Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Five Titans Arms Blank Aztecs

By Don Hudson

On a frigid evening at Goodwin Field, the Cal State Fullerton Titans rode the strength of five pitchers tossing a combined three-hit shutout and defeated the San Diego State Aztecs, 3-0. It was a major reversal of style from Sunday’s wild 11-10 affair versus the TCU Horned Frogs.

Dave Birosak started for the Titans and was the winning pitcher on a designated staff day when he set the Aztecs down in order and the Titans plated a run in the bottom of the first on a leadoff single by Michael Lorenzen, a sacrifice by Keegan Dale and an RBI single by J.D. Davis on a short flyball that landed in “no man’s land” in rightfield. (In a designated staff game, the rule is waived that requires a starting pitcher to pitch at least five innings to be eligible for a win.)

Dmitri DeLaFuente followed Birosak and was stellar for three innings, allowing no hits, one walk and striking out four Aztecs. Tyler Peitzmeier (51, right) entered the game in the top of the fifth with the Titans holding a slim 1-0 lead and promptly surrendered a leadoff single, the Aztecs’ first of the game. A sacrifice and a passed ball placed the tying run on third base with just one out, but Peitzy struck out the next two batters on an assortment of pitches.

The Titans added an insurance run in the fifth inning to make it 2-0. Austin Kingsolver led off with a beautiful bunt single, advanced to second on a hit-and-run groundout by Chad Wallach and scored on an RBI single by Lorenzen. The Titans added a third run in the sixth inning on a single by Carlos Lopez, a walk to Austin Diemer and an RBI single by Matt Chapman, his first official hit as a Titan.

After 2-1/3 sharp innings by Peitzmeier, he handed the ball to Willie Kuhl (25, right), who made his memorable debut on Sunday by tagging out two runners at the plate and striking out another in his inning of work, earning him a save against TCU. Kuhl had an excellent outing, retiring the first seven batters he faced. It would have been eight straight and a save, but an error with two outs in the ninth inning extended the game, which was followed by a double that brought the tying run to the plate. Lorenzen was summoned from centerfield and quickly notched his third save, inducing a foul-out to Kingsolver in leftfield.

Lorenzen led the way offensively with three hits and his sixth stolen base of the season. Matt Orloff doubled for his first hit of the season.


So what did we learn last night?

We learned that you’re only kidding yourself if you think you learned something. Do you ‘learn’ from Sunday’s game that your young pitching staff is going to get beat up badly or do you ‘learn’ a couple days later that those same guys are the reincarnation of the 1965 Dodgers (Koufax, Drysdale, Osteen, Podres, Perranoski)? Don’t conclude too much from either game: each is just a data point along the journey.

Another data point: TCU arrived with a team batting average of .205 and went home hitting .276. Conversely, San Diego State was hitting .301 as a team at 6:00 last night and were down to .281 by 8:30. TCU banged out 16 hits on Sunday and scored ten runs (in eight innings) and went home and lost last night to Texas State, 1-0 – they were shut out at home by Texas State Bobcats of the Southland Conference! Does any of this make sense?

I was very encouraged by the back-to-back strong performances of freshmen Tyler Peitzmeier and Willie Kuhl. Last night, they each worked 2-1/3 innings and struck out three apiece, while surrendering the three Aztecs hits. Minus an error with two outs in the ninth inning, SDSU would have had only two hits and Kuhl would have notched back-to-back saves.

I was also very happy to see the quick turnarounds made by Dave Birosak (38, right) and Dmitri DeLaFuente (44, below), who combined for four hitless shutout innings last night, after getting hit hard on Sunday. Kudos to the coaching staff for giving them the opportunity to get right back up on the horse. On a cold, breezy night, the Titans’ pitching staff displayed excellent control, allowing just one walk.

Freshman Clay Williamson made his debut last night, the 27th player used so far this season. The left-hand-hitting outfielder was allowed to swing away in both of his plate appearances that have in the past been automatic bunt situations; e.g., runner on first in a close game and nobody out. I applaud the confidence displayed in the team’s ability to hit and firmly believe there will be dividends down the road as the young hitters benefit from the experience of being allowed to swing the bats. But I’m starting to hear the murmurings you never thought you would hear at Goodwin Field: “I wish we bunted more.” Personally, I like when the team is not so predictable.

