Saturday, May 30, 2009

Titans Clobber Utes in Regional Opener


By Don Hudson

Play began Friday afternoon at Goodwin Field in the Fullerton Regional. After the third-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs beat second-seeded Georgia Southern, 19-10, the host and top-seeded Cal State Fullerton Titans took care of business against the Utah Utes, 18-2.

The Titans and Bulldogs will play a winners bracket game this evening at 6:00, while the Eagles and Utes will meet at 2:00 this afternoon in an elimination game.

Noe Ramirez was tabbed to get the starting assignment for the Titans based on his ability to bounce back on shorter rest in the event he would be needed for an inning or two in a Monday championship game. He looked jittery early in the game, as he issued a four-pitch walk to Nick Kuroczko in the first inning with two outs, followed by a wild pitch. But, as he has been all season, the freshman was tough as nails when he had to be and he retired cleanup hitter C.J. Cron to escape unharmed following a very early meeting on the mound with Coach Serrano.

The Utes sent Jordan Whatcott to the hill - a pitcher with wins this year over several ranked opponents. He not only had decent numbers pitching - particularly considering the conference and high altitude locations for many of their games - he also came into the game with seven pickoffs. He nearly used that skill to escape unscathed in the first inning when he threw to first just as Gary Brown broke for second (following an infield single) and was easily retired on a steal attempt. But Josh Fellhauer, Jared Clark and Khris Davis followed with singles, Davis' driving in Felly with the game's first run. The Titans scored only once, but they had four hits and established omens of an offensive barrage to come.

Noe's early jitters manifested themselves in the second inning when, following a two-out double by Rick Cornu, Noe wheeled around and attempted a pickoff at second base - but the spheroid was errantly miscast about forty feet wide of the bag and Cornu trotted to third. This brought about one of the game's great moments to me: the freshman seemed unsettled and three seniors the stature of Jared Clark, Joe Scott and Dustin Garneau met on the mound to help him relax. From Section K, I thought I saw glimpses of smiles and encouragement that helped Noe settle into his groove. He struck out Cooper Blanc to retire the side scorelessly.

The pesty Jeff Newman led off the second with a walk before Scott popped out on an attempted sacrifice. Joey Siddons then also bunted in the air, but the diving pitcher Whatcott gloved the ball in fair territory and could not hang on, allowing Siddons to reach on a single. After a Christian Colon single loaded the bases, the wheels were about to fall off the defensive wagon of the Utes. Gary Brown bounced a ball to the left of shortstop Michael Beltran, who knew he would have to hurry to double up the blazing Brown. Beltran booted the ball and them made an ill-advised throw to first, which ended up in the dugout. (It was scored as a two-base throwing error, but I would have charged an error on the boot - which was why all the runners were safe - and a second error on the throw allowing the runners to advance a base.)

With the Titans now leading 3-0, Fellhauer was hit by a pitch to load up the bases and bring the RBI Machine, Jared Clark, to the plate. Clark drilled a double deep to right-centerfield to score two runs and make it a 5-0 lead. Whatcott escaped even worse damage when he retired two Titans with the bases loaded (5 LOB in the first two innings).

The Utes ran into a crucial out in the third inning, after which the Titans never looked back. After two singles to open the third inning gave the Utes some hope, Tyler Yagi failed twice on sacrifice attempts and then struck out. When Noe Ramirez threw a pitch in the dirt to the next hitter, Dustin Garneau blocked it and kept it near his feet. The runner on second attempted to advance to third. Garneau threw to 3B Siddons, who caught the throw, ran over to the Omaha West tent for a couple scrumptious pulled pork sliders and came back with plenty of time to apply the tag.

By the time the third inning ended, the aggressive play of the Titans had put the outcome out of question. Scott walked to open the inning, went to second on a sacrifice by Siddons and scored on an RBI single by Colon. Brown then drilled a double deep to centerfield, scoring Colon. Clark followed with another run-scoring double and the score was 8-0 and the rout was one.

From that point on, the Titans just played their game. Noe settled down and pitched very well: he gave up seven hits in seven innings, striking out eight and allowing just two runs (on a two-run homer by the Utes' Kuroczko.) The offense tied the season-high of eighteen runs and had a season-best 24 hits.

Late game highlights included a three-run homer by Khris Davis (his thirteenth of the season), a triple by Joe Scott and an RBI double by Jeff Newman. Kyle Mertins and Ryan Ackland finished up with a scoreless inning of work each.


So what did we learn last night?

I'm still not exactly sure what a 'Ute' is. Every time I hear the word, I flash back to that scene from "My Cousin Vinnie":

The offense put up some sick numbers. How about the top five hitters combining for fifteen hits and eleven RBI? Every starter got at least one hit and seven had multiple hit games. Jeff Newman had another classic Jeff Newman game: three hits, two walks and four runs scored.

But as great as the offense was and as good as the pitching was, the defense may have been even better. Scott made an excellent play on a ricochet shot off Noe Ramirez and he also turned a sweet double-play. Shevis Shima also had a nice turn late in the game. Clark scooped a couple low throws out of the dirt. But it might have been Colon whose star was brightest. Here is a sound bite I heard in Section K last night on a slow chopper towards shortstop: "That's going to be a very tough play......well, it would have been a very tough play if it was anybody but Colon."

I loved the quote from Utah leftfielder Tyler Yagi in the Salt Lake newspaper this week after winning the Mountain West Conference Tournament: "We all know that we're one of the hottest teams right now. I don't know....if I was Fullerton, I'd be a little scared right now, because we're pretty hot." Congratulations to the Titans for playing so well under such adverse circumstances.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are ranked #19 by Baseball America and should be a formidable opponent tonight. They scored nineteen runs yesterday: it will be interesting to see how well they fare against Daniel Renken and the strong Titans defense. This is what it's all about - hope to see you out at Goodwin Field and Omaha West today.


Anonymous said...

You're the bomb, Don!

Anonymous said...

A ute is an Indian tribe native to Colorado and Utah. Loving the game recaps though, nice job once again