Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Titans Win By a Whisker


By Don Hudson

TEMPE, Ariz. - Playing their final game of Mustache March, the Cal State Fullerton Titans defeated the Arizona State Sun Devils last evening at Winkles Field-Packard Stadium at Brock Ballpark by a final score of 7-5. Jared Clark led the offense with a home run and a double, while Nick Ramirez earned his first win with 4 1/3 innings of dazzling no-hit relief.

The Titans jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead when Josh Fellhauer singled with two outs and came around to score on Jared Clark's RBI double. In the bottom half of the inning, Kyle Witten walked two and hit one to load the bases, but escaped unscathed with the help of a nice play by shortstop Christian Colon.

The Titans extended their lead to 3-0 in the top of the second, driving ASU starting pitcher Matt Newman from the hill. Khris Davis opened the stanza with a single, stole second and went to third on Dustin Garneau's sacrifice bunt. Joe Scott lined a base hit to rightfield for an RBI and he scored on Gary Brown's two-out double. Jason Franzblau entered the game in relief and was aided by Brown straying too far off the base on a blocked pitch in the dirt and getting caught in a rundown.

The Titans defense faltered in the bottom of the seond inning and ASU tied the score, 3-3. After a leadoff single by Maggi, Matt Newman hit a groundball to Joe Scott - has double-play written all over it - but Joe made a rare boot and everybody was safe. Ninth-place hitter Raoul Torrez was sent up to bunt the runners into scoring position. When Witten registered two strikes, the defense played back and may have been surprised when Torrez laid down an excellent bunt. Brown charged the ball to no avail: it was a base hit and Brown's errant throw went into right field and the Sun Devils had a run and two runners in scoring position with nobody out. After MacPhee's sacrifice fly cut the lead to 3-2, Jason Kipnis stroked a base hit to tie the score.

Franzblau pitched very effectively (despite taking the loss), including retiring the Titans 2-3-4 hitters easily in the third inning on easy ground-balls. Witten allowed a double to Newman, but he seemed to settle down a little in the third inning. But after walking the leadoff man in the bottom of the fourth inning of the tie game, Witten was replaced on the mound by Nick Ramirez, who induced a 4-6-3 double-play ball from the always dangerous Kipnis.

The Titans had a golden opportunity to break the game open in the fifth inning - but came up empty-handed. After a leadoff single by Jeff Newman, Gary Brown hit a fly ball to centerfield which kept carrying. With nobody out and uncertainty whether the ball would be caught. Newman was not able to score. No problem, right? Heart of the order coming up! But Franzblau did a great job pitching out of the jam: he got Colon out on a "comebacker" to the mound and struck out Fellhauer. After walking Clark, Franzy got Nick Ramirez to ground out with the bases loaded. Ouch!

The Titans finally broke the tie in the sixth inning. Dustin Garneau hit a one-out single and then began an adventure on the basepaths. He stole second base and headed for third when the catcher's throw bounced into centerfield: he looked like a dead duck, but the throw was a little off and Garneau made it with a headfirst slide. When Joe Scott chopped a ball down the third base line, Garneau had to dive back into the bag ahead of an attempted tag (before Scott was thrown out). Newman came up with a big hit - a flare into "no man's land" in left-centerfield - giving the Titans a 4-3 lead.

Jared Clark made it 5-3 with a solo home run in the top of the seventh inning. Meanwhile, Nick Ramirez continued his no-hit pitching for Fullerton.

The never-say-die home crowd began evacuating Winkles Field-Packard Stadium at Brock Ballpark in the eighth inning when the Titans pushed across another run on a Garneau HBP, a Scott sacrifice and a two-out RBI single by Brown. Walks to Colon and Fellhauer (and steals by Brown and Colon) brought Clark to the plate with the bases loaded, but he went down swinging and the score was 6-3.

Ackland came on with one out in the bottom of the eighth an retired two lefthanded pinch-hitters, which is generally his area of vulnerability.

The Titans added an insurance run in the ninth inning when Nick Ramirez walked and Khris Davis reached on a fielder's choice, advanced on a groundout and scored on an RBI single by Scott.

After looking strong in the eighth inning, Ackland came out to start the ninth with a four run cushion. In the middle of a stretch of eight games against ranked opponents in ten days, I'm sure Dave would have preferred to avoid using his closer. But with one out, Ackland walked a batter and gave up a long home run to Kipnis - his ninth of the season. Michael Morrison then came in to shut the door with a flyout and strikeout.


So what did we learn last night?

The Titans ended Mustache March with a 15-2 record, which included big wins against ranked opponents, the epic road trip and contributions made by players up and down the roster. It will be interesting to see if anybody in the visitor dugout at Winkles Field-Packard Stadium at Brock Ballpark tonight will still be sporting their crumb catchers. As far as team building activities go, you'd have to rate this a success - although I'm sure there is some relief today from team members and their loved ones.

Speaking of relief, the Titans got plenty of it last night. Kyle Witten started and once again was not able to find his stride: he hasn't seemed to find a mound yet that was to his liking. He did record some very big outs early when his defense had some uncharacteristic mistakes, but departed after 3+ inninings with 76 pitches already thrown: 46 strikes and 30 balls. Facing an ASU scattered liberally with lefthanded hitters, freshman southpaw Nick Ramirez was summoned from the bullpen and he responded in fashion. His strike/ball ratio wasn't great either - 33 strikes and 26 balls - and he walked two and hit one batter, but zero runs and zero hits allowed in 4 1/3 innings was the difference in the game.

Ryan Ackland did a great job in "his" inning (e.g. the eight), but faltered when he was stretched into the ninth, walking a batter and giving up a two-run blast to lefthanded-hitting Jason Kipnis. Michael Morrison was nails in his role as closer.

The Titans have shown a "bend but don't break" strength like few other teams I've ever seen. The three-run ASU outburst in the second inning could have been worse and it could have gotten the team down: they didn't let that happen. Not scoring in the fifth inning after getting runners at second and third with nobody out and the heart of the order coming up could have been a back breaker - but it wasn't. This team plays with great composure and confidence - let opponents call it "swagger" - whatever you want to call it, it's working.

Titans pitchers allowed six walks and two HBP - more than the three games combined against UCR. If Kevin Rath has the command he displayed the first four innings he pitched against Oral Roberts, he could have a good outing tonight.

In addition to Jared Clark's big game (home run and double), Gary Brown had three hits (including two doubles) and Joe Scott added two clutch RBI singles. The Titans outhit the Sun Devils, 12-6.

Entering the game, the Sun Devils had thrown out 40% of would-be base stealers. The Titans put them to the test, stealing five (Brown, Colon, Davis, Garneau and Scott) of six attempted.

ASU coach Pat Murphy had the umpires scratching their heads and turning their line-up cards into SuDuko puzzles as he brought position players into and out of pitching. The starting pitcher (Newman) was also the designated hitter and usually plays righfield. The rightfielder (Naturally) came into pitch, and was succeeded by the first-baseman (Who). Who came in to pitch and looked into Today for his signals - Naturally.

Murphy credit for using the match-up against a top-ranked rival to give his young team some invaluable experience: nine freshman and three JUCO transfers played last night for ASU. How do you think they will work Murph's name into the Winkles Field-Packard Stadium at Brock Ballpark formula. The all-time series record now stands 26-25 in favor of ASU in their head-to-head matchups against CSUF.

Finally, I saw several Titans players of the past few years in attendance at the game. Several of them will be playing spring training games this afternoon around the Phoenix area. What a great way for a fan to spend an afternoon awaiting tonight's second game against the Sun Devils.

No comments: