Monday, June 1, 2009

Titans Sweep Regionals


By Don Hudson

The Cal State Fullerton Titans did what they needed to do last night at Goodwin Field, defeating the Utah Utes, 16-3, to clinch their Regional championship. With the win, the Titans advance to Super Regional action against the winner of Monday's Vanderbilt vs. Louisville match-up.

Khris Davis led the 21-hit attack with three hits - including two home runs - and Tyler Pill (11-3) went eight strong innings in recording the victory.

The Utes earned the right to play a rematch with CSUF after defeating the Gonzaga Bulldogs, 9-7, in the afternoon's elimination game. The double-elimination format, with Utah playing their fourth game in three days, left their pitching cupboard bare, so they selected "crafty" lefthander Steven Streich, making his first career start.
The designated visiting team, Fullerton, put Streich on the ropes immediately. Christian Colon led off with a walk and Gary Brown bounced a single through the left side of the infield. Third batter Josh Fellhauer surprised the Utes with a perfect drag bunt past the pitcher to load the bases with nobody out. Jared Clark then smashed a groundball that 3B Nick Kuroczko fielded within a few feet of the bag, stepped on third for the force-out and threw to second base. The second-baseman took the throw for the force-out that made it a run-scoring double-play, but he did not attempt a throw to first for an around-the-horn triple play.
Hope sprung brightly for the Utes when Streich posted a zero in the top of the Fullerton second inning - equalling the number of goose-eggs the Utah pitching staff managed Friday night against the Titans. But Pill was more than equal to the task of maintaining his team's slim 1-0 advantage.
The Titans took advantage of a Utah error in building on their lead in the top of the third. Christian Colon singled and advanced to third base on a throwing error on an attempted force-out following Brown's groundball to the first-baseman. After Brown stole second uncontested, Fellhauer banged a base-hit into right-centerfield scoring both runners. Felly was gunned out at second on a great throw from CF Cooper Blanc, but his hit gave the Titans some breathing room at 3-0. (Click to enlarge this pic: it is a great look at a tag-out.)
After another scoreless frame by Pill, Khris Davis got the Titans going in the fourth inning with a leadoff home run. After Dustin Garneau walked, DH Shevis Shima pushed a perfect bunt for a base hit. After a Joe Scott sacrifice advanced both runners, Joey Siddons rammed a base hit up the middle through a drawn-in infield to make it 6-0. Siddons stole third and scored on Brown's double.
Utah's C.J. Cron hit a two-out solo homer in the bottom of the fourth to make it 8-1, but the Utes never got closer. Fellhauer led off the fifth with his third consecutive single and raced around to score on Jared Clark's double. Streich was replaced by reliever Robert Chimpky, who was unable to get the monkey off the back of the Utah pitching staff. Clark went to third on Davis' infield single and scored on Garneau's sacrifice fly. Davis later scored on a wild pitch. Scott got the rally recharged with a double deep to leftfield and scored on an RBI single by Siddons. Perhaps the best indicator of how well this game was going for Utah was when the count to Colon reached 3-2 with two outs and the first-baseman moved away from the base. Chimpky made a perfect pickoff throw to first - but the only people anywhere near it were Colon and the umpire and neither of them had a glove. Siddons advanced to second on the error and scored the fifth run of the inning when Colon singled to make it 12-1.
From that point on, both coaches substituted liberally. Khris Davis homered again in the eighth inning - his second of the game and fourth in three games.
Pill went eight solid innings in earning the win. After pitching a couple complete games earlier in the season, he had much shorter outings in recent starts against Cal Poly, UCLA, Pepperdine and Long Beach State, so I'm guessing he stayed in despite the lopsided score in order to "stretch him out" for upcoming action. Pill allowed seven hits and two earned runs, while striking out nine and allowing no walks or hit batters.
Colin O'Connell pitched a scoreless ninth inning to close it out.


So what did we learn this weekend?

It is going to take much better teams than faced this weekend to beat the Titans. There was something to like about each of the other teams - Georgia Southern's hitting, Gonzaga's defense and Utah's spunk - but none were complete enough to give the Titans a real challenge.

Congratulations to senior Dustin Garneau for being named the Regional's Most Outstanding Player and to the seven Titans named to the All-regional team:

  • Dustin Garneau (.583 average led team, three RBI, six runs scored, 5-for-5 performance in the winners bracket finale, no stolen bases allowed and enough kick saves to win the Vezina Trophy)

  • Jared Clark (.500 average, three doubles, 4 RBI and more scoops than Baskin-Robbins on a summer day)

  • Joey Siddons (.500 average, seven RBI, three multi-hit games, stellar defense at 3B)

  • Khris Davis (.467 average, four home runs, eight RBI, six runs scored)

  • Gary Brown (.467 average, three doubles, two stolen bases)

  • Tyler Pill (1-0, 2.25 ERA, nine strikeouts, won Regional clincher)

  • Noe Ramirez (1-0, 2.57 ERA, eight strikeouts)
The Titans led the Regional in most significant team and individual statistical categories. Just some of the highlights:
  • Batted .476 as team and scored 41 runs in three games

  • Khris Davis led all players in home runs, RBI and runs scored (tied).

  • Best team ERA: 2.33. (Gonzaga was second at 8.44.)

  • Brown and Clark were co-leaders in doubles with three each, while Scott was a co-leader in triples with two. (While paling, perhaps, to Davis' 1.267, Scott had a 1.000 slugging percentage this weekend.)
Those are all just numbers that won't mean a hill of beans later in the tournament against higher caliber teams. But the one thing the team can always control is attitude, hustle and teamwork. Those things were on display in abundance all weekend. I always enjoy getting the opinion of seasoned baseball observers that don't see the Titans very often and are more objective than me and probably you. My buddy "Tempe Tim" was in town this weekend and the things that stood out to him the most were the hustle and executing the fundamentals. Perhaps the play that stands out the most in his mind was Friday night when the Titans were leading by two touchdowns, yet RF Gary Brown was still diving face-first onto the warning track in pursuit of a foul ball.

Lastly, congratulations to Coach Dave Serrano (shown here intensely scouting his upcoming opponent) for his 200th career victory as a head coach in Division I baseball. I'm sure the personal milestone last night meant far less to him than the team's accomplishment of winning the Regionals.

Good luck to the Titans next weekend in what should be a very competitive Super Regional best-of-three series. We're just two wins away from the enxt step in the journey: "First to Practice, Last to Play."

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