Saturday, May 23, 2009

Beat the Beach


By Don Hudson

The Cal State Fullerton Titans moved closer to national seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament with a 4-3 victory Friday night at Goodwin Field against perpetual rival Long Beach State. With the loss, LBSU (25-27) will suffer their first non-winning season since the "Dirtbag era" bagan in 1989.

Daniel Renken (9-2) was the starter and once again pitched at least eight innings (or more, as he has in eight of his last nine starts) in gaining his fifth consecutive win.

The Little Leaguers in the stands were barely hopped up yet on their sugar and caffeine rushes when Steve Tinoco belted a first-inning Renken pitch off the screen above the leftfield wall to give the Dirtbags a quick 1-0 lead.

Adam Wilk was the pitcher for LBSU and is regarded as one of the conference's top starters - just behind UCI's Daniel Bibona and CSUF's Renken. He was wild in the first inning - walking Jeff Newman, hitting Gary Brown and walking Khris Davis after Newman and Brown executed a double-steal - but left the bases loaded when Dustin Garneau flied out to rightfield.

Wilk was touched for two runs in the second inning. DH Shevis Shima led off with a beauty of a bunt down the third-base line for a base-hit. Joe Scott's attempted sacrifice was lifted softly in the air and pitcher Wilk made a diving effort to grab it in the air; the ball bounced out of his glove and Scott was aboard with a bunt single. Joey Siddons successfully sacrificed both runners along. Christian Colon then hit a ball deep towards rightfield: RF T.J. Mittelstaedt made a good effort to catch it and limit it to a sacrifice fly, but he could not hold onto the ball as he dove and Colon had a double to give the Titans a 2-1 advantage.

Joe Scott had his second bunt single in the fourth inning, but was stranded.

The Dirtbags got to Renken in the fifth inning. Jonathan Jones led off with a high chopper to third: Siddons had no play but to wait for it to come down and he just missed Jones at first. A sacrifice bunt moved Jones to second, where he was subsequently erased when Colon sneaked in behind him and took a perfect pickoff throw from Renken. With two outs and the bases empty, ninth batter Kellen Hoime walked and came around to score when Jordan Casas' deep drive to left-centerfield just eluded a diving CF Gary Brown. The score remained 2-2 when Renken retired Derek Legg on a line-out to 1B Jared Clark.

A touch of wildness and a defensive lap haunted Wilk in the bottom of the fifth inning. Newman was hit by a pitch and Brown walked on four pitches before Clark rolled into a 4-6-3 double-play. A popup to short rightfield by Davis should have ended the inning, but 2B Legg dropped it and the Titans had a 3-2 lead.

The gritty Dirtbags battled Renken again in the top of the sixth inning. Mittelstaedt hit a one-out triple and scored on a single by Devin Lohman, tying the score at 3-3. After a stolen base and a pop-out, Renken walked the next two hitters on 3-2 pitches to load the bases. He settled own and worked out of the jam by striking out Hoime to end the inning.

After retiring the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the sixth (despite a dropped foul pop-up extending Shima's at-bat), Wilk hit Joe Scott with a 3-2 pitch. Joey Siddons hit a hopper to second-base - perhaps too slow to turn a deuce but surely an easy force play at second - but Legg's throw was off-line and Lohman had to stray far off the bag to grab it and everybody was safe. One out later, Newman walked to load the bases. Behind in the count 1-2, Brown hit the ball on the ground towards the shortstop hole. With his tremendous speed and a headfirst dive into first-base, Brown beat it out for an infield single that gave the Titans a 4-3 lead they would maintain the rest of the game.

Renken gave the crowd of 2,430 a few more anxious moments in the top of the eighth inning. After allowing a leadoff walk to Mittelstaedt, Renken appeared to rush a weak grounder back to the mound by Lohman: in his haste to start the double-play, he muffed the play and both runners were aboard. Attempting to bunt the tying and go-ahead runs into position, Taylor Krick lifted a foul bunt that C Garneau alertly chased down for the first out. The larcenous Dirtbags then attempted to do with their legs what they failed to do with a bunt: a double-steal attempt. Garneau had a tough putch to handle - low and away near the ground - but he handled it perfectly and fired a pea to Siddons at third to nab Mittelstaedt. With the tying run at second, Renken induced Jones to fly out to RF on his 122nd and final pitch of the evening.

Nick Ramirez entered the game and closed it out in style - a 1-2-3 inning climaxed with a whiff of Jordan Casas to end it.


What did we learn last night?

It wasn't a very pretty affair, but gratifying that the Titans could grind out a win against the opposing team's best pitcher without one of our own best players (Josh Fellhauer) in the line-up. The Titans managed just six hits and four of them never left the infield (bunt single by Shima, two bunt singles by Scott and Brown's groundball to shortstop.) Wilk pitched an excellent game and deserved a better fate.

While the Dirtbag defense made three errors on easy plays, they also made some good plays, primarily through excellent outfield positioning. Colon, Davis and Scott all hit balls on the money that could have been gap jobs, but the Dirtbag outfield was always perfectly positioned and made excellent plays. Their infield, however, ........

What a nice game for Jeff Newman, who does the great things that don't show up in the box score. He went 0-for-1 (big deal, eh?), but was on base three times via a couple walks and an HBP, along with a stolen base.

In the pantheon of longest foul balls you've ever seen, add the one that Nick Ramirez hit pinch-hitting in the seventh inning. Facing lefty specialist David Born, Ramirez hit one that crossed the 57 Freeway and landed in the parking lot at Target on Yorba Linda Boulevard. Born got the best of this battle by striking out Nick, but don't be surprised if sometime in the next couple days that Ramirez doesn't face Born again.

More importantly, though, Nick upped his mark to 6-for-6 in save situations as the Titans' closer. He seems equally comfortable facing righthanded and lefthanded hitters.

Tonight's game should be quite spirited. The game last night was broadcast on ESPNU - always nice to see Phil Nevin back at Goodwin Field - so the Dirtbags' hardcore following seems to have held back traveling until today, when they have a huge tailgate party planned. I really hope they are given warm hospitaility, just as we enjoy so much when we travel. Years from now, the Titans fans that went to Hattiesburg will talk about how nice the local fans were to them - I always wish visiting fans would say the same after coming to Goodwin.

1 comment:

THN said...

I appreciate that last sentiment. Even though our squad is an annual title contender, that shouldn't preclude us from being gracious hosts.