Sunday, March 29, 2009

Titans Reverse the Curse


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!

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