The official game time temperature was listed at 56 degrees, but between the wind-chill factor and the cold plastic seats, it reminded me of going to Buffalo Bills games back when I lived in lovely Rochester, NY in the early ‘80s. I was sooooooo happy to see the vendor selling hot chocolate in the stands on Saturday and Tuesday nights – that man is a saint!
The Aztecs remain without head coach Tony Gwynn, who underwent a 14-hour surgery on Valentine’s Day to remove a malignant tumor from inside his right cheek. He had another major cancer surgery 18 months ago, which he has attributed to his addiction to chewing tobacco: Gwynn chewed all twenty years he played and for a decade afterwards. I love baseball and the many traditions and rituals that go with it, but if there was one thing I wish would change, it is the habit of chewing tobacco. I hate seeing high school and college players risking their long-term health with such an addictive substance.

Hope to see you out at the ballpark today – looking forward to Koby Gauna’s first start as a Titan against Jason Gill’s Loyola Marymount Lions.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Titans Take Series Over TCU

By Don Hudson

In a series played this past weekend at Goodwin Field, the unranked (at least by Baseball America) Cal State Fullerton Titans won 2-out-of-3 against the 15th-ranked TCU Horned Frogs. It was the first time in the current five year series between these two programs that the host team successfully defended its home turf. With the series win, the Titans moved up to #20 in the Baseball America ranking, while TCU dropped to #22.

Game 1: Horned Frogs 3, Titans 2

The Titans ran into a buzz saw on Friday night against TCU’s starting pitcher, Andrew Mitchell, who struck out 12 batters in five innings of work, allowing just one run on two hits and three walks. Despite Mitchell’s dominance, the Titans had numerous threats, aided by Mitchell’s three wild pitches, two of which allowed struck-out batters to reach base.

While Mitchell’s pitch count reached 97 in five innings, in which there were six Titans runners left on base, the Titans’ Dylan Floro dominated the TCU line-up, which arrived with a paltry team batting average of .205. Floro was lights out for the first seven innings of shutout work, in which he permitted just two singles.

The Titans took a slim 1-0 lead into the eighth inning, with the game’s only run scored in the bottom of the fifth on a walk to Anthony Trajano, a hit-and-run single by Derek Legg, a walk to Ivory Thomas and an RBI fielder’s choice by Carlos Lopez (on a bang-bang play at first base that went the Titans’ way.)

With the roles in the young Titans’ bullpen still a work in process, Floro surrendered the lead in the top of the eighth inning, with TCU scoring three runs (one unearned) to take a 3-1 lead. The damage came with two outs: the first batter struck out and the next singled but was gunned down by catcher Casey Watkins on an attempted steal. But two singles followed, and when left-handed hitting Jerrick Suitor was announced as a pinch-hitter after Floro had allowed three consecutive hits, the 2,515 coaches in attendance at Goodwin Field assumed there would be a pitching change. But the Titans stayed with their ace and Suitor spoiled the strategy by delivering a two-run triple. The Frogs added an insurance run when a bouncer to shortstop was handled cleanly by Trajano, who couldn’t get the ball out of his glove.

The Titans made it interesting in the ninth inning after Christian Coronado pitched out of a second-and-third-with-one-out jam in the top of the frame. Richy Pedroza led off with a HBP and Trajano reached base when the TCU second-baseman kicked an easy double-play ball.

Derek Legg came to the plate with two runners on and nobody out, trailing by two runs. What do you do? “The book” says you play for the tie at home and have him bunt both runners into scoring position with the dangerous Michael Lorenzen coming to the plate, but after a couple cat-and-mouse games with attempted bunts and hit-and-runs, Legg hit the ball hard on the ground for an easy 4-6-3 double-play. Lorenzen struck out (his fifth of the game) but reached on a wild pitch that scored Pedroza and extended the game. Lorenzen stole second, but was stranded when TCU closer Kaleb Merck retired Ivory Thomas on a flyball to rightfield.

I left the two losses in Gainesville feeling pretty good about the effort and how well the Titans had played – this game, however, was not a “feel good” loss. The offense managed just four hits and struck out fourteen times, leaving nine runners on base, squandering an excellent pitching performance by Floro.

Game 2: Titans 4, Horned Frogs 2

The Saturday night game started off like it was going be some kind of a nutty 11-10 slugfest, but after the first inning, it developed into a very tight pitchers’ duel that the Titans eventually got the better of. The Titans’ good luck anthem singer Rob Kaiser had barely belted out “…..home of the brave!!!!” before TCU’s Derek Odell crushed a long home-run to rightfield to give the visitors a quick 1-0 lead. Freshman hurler Kenny Mathews got out of the inning with the support of a 6-4-3 double-play.

The Titans had a chance for a big inning in the bottom of the first, when pitcher Stefan Crichton displayed early wildness with consecutive walks to Austin Kingsolver, Carlos Lopez and Ivory Thomas. Consecutive bases-loaded RBI singles by Anthony Hutting and Richy Pedroza gave the Titans a 2-1 lead, but Crichton escaped further damage with a strikeout and a fortuitous bounce when an errant pitch rebounded off the backstop right back to the TCU catcher, who easily retired Thomas attempting to score from third base.

For the next six innings, the pitching for both teams was superb, and the 2-1 first-inning lead remained the same until the top of the eighth inning. Bouncing back from his wildness-plagued short outing the previous week against Florida, Mathews displayed the talent that made him a 12th-round selection of the New York Mets in the 211 MLB draft. He pitched five strong innings, allowing just one run, scattering five hits and walking just one while striking out six Frogs.

Koby Gauna relieved Mathews in the sixth inning and continued his impressive work, allowing three hits and an unearned run in his three innings of work. Clinging to the tight 2-1 lead, Gauna gave up a leadoff single to TCU’s Jason Coats. With Coats running on the pitch, the next batter struck out, but the Frogs got a break when Chad Wallach’s throw to second hit the runner and deflected away, allowing Coats to advance to third base.

The next play was kind of funky. With a 2-1 lead in the eighth and the tying runner on third, how do you play your infield? Infield in, to cut the run down at the plate because runs have been so hard to come by? Infield back, to allow the tying run to score but prevent a big inning, especially since you have one more at-bat remaining than your opponent? Halfway? The Titans played the infield back. Zac Jordan squibbed a soft liner towards shortstop – too soft to catch in the air with the infield back, but not soft enough to let the runner be 100% certain it will fall and get a good jump coming home. CSUF shortstop Keegan Dale picked the ball up on the hop, saw that the runner got a late break and threw to the plate, but his off-balance throw was in the dirt and the score was tied, 2-2.

I loved how the Titans did not get down after surrendering an eighth inning run again – they bounced right back with two of their own, with key contributions from several freshmen. J.D. Davis ripped a line single to rightfield to start the inning and was replaced on the bases by the speedy Austin Diemer. After a walk to Pedroza put two runners on with no outs, Matt Orloff made his first appearance of the season as a pinch-hitter, ostensibly to bunt the runners into scoring position. But a wild pitch advanced them without need for a bunt. After Orloff was retired, Coach Vanderhook sent freshman catcher Jesse Jenner to the plate to hit for Dale.

Jenner’s first collegiate at-bat was memorable: he dunked a flare into leftfield for an RBI that was the game’s eventual winning run. (If LF Coats would have caught the ball, it would have been interesting to see if the runner, Diemer, would have tagged and attempted to score on a very shallow ball.) Lorenzen plated an insurance run for the Titans with a fielder’s choice groundout.

There were still a few nervous moments left, as closer Lorenzen loaded the bases with nobody out on two walks and a single. But he struck out the dangerous Odell and induced a game-ending double-play grounder that shortstop Trajano fielded near the bag and fired on to first to end the 4-2 nail-biter.

Koby Gauna (2-0, 2.16) was the winner in relief, with Lorenzen notching his second save of the season. Pedroza had two of the seven Titans hits. The Titans managed eight walks, but left ten runners on base and recorded eight strikeouts.

Game 3: Titans 11, Horned Frogs 10 (8 innings)

Where do we even begin on this one? In the interest of avoiding carpal tunnel syndrome, I’ll try to stick to the high points of this game.

