Sunday, May 10, 2009

Titans Steal Series


By Don Hudson

The Cal State Fullerton Titans had larceny in their hearts - and their feet - in stealing a season-high seven bases en route to a 7-3 series-clinching victory last night over the host Cal Poly SLO Mustangs. The Titans' combination of speed, power and clutch hitting and pitching proved too much for the Mustangs, whose coach, Larry Lee, noted of Fullerton, "They're a very talented team. Sometimes, talent wins out."

The game featured a pitching matchup between Titans' freshman Noe Ramirez and Cal Poly southpaw Matt Leonard. The Titans threatened right away, with singles by Christian Colon and Josh Fellhauer (and a stolen base by Felly), but were unable to score. The vaunted Mustangs' offense came out swinging and plated a run in the bottom of the first on a double by Adam Melker and an RBI single by Adam Buschini.

Khris Davis wasted little time tying the score, as he blasted a home run to leftfield to open the second stanza. The Titans took a 2-1 lead when Jeff Newman singled, advanced on a Joe Scott sacrifice and an RBI single by Joey Siddons. Reserve catcher Jordan Hadlock's throw went into centerfield on Siddons' successful steal attempt. But following a walk to Christian Colon, Leonard got off the hook with no further damage by retiring Gary Brown.

The Titans made it 3-1 with a run in the top of the third. After spraying the Mustangs' drinking section with line-drive foul balls, Fellhauer completed an excellent at-bat with a single. After Fellhauer's second steal of the game, Khris Davis banged an RBI double into the leftfield corner. Dustin Garneau followed with an HBP, but Leonard once again played Houdini and got out without more significant damage.

The Titans suffered the first of two "playing conditions" situations in the bottom of the third inning. Baggett Stadium is part of a great athletic complex on the beautiful Cal Poly campus. As the sun sets over the ocean, the third-baseman and left-fielder are looking straight into a massive fiery ball. Hadlock hit a hard bouncing ball towards third-base that Joey Siddons had no play but to duck and cover. After the leadoff single, Noe retired the next two hitters but left a 3-1 pitch over the plate to Buschini, who crushed a game-tying home run.

Both pitchers had elevated pitch counts early and it looked like a short night for both after three innings, but they settled down and pitched effectively during the middle innings. The Mustangs threatened in the fifth inning with a single and two walks with two out, but a mound conference helped Noe to get out of the inning.

The Mustangs also threatened in the sixth inning on a single, a stolen base and a high infield popup that was lost in the dusk sky for a base hit.

The Titans' seventh inning started with a single by Colon and - guess what - a stolen base. Gary Brown lined one just over the infield, sending Colon to third base: runners on the corner, nobody out and Felly at the plate. On what would have been the first pitch, Brown broke for second as pitcher Leonard threw over to first. Colon did not get more than a few steps off third base and would not have likely scored had first-baseman Wes Dorrell thrown to second for the out on Brown. But Dorrell eschewed the out on Brown and instead tried to nail Colon heading back to third - his wild throw went astray and allowed Colon to score and Brown to get to third. (In the local paper. Coach Lee said, "It was a mental mistake. We bit on the play.") Fellhauer was hit by a pitch, followed by Jared Clark's double-play ball that gave the Titans a 5-3 advantage.

Noe continued into the seventh inning and retired Welker and the ever-dangerous Buschini before surrendering a double to Dorrell. With his pitch count at 110 and D.J. Gentile representing the tying run, Coach Serrano made the move for an early appearance by closer Nick Ramirez. Nick did exactly what he could hope for: he struck out Gentile.

After a scoreless eighth inning by the Titans, the Mustangs again put a couple runners aboard on a pair of singles, but Nick snuffed the threat by striking out Ryan Lee, the potential go-ahead run at the plate.

The Mustangs summoned lefty Jared Eskew in the ninth inning to try to keep the deficit at just two runs. After retiring the first two hitters, he walked Fellhauer. After pinch-hitting for their only healthy catcher, Cal Poly had to use an emergency catcher for the inning - he had no chance on Felly's third steal of the game.

With the drunks, the morons and the drunk morons in the Poly rooting section giving the birthday boy, Clark, an earful, he fouled off several off-speed pitches before timing one perfectly and launching it deep to left-centerfield for a two-run homer that gave the Titans a more comfortable four run cushion. As he passed the reviewing stand assembled in the home team bleachers on the third-base side, there was no question who had the last laugh on this evening as Clark made his triumphant home run trot.

With his lead doubled, Nick Ramirez had more margin to play with in the bottom of the ninth inning. He hit a batter and walked one, but did not permit a run in nailing down his fourth save of the season.


So what did we learn last night?

We learned that you need not be perfect to win ballgames. The Mustangs are a good offensive team and they are playing without their star fresman infielder, Matt Jensen. Adam Buschini impresses me as much as any hitter we've faced this year. Both Noe and Nick Ramirez allowed some base-runners, but they were tough as nails and won virtually all the clutch showdowns: the Mustangs stranded twelve runners in the game.

Noe scattered eight hits, walking two, hitting two and striking out five in his 6 2/3 innings of toil. Nick gave up no runs, two hits, walked one and hit one in his 2 1/3 innings. It is a major luxury when you can bring in your closer in the seventh inning to finish out a series-clinching middle game of a pivotal conference series. It also shows confidence that Tyler Pill will deliver a strong outing and pitch deep into today's series finale.
Josh Fellhauer led the "small ball" brigade with three singles and three stolen bases, while Khris Davis (home run, double, two RBI and a stolen base) and Jared Clark (home run, two RBI) led the power squadron. Clark now has 62 RBI for the season.

The Titans have now won seven consecutive games and 13 of the last 14. Today should be an interesting game: the ball carries well during the daytime and the wind seems to always be blowing out strong to leftfield. In the two 6:00 starts, balls that were home runs at 6:30 became long outs at 8:30. With today's 1:00 p.m. start, it could be a survival battle with two very capable offenses teeing it up. Should be fun!
Finally, this is what it looked like yesterday at Goodwin Field as the UC Santa Barbara Gauchos returned to the scene of the crime and swept a double-header from the Dirtbags of Long Beach State, in a series moved because of the fires in Santa Barbara. Photo courtesy of Dr. Dan Barber, Dirtbag blogger extraordinaire:

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