Friday, March 6, 2009

What Happened to Small Ball?


By Don Hudson

HATTIESBURG, Miss. - What ever happened to "get'em on, get'em over, get'em in"? Did aliens kidnap Coach Bergy and replace him with Earl Weaver calling the offensive plays?

The Cal State Fullerton Titans used another excellent outing by a starting pitcher (Daniel Renken) and an awesome display of hitting (22 hits, including four home runs) to beat the University of Southern Mississippi by a score of 15-2 at Pete Taylor Park on their campus in Hattiesburg.

The game was highly anticipated, as it pitted the resurgent Titans against a hot (8-1) Southern Miss team that had its ace pitcher going: Todd McInnis entered the game with a 2-0 record and a microscopic 0.66 ERA. Of course, the great concern for the Golden Eagles was the level of their competition - low - and not playing any road games to develop game toughness against elite teams.

When McInnis struck out Gary Brown to start the game, the large partisan crowd roared its approval and hopes were high. Reality struck when Christian Colon lined a sharp single. Josh Fellhauer followed with another hard single to left-center field, which was adroitly cut off by CF Kameron Brunty, who made an amazing throw to third base to nail Colon by a mile. Jared Clark put the Titans up 1-0 on a solid base hit. After an opposite field single by Nick Ramirez and a Khris Davis walk, Jeff Newman was retired to end the inning with the bases loaded. Titans fans squirmed slightly about what could have been a much bigger inning (had it not been for Brunty's great throw) against an ace pitcher, but the high pitch count and solid contact was encouraging.

After the lengthy top of the first inning, Renken pitched an easy 1-2-3 inning, including two K's.

The top of the Titans second inning left the Golden Eagles and their fans shaking their heads. The Titans added a second run on a Dustin Garneau double, a Joe Scott bunt single and a Brown fielder's choice. Brown stole second and went to third on a base hit by Colon. Felly followed with a three run bomb deep to right center field to make it 5-0, ending McInnis' night on 48 pitches in just 1 1/3 innings. Reliever Moses Munoz came in and threw gas on the fire: he walked Clark, who came around to score on a Nick Ramirez double. A Khris Davis walk and an infield single by Garneau brought up Scott with two outs and the bases loaded: he promptly unloaded them with a triple into the right field corner - his second hit of the inning. (Take that, naysayers!)

Staked to a 9-0 lead, Renken continued to mow down the Golden Eagles, who entered the game with a .366 team batting average. His second inning was much like the first: 1-2-3 with two K's.

Shock and awe struck for the Titans off Munoz in the third inning. After a one out single by Felly (his third hit in as many innings), Clark hit a 2-2 pitch high over the light towers in left field - the ball landed somewhere in Tennessee. Nick Ramirez wasted no time going back-to-back: he hit the first offering to left field for a home run. They're still reviewing the tapes to determine whether Clark's or Ramirez's ball orbited and re-entered the stratosphere first. For good measure, Dustin Garneau followed a Jeff Newman single with a two-run shot to left field, making the score 14-0.

Meanwhile, Renken was throwing perfect hitless ball through three innings before surrendering a harmless leadoff single in the fourth inning. He completed five innings and left with a "W", allowing just one hit and no walks.

With the score 14-0, the projected crowd of 5,000 (which turned out to be 4,011) must have collectively remembered that they needed to get home to watch the "Siegfried and Roy" tribute special on TV. By the sixth inning, the stands resembled a Tuesday afternoon game at Cal State Northridge.

The rest of the game was just a matter of playing out the string. Southern Miss got some effective relief pitching from Seth Hester, who allowed just one unearned run in 4 innings pitched. Travis Kelly threw a couple decent innings (allowed one run). Ryan Ackland threw the final two frames of the 15-2 drubbing.


So what did we learn tonight?

First, we learned that Southern Miss has a very rabid fan base. Their following draws from both the student body and the hardcore lifelong fans that proudly sport their team's colors. From the time I arrived at the ballpark (and the parking attendant tipped me off that they had free parking across the street from the lot where she was charging ten bucks) until well after the game was over (when a concessions official offered a bunch of us leftover smoothies), the people there were just amazingly friendly and hospitable. Even the hecklers gave props to the Titans for their hitting, pitching and fielding gems tonight.

Speaking of smoothies, we learned that everybody in the ballpark wins a smoothie whenever a Golden Eagle hits a home run over the sponsor's sign on the outfield wall. I was standing in line when I heard two local fans talking: "I wish they'd give us free smoothies whenever Fullerton hits a home run."

The hits were spread out well (every starter had at least one hit), while the starting 2-3-4-5 hitters for the Titans put on a show: they went 12 for 19 with eight runs scored, eight RBI's and three home runs. Fellhauer led the way with four hits, while Colon, Nick Ramirez and Garneau each chipped in with three. Clark, Fellhauer and Scott led with three RBI each.

The defense was also very good. Gary Brown made a great diving grab of a line drive headed toward left field and both he and Colon impressed the crowd at "The Pete" with their cannon arms.

After sitting in the dugout for the Titans turn at bat in the first inning, Renken returned to the bullpen to loosen up when the Titans went deep into the counts and sent seven men to the plate. He also went down to the bullpen during the eight run second inning outburst, as well as during the five run third inning. We learned it is a very good thing when your starting pitcher has to return to the bullpen to warm up in three straight innings.

The assistant coaches in the stands were scratching their heads when Ryan Ackland was used for two innings in a lopsided win. I would particularly like to see some left-handed relief pitching emerge. Jason Dovel and Nick Ramirez were both available, but neither got the call. I'm sure they will when the time is right.

This was a nice win tonight, but the score is 0-0 at 3:00 on Saturday afternoon. One win doesn't make a season; it doesn't even make a series. I've heard that the field plays very differently in day games versus night games. I'd love to see Kyle Witten follow up last week's outstanding performance and help keep this team in its current groove.

Finally, it was nice to meet some die-hard Titans fans from around the Gulf Coast and Southeast areas who rarely get to see their favorite team play in person. There were also many of the usual suspects of hardcore crazies who trekked out here from Southern California, but this horrific economy has put a damper on discretionary activities such as this. I know many people are here in spirit and will be back in person when things are a little better.

If anybody is going to be at the games in either Hattiesburg or Stillwater and would like to give a shot out to friends, let me know and I'd love to get your name and picture into a post. Either see me at the games (I'll be the guy wearing the blue cap with the orange "F" on it) or send me a note at:

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