In deference to the travel itinerary of the visiting Horned Frogs, the game began at 11:00 a.m. and the teams established a pre-determined curfew that no inning could start after 2:15 p.m. They never announce those things to the crowd, lest the home fans resort to shenanigans to delay the game if their team is leading as the curfew time approaches. But after the game ended abruptly with an announcement of the curfew agreement, some of the things that happened late in the game began to make more sense. (Could there possibly be a better game than baseball?)

The Titans sent Davis to the hill to start the game in his collegiate pitching debut. He quickly surrendered two runs on a pair of infield singles, a double-steal and a two-run RBI single by TCU’s Zac Jordan, who was gunned down by Watkins on an attempted steal.

The Titans immediately responded with a solo tally in the bottom of the first on a double by Lorenzen, breaking his 0-for-10 series drought, an error and an RBI single by Lopez. The Titans evened the score at 2-2 in the second on a single by Dale and an RBI double by Pedroza.

Trailing 3-2, the Titans exploded – or perhaps we should say the Horned Frogs imploded – for nine runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. Watkins led off with an infield single, and the bases were quickly loaded when back-to-back sacrifices by Dale and Legg were misplayed. Lorenzen gave the Titans a 4-3 lead with a two-run single up the middle, followed by a walk to Pedroza and an RBI single by Lopez which chased starter Trey Teakell from the bump. Nick Frey entered the game for TCU and promptly hot Anthony Hutting with a pitch, driving in Lorenzen, before tossing a wild pitch for another run. Kingsolver reached base when his RBI groundout was booted and came around to score on a two-run triple by Dale on a line-drive which just eluded the dive of TCU centerfielder Kyle Von Tungeln. After Legg was hit by a pitch, Lorenzen knocked his second RBI single of the inning. The Titans’ nine runs were the result of five hits, four errors, two hit batsmen, a walk and myriad wild pitches and passed balls.

The Horned Frogs are a very competitive team and this ongoing match-up has produced some memorable battles, starting with the rubber game of the 2008 season-opening series when the Titans scored the winning run in the top of the ninth when Jeff Newman stole home on the front end of a triple-steal. I admired the way the Frogs immediately put the disastrous defensive debacle behind them like water off a duck’s back, scoring four runs in the top of the fifth on a barrage of hits off Davis and relievers Dave Birosak and Dmitri DeLaFuente. The 11-3 lead had been chopped quickly to 11-7 and you could tell this game was far from over.

The Frogs continued to chip away against DeLaFuente and Christian Coronado, scoring one run in the sixth and two more in the seventh to make it a very nervous 11-10 score. Tyler Peitzmeier, the freshman left-hander from Yutan, Nebraska, made his mound debut in the seventh inning. He gave up a base hit (deflected off him) to allow an inherited runner to score, but then retired the lead runner on an attempted sacrifice and struck out the pesky Von Tungeln to escape with no further harm.

As the TCU bullpen continued to keep the Titans off the scoreboard, the clock was starting to become a factor, albeit unbeknownst to the crowd. In hindsight, you can remember little things that both sides did that might have been directed towards the clock. The Frogs hit early in counts, took fewer warm-up pitches and eschewed throwing the ball around the infield after striking out a Titan. The Titans hit deep in counts. One time, there was a conference at the mound with all the infielders, who chatted, returned to their positions, and then Coach Saarloos came out to make a pitching change.

The eighth inning may have been the strangest of all. After Coats led off with a double, another freshman pitcher, Willie Kuhl, made his Titans debut. As Kuhl warmed up, Lorenzen also began to warm up in the outfield. In hindsight, the eighth inning was, in many respects, being played like the ninth because of the impending curfew. Kuhl was greeted by a solid single to rightfield, with Coats being held up at third base. The next play was a groundball to 3B Pedroza with the “contact” play on. Pedroza’s throw to the plate was way ahead of the runner, who was chased back to third by Watkins. It wasn’t exactly a textbook rundown play, as Kuhl was left as the last line of defense to make the tag at home, but he handled the ball well and made the tag, leaving runners at second and third with just one out.

