Monday, March 15, 2010

Will Winning Cure All?

By Samuel Chi

After winning the final three games at the San Diego tournament, the Titans are finally at .500 for the first time this season.

But does that mean Fullerton has righted its ship?

The Titans were far from impressive in beating San Diego State, San Diego and Alabama-Birmingham during the winning streak. And a case may be made that the quality of those three teams - none of them looked worthy to be in the NCAA postseason - is questionable at best. Fullerton struggled to put away San Diego despite having numerous opportunities. Against UAB, it wasn't until the seventh inning when the Titans finally put the game away.

Fullerton will get a better idea where it's at this week when it hosts Arizona State in a mini series. The Sun Devils, along with UCLA, are the only two undefeated teams in Division I. To be sure, neither Fullerton nor ASU will be treating those two games like typical midweek affairs, with Johnny Wholestaff on the mount and reserves all over the field.

While we await the ASU series - a split would not be an undesirable outcome, given the current state of affairs - the Titans did show a number of encouraging signs during the four-game tournament, weak opponents or not:

* Pitching, predicted to be the Titans' strength this season, has been solid if not spectacular. Except ace Daniel Renken on Friday, every starter got into at least the seventh inning in each of the four games. Tyler Pill was victimized by a lack of run support but pitched well. Noe Ramirez spun a gem against USD, and Kyle Mertins, in his first career start (in non-exhibitions), made a strong case to be the team's fourth starter.

* After getting shut out by Fresno, the top of the order delivered in the final three games, with Christian Colon and Gary Brown setting the table. The Titans' speed has proved to be destructive and bunts were executed with better efficiency, most notably Matt Orloff's flawless suicide squeeze in the UAB game.

* Defensively, the Titans performed much better in the final two games. There are still issues both in the infield and the outfield, and the audition continues in a couple of spots. But it seems the coaches are leaning toward Orloff at second and Austin Kingsolver in left, with Corey Jones staying at third base.

The Titans are set up to have Pill pitching in one of the two games in the ASU series, which is shaping up to be an important one, as is the upcoming road trip to Washington. Currently at No. 43, Fullerton will need to claw its way back in the RPI if it wants to play in the postseason for the 19th consecutive year.

The Titans' remaining nonconference schedule - with only Hawaii and Santa Clara remaining for weekend series - will be of limited help in terms of boosting their RPI. Therefore beating these two Pac-10 teams, plus a pair against UCLA, will be invaluable. (The Titans will not play USC this season.)

We should find out in the next five games if the three-game winning streak marked the turning point or was merely a mirage. But the bottom line: Winning not-so-impressively sure still beats losing.

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