans scored thrice in the fourth inning, including two situations where attempted bunts were unsuccessful and were followed by two-strike hits. After singles by Felly and Clark, Nick Ramirez bunted foul and then sliced an opposite field double to drive in the game's second run. After Tony Harkey fouled off a bunt on an attempted squeeze play, he delivered a solid two-run single to give Fullerton a 4-0 advantage.

Oklahoma State has an excellent team and they weren't going down without a fight. Renken started the fourth inning with two strikeouts; unfortunately, the second K was a wild pitch that allowed Hambly to reach base and trot around when the ninth batter in the lineup, Dabbs, hit a home run to right field to make it a 4-2 game. Renken seemed temporarily flustered and worked into another jam following the homer: he allowed two walks and two wild pitches, putting the tying run at second base with just one out - go ahead run at the plate. One of the game's most critical plays followed: David smashed a ball down the third base line, which Brown fielded cleanly with a nice backhand stop. Rather than take the out at first and allow the third run to score, he threw home, where Garneau tagged out Harvard.

After both Oliver and Renken pitched unblemished fifth innings, the Titans scored two more runs to extend their lead to 6-2. The Titans loaded the bases with one out on a Felly double, a Clark single and a walk by Khris Davis (after spoiling a bunch of tough pitches). Harkey's squeeze bunt drove in Fellhauer; when Harkey got tangled up with the second-baseman covering first, Clark alertly came around to score the inning's second tally.

Renken's night came to a close in the sixth inning following a home run by Hambly and a beautiful drag bunt single by Dabbs. Nick Ramirez came in from the bullpen and continued his recent success on the mound for the Titans. Ramirez got out of the inning with the 6-3 lead intact on the strength of a strikeout and a nice diving stab by Joe Scott.

Ramirez escaped another bases-load-one-out situation in the seventh inning with a strikeout and pop-out to catcher Dustin Garneau.

The Titans added a couple insurance runs in the top of the ninth. Garneau was hit by a pitch, advanced on a passed ball and a Scott sacrifice and scored on Gary Brown's single through a drawn-in infield. Brown stole second and scored on an RBI single by Felly, who also stole third. With the score 8-3 (hardly a blowout), the Cowboys coaching staff was not thrilled with the stolen base attempts and were totally pissed when Felly attempted to steal the plate. (The catcher had the ball in time and stuck his mitt out in front of the plate and hoped Felly slid into it. The call was "out", but they still haven't tagged him yet.)

With a five-run lead, Nick took the hill again in the bottom of the ninth and was touched for a solo homer by Medchill. Michael Morrison entered the game and induced a popout to Garneau and a strikeout to end the game: his sixth consecutive scoreless outing.


So what did we learn today?

First, we learned just how cold it can be but still have the game played well. It was too cold for me to push the button on my camera, so how do these guys snap off sharp breaking balls or hit line drives - in some cases without even wearing batting gloves? I love the psychological advantage gained by the Titans when their opponents are all bundled up, but our base coaches aren't even wearing jackets: Bergy wasn't even wearing sleeves!

This has been a remarkable road trip: these guys have written a new chapter in Titans history which will be long remembered. The question has to be asked: when is their success described by "they are on a red hot streak" become "this is a great team"? Winning on the road against quality opponents is a great indicator just how good this team can be - but this is still March.

Several guys had great days at the plate on Friday. Jared Clark was 7-9 with 5 runs and 4 RBI: he even stole two bases! Felly was 5-8 with 2 runs and 4 RBI, while Brown was 4-9 with 4 runs and 4 RBI.

Perhaps the day's unsung hero was Tony Harkey, who went 3-3 with 6 RBI. With Oklahoma State starting two outstanding lefties, it made sense to try to find a big right-handed bat, particularly to provide protection in the seventh spot batting behind Davis. Teams have recently seemed willing to pitch around Davis and take their chances with Jeff Newman: Harkey takes away the appeal of that option. Siddons has yet to hit much, so it appears that Harkey will be the right-handed half of the left-field platoon.

Speaking of Newman, he made a couple more highlight reel catches today. Not only does he get a great jump on fly balls, but he also "closes" on balls hit away from him as well as any outfielder in recent memory. The defense made zero errors in the double-header: I think the fielders welcomed the ball being hit to them just so they could stay warm.

Renken was uncharacteristically wild pitching in the frigid weather: in 5+ innings, he gave up four walks and had three wild pitches, in addition to seven hits. It wasn't one of his better outings, but give him credit for coming up with some huge pitches to an excellent team in their home environment. With the win, his record goes to 3-0. It seemed the weather affected the pitchers more than the hitters, especially on breaking balls.

Nick Ramirez gave the pitching staff a shot in the arm with his 3 1/3 innings of stellar relief pitching. Not only did he nullify Oklahoma State's lefthanded oriented line-up, he triggered switches to righthanded pitchers that were easily retired: you try sitting around a windy 38 degree stadium all day and then come off the bench and try to get a hit.

Between the weather and Oklahoma State playing a Big 12 Conference basketball game on Friday night, the crowd tonight at the big showdown game was just 823. It wasn't much, but it was a far cry better than the crowd at the afternoon game against URI: 111.

I'm interested in how URI coach Jim Foster will allign his pitching the rest of the tournament. Today he started Tim Boyce - his #3 weekend starter - against Fullerton's #3 guy . Eric Smith and Nick Greenwood are their two best starters. As the underdog, Rhody has a big advantage in that they will not face a #1 or a #2 starter from either Oklahoma State or Fullerton. Foster is a sharp coach: don't be surprised if he can get one or two close games against these powerhouse opponents in the games pitched by Smith and Greenwood.

Tomorrow night's rematch with Oklahoma State could have some sparks. They weren't happy with the coaching staff have Felly attempting steals of third and home with the score 8-3. (I think they are full of crap - are you telling me a team with 19 CWS trips has never overcome a five run deficit at home? Cut me a break!) The weather is going to be a little warmer and the hoops team got eliminated, so I'd expect a bigger crowd and a little attitude. It is a great opportunity for Kyle Witten to match up with another nationally prominent pitching opponent - I can't wait!


Anonymous said...

When does a "team on a hot streak" become a "great team"?

I think that will have to wait until/if the team reaches Omaha. Remember the 1996 team? They started off hot, were loaded with offensive talent, but ultimately cooled off and the pitching couldn't see them through.

Anonymous said...


There's a lot to be excited about right now, but it's a long, long season with plenty of opportunity to crash and burn.

Ah, if only the post-season started next week...