The Titans intentionally walked the next batter to set up a possible double-play, with TCU’s catcher, Braden Mattson, coming to the plate. With the crowd already hooting Mattson for some of his ongoing antics, Mattson fell behind in the count and chased a ball outside and in the dirt for strike three. The ball went past Watkins to the screen, so the slow-footed Josh Elander barreled towards the plate trying to tie the game. Watkins quickly recovered and made an accurate throw to Kuhl covering the plate, who put his glove down and let the runner tag himself out. Everybody went nuts – the confused Frogs were still running around the bases after the third out had been recorded, forgetting that the batter could not reach base because there was only one out with first base occupied when the play began. What an inning for Kuhl: his first career strikeout; two tag-outs at home plate and his first save as a Titan!

In hindsight, now knowing how much of a factor that time was, the bottom of the eighth inning was great. TCU closer Merck was wasting no pitches, going right after the hitters and pitching as quickly as blue would allow. He quickly dispensed of the first two batters on strikeouts. Then up to the plate came Keegan Dale, who had an incredible day in the field as well as at the plate. When Merck tried to quick pitch him, Dale requested and was granted time. When the irritated Merck tried it again, Dale requested and was granted time again – you could see the steam coming out of the pitcher’s ears. Then Dale delivered a double down the leftfield line and was replaced by pinch-runner Matt Orloff. (A pinch-runner has to make sure he is adequately stretched out, which takes a little bit of time.) When Derek Legg grounded out to end the inning, it was 2:16 and the umpires immediately huddled up and began walking off the field as stadium announcer Chris Albaugh explained the pre-determined curfew agreement. I’m convinced that had Dale not stood his ground, asked for time and then delivered the double, the inning would have been completed before the curfew time and they would have played the ninth inning.

Who knows what would have happened if they had been able to play the ninth inning? The consensus around town seems to be that TCU would have come back and won. Maybe. They were hitting the spit out of the ball and you have to give them credit – they hung tough after the nine-run meltdown and, notwithstanding that frame, outscored the Titans 10-2 on the day. But with Lorenzen ready to come in and throw some good ol’ country hardball, I would have liked our chances to hold on one more inning.

It was great to see the passion displayed by Lorenzen when he demonstrably clapped his hands together when he reached third base on his double+error in the first inning. For such a great player, his uncharacteristically poor performance in the first two games was the monkey he tossed off his back on Sunday, as he went 4-for-5 with three RBI and a stolen base. Lopez had his typical productive day at the plate (3-for-5 with two RBI), but the star of the game (from my viewpoint) was Dale, who had a single, double and triple and made two spectacular defensive plays to thwart TCU rallies. Davis was credited with the victory on a designated staff day, with a save for Kuhl.


So what did we learn this series?

Many early season series answer questions about certain facets of a team – but this riddle-wrapped-up-in-an-enigma showdown with TCU not only left unanswered questions, but raised new ones. (Who will be the reliable set-up relievers so the starting pitcher doesn’t have to stay in to hand the ball to the closer? When will Ivory be back in the line-up? Is everything okay with Grahamm Wiest? Has Keegan Dale played himself ahead of Anthony Trajano and Matt Chapman at shortstop? Does Michael belong in the leadoff spot in the batting order? How can we cut down on the runners left on base – 29 in the three games against TCU?)

It’s baseball. It’s what makes us so happy when it works out and spitting nails when it doesn’t. It’s what makes us wake up in the morning and read the box scores and try to figure out the unfigurable. Friday’s idiot is Saturday’s genius. Isn’t it amazing how smart somebody can become overnight?

It’s baseball. And it’s a very long season. Considering the lack of mound experience and the quality of the competition (e.g., opening series at #1 Florida Gators and home against the always-tough TCU Horned Frogs, a 3-3 record is more than respectable. Even in the losses, the Titans have played competitively and there were numerous positive signs. (I thought they played better in the two losses at UF than in the Sunday win over TCU.)

I like how the young players are getting an early opportunity to play. It figured that the ‘true’ freshmen J.D. Davis, Matt Chapman, Koby Gauna, Jose Cardona and Kenny Matthews would get a lot of playing time, but I’m glad to get an earlier-than-expected look at Jesse Jenner, Austin Diemer, Tyler Peitzmeier and Willie Kuhl. So far, 26 players have appeared in at least one of the six games played against top flight Division 1 competition. The experience this young roster is getting will pay huge dividends down the road.

Just a reminder: arrangements are being made for a bus trip for fans to go see their beloved Titans take on the USC Trojans at Dedeaux Field in Los Angeles next Tuesday, March 6th. The bus will depart at 4:00 p.m. sharp from the parking lot of Brian’s Beer & Billiards, 1944 N. Placentia Avenue, Fullerton CA 92831. Price details will be announced later this week – contact Kellie Newman to make your reservations (

It saddens me to say something you haven’t heard me say in three years: I won’t see you at the USC game next week. A business trip to Cleveland will end my consecutive games streak at 183, dating back to the last regular season or playoff game I missed (home or away), a mid-week game at Texas A&M on Tuesday, March 10, 2009. (I’m still bitter about missing that one, which occurred during a red-hot stretch when the Titans stormed through Mississippi, Texas and Oklahoma. The original schedule was released with the team coming home from Hattiesburg, MS to play Pepperdine at home that Tuesday before flying back out to Stillwater, OK, so I made my travel plans accordingly. By the time they added the A&M game to the schedule, I had already made other business commitments that could not be altered.)

Lastly, you’ve heard the “Fear the Beard” rallying cry that helped propel the San Francisco Giants to their World Series championship in 2010? Get ready for “Beware the Deacon’s Moustache.” As Jared Deacon continues his recuperation from the elbow surgery he had in late December, he has grown a moustache that has not only become the envy of his teammates, but helped the Titans rally to win on Saturday night and has become the source of good luck for the Titans.

  • Photos 1: Teammates check out Jared Deacon's moustache
  • Photo 2: Michael Lorenzen breaks out of his slump in Game 3
  • Photo 3: Keegan Dale's key double in the 8th seals Game 3 win
  • Complete photo gallery

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

TCU Series Preview

No. 15 TCU at Titans (Goodwin Field)
Friday 7 p.m., Saturday 6 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. PT

By FullertonBaseballFan

Cal State Fullerton started off the 2012 season last weekend with a series on the road against the Florida Gators, who started the season ranked #1 in every major poll. Fullerton dropped the first two games of the series 7-3 and 5-2 before rebounding to win the final game 8-5 to avoid being swept and get the first win in the Rick Vanderhook era.

Michael Lorenzen got Fullerton off to a good start on Friday night in the 2nd inning by doubling and scored the first run of the season for the Titans and after Florida scored single runs in the 2nd and 5th innings to go ahead, Fullerton came back to take the lead in the 6th inning on Casey Watkins double, an RBI groundout by Derek Legg and an RBI double by Carlos Lopez. Dylan Floro kept the Titans in the game, allowing three runs in six innings, and left the game with a no-decision before the Gators scored four runs in the bottom of the 7th inning against the Fullerton bullpen to take control of the game.

Fullerton got off to a lead on Saturday for the second straight game when Legg singled and Lopez drove him in with an RBI double in the 1st inning. The Titans increased their lead in the 3rd inning when Lopez walked, Lorenzen doubled and Anthony Hutting drove in Lopez with an RBI groundout. Florida took the lead for good in the 4th inning with four runs off of Fullerton starter Grahamm Wiest and tacked on an additional run in the 8th inning. Austin Maddox came into the game in the 6th inning in relief of SP Karsten Whitson and Maddox was dominant, throwing four shutout innings and retiring the first ten batters he faced before Hutting doubled in the 9th inning and he retired the final two batters for the save.

The final game of the series followed a different script from the first two with Florida taking advantage of the wildness of Fullerton SP Kenny Mathews to score three runs in the 2nd inning. The Titans were held off of the scoreboard for four innings by Gators SP Brian Johnson but got to the Florida bullpen in the 5th inning for four runs on an RBI single by Lorenzen, an RBI double by Ivory Thomas and a two run RBI single by Lopez to take the lead. Fullerton’s onslaught against the Gators bullpen continued in the 6th inning when Richy Pedroza doubled, Thomas was hit by a pitch, Lopez singled in Pedroza and Davis crushed a ball to LF for a 3 run HR to give the Titans an 8-3 lead. Koby Gauna had come into the game in the 3rd inning and was the beneficiary of the Fullerton bats waking up by holding the Gators to one run on six hits in five innings to get the win and Lorenzen finished off the game with a scoreless 9th inning for the save in his first pitching appearance for the Titans. Lorenzen (6-13 in the series), Lopez (5-12, 5 RBI) and Davis each had three hits to lead the fifteen hit attack, Pedroza and Thomas scored twice and Lopez and Davis drove in three runs apiece. Austin Kingsolver had hits in all three games and went 5-9 on the weekend and he and Lorenzen each had diving catches to stop Florida rallies.

Fullerton is looking forward to playing their home opener this weekend against a familiar opponent, the TCU Horned Frogs. The Titans have played TCU the last four seasons and each team has won two series with the road team winning every series. Fullerton won the series at TCU in 2008 and last year and the Horned Frogs won the series at Goodwin Field in 2009 and 2010. TCU started off their season by splitting two games at home against #20 (Baseball America) Ole Miss, losing 7-4 on Friday and winning 5-3 on Sunday with the middle game on Saturday rained out, and losing 7-1 at #25 (Baseball America) Baylor on Tuesday night.

TCU Horned Frogs

  • Overall Record in 2011 – 43-19
  • Conference Record – 20-3 (1st – regular season)
  • Post-Season – 3rd in Fort Worth Regional (Win vs. Oral Roberts, Losses vs. Dallas Baptist and Oral Roberts).
  • RPI/ISR – 20/22
  • Pre-season ranking – 10th by Collegiate Baseball,11th by USA/Today Coaches Poll, 13th by NCBWA, 15th by Baseball America and 18th by Perfect Game
  • Predicted conference finish – 1st by the Mountain West coaches, Baseball America, Perfect Game and Easton College Baseball today

2011 Summary and 2012 Preview

TCU has appeared in regionals in all eight seasons that Jim Schlossnagle has been coaching in Fort Worth and the Horned Frogs have become a national power. They took a major step forward in 2010 by defeating Texas in a Super Regional rematch of their 2009 match-up to advance to Omaha, where they went 3-2 to finish tied for 3rd. TCU was predicted to be a contender for the national title last season with most of their lineup and all of their standout weekend starting pitching returning and they were ranked in the top three in every pre-season poll and ranking. The Horned Frogs were consistent in weekend series with their only series loss coming in the second weekend of the season to Fullerton but they only went 6-6 in midweek games because the depth of their pitching staff was taxed by injuries to each of their starting pitchers during the season. TCU was running on vapors by the end of the season and they ended their year in a disappointing fashion by being eliminated in the MWC Tournament by New Mexico and losing two out of three games in the regional that they hosted in Fort Worth.

Unlike last season, TCU is not nearly as experienced and they will be breaking in a bunch of new players with sixteen freshmen and three JC transfers on the roster and they have recruited well (this recruiting class was ranked #10 by Baseball America) so they will be young but very talented. The Horned Frogs have some good arms returning along with some arms waiting for their chance to make an impact and they have some potential All-Americans behind the plate and in the outfield.

TCU has had one of the better offenses in the country over the last two seasons, ranking in the top thirty nationally in scoring, HR, AVG and SLG. The Horned Frogs are usually a patient team at the plate, working counts and taking pitches and squaring up the pitch they want and driving it and they have some players who are more than capable of doing that. TCU doesn’t mind playing little ball by bunting and moving runners and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them do that to scratch out some runs with a much more inexperienced team than they had last year.

TCU also had a strong pitching staff in 2011 with power arms in the rotation but due to injuries to each of their starting pitchers at one point or another during the season their pitching depth was taxed. The Horned Frogs have a couple of Sophs who stepped up for them last season due to injuries to the pitching staff and a bunch of freshmen looking to take their crack at becoming the next Purke, Winkler or Maxwell.

TCU has gotten off to a bit of a sluggish start and has scored only eight runs in three games and hit .205 with a .273 SLG % and they were held to two hits on Tuesday. The Horned Frogs have had five extra-base hits (no HR’s), no SB’s and three SAC’s. TCU has been showing some patience at the plate with 13 BB’s and 4 HBP’s but has also struck out 24 times.

TCU has had some issues with their pitching to start the season with an ERA of 5.19. They got ok starting pitching on Friday before the bullpen let things get away, got four solid innings from their SP on Sunday before he tired and the bullpen came through with four shutout innings to get the win and the midweek pitchers weren’t sharp in allowing 7 R (6 ER) on 11 H and 7 BB at Baylor.


  • Park Factor according to Boyd’s World – 80 from 2008-2011 (decreases offense by 20%), 75 from 2007-2010 (decreased offense by 25%). TCU's strong pitching staff has helped to cut down the scoring significantly along with cross winds that usually blow in from the plains at night.
  • Batting Average – .306 (1st in the Mountain West, 30th in the NCAA)
  • Runs Per Game – 6.7 (1/30)
  • Home Runs – 50 (1/19)
  • Stolen Bases – 78 (1/75)
  • Slugging Percentage – .464 (1/10)
  • Walks – 217 (3/109)
  • Strikeouts – 396 (4/x)
  • HBP’s – 91 (1/10)
  • Sac Bunts – 51 (1/73)



TCU had a very experienced infield last season but this year it is a different story with the only returning starter behind the plate due to an injury to their other returning starter at 3B.

C – JR #24 Josh Elander (RH – .333/.426/.509, 5-38-9. ‘10 – .356/.438/.510, 2-33-11) started out last season splitting time with SR Jimmie Pharr as they attempted to replace 2010 Johnny Bench Award winner Bryan Holoday. Elander only started three of the first eighteen games behind the plate and didn’t play against Fullerton but took over the position in late March, hit .382 in MWC games, developed into one of the better catchers in the country and was the starter for Team USA last summer. He stepped right into the lineup as a FR, starting most of the time either in RF (33 games) or at DH (17 games) and was 2nd on the team in AVG and OBP while earning FR All-American honors. Elander had issues making contact as a FR and struck out 50 times but cut down on his strikeouts last year with 36 and also showed good patience at the plate and was in the top ten in the MWC in BB and OBP. He has good speed for his size and for a catcher and was tied for second on the team in SB’s. Elander will most likely be hitting in the middle of the lineup after batting either 4th or 5th thirty times last season. He is a pre-season 2nd or 3rd team All American on just about every list and is projected to be drafted in the 2nd – 3rd round. Elander went 3-10 with two walks and hit cleanup in the first three games.

1B – FR #00 Kevin Cron (RH) is stepping into the lineup for SR Joe Weik, who tied for the team lead in HR’s last season. He is huge at 6’5”, 260 lbs and as you can imagine has plenty of power. Cron crushed the Arizona HS record for HR’s with 59 and hit 27 in 2011 and was a third round pick but decided to go to college instead of signing with Seattle. He isn’t a great athlete and doesn’t have much speed so he will probably be limited to 1B and DH during his career at TCU. Cron went 1-3 last Friday but came out of the game with a strained back and hasn’t played in the last two games. FR #8 Michael Resnick (RH) came into the game for Cron, started on Sunday and hit a two run double that broke a 3-3 tie. That was his only hit in six AB’s.

2B – Soph #7 Brett Johnson (LH – .286/.384/.429, 2-12-0 in 63 AB’s) and JC transfer #4 Josh Gonzales (RH) will be battling to see who will take over for two year starter Jerome Pena, who was 1st team All MWC both seasons. Johnson has been converted to 2B and started 19 games in 2011 at 1B and DH so he would be starting to try to put more power in the lineup. He went 1-3 in the Sunday game against Fullerton. Gonzales hit .295 as a FR at Houston Baptist before transferring to San Jacinto, one of the best JC’s in the country, and he hit .350 last season and was an all-conf selection. He is a solid defender and has good speed. Johnson went 0-6 and hit sixth in the first two games and Gonzales went 1-4 and hit second on Tuesday.

SS – There has also been a battle for playing time at the other middle infield position between FR #26 Keaton Jones (RH) from Laguna Beach and FR #2 Derek O’Dell (LH) to find the replacement for three year starter Taylor Featherston, who was 1st team All-MWC the last two seasons. O’Dell is a good athlete who was a 42nd round draft pick and has some pop in his bat but is still a work in progress. Jones was known more for his pitching in HS and has a good arm. He went 2-9 with an RBI double and hit ninth in the first three games.

3B – JR Davy Wright (RH – 2-16 last season and .195 in 41 AB’s in 2010) has only started nine games over the last two seasons but will be pressed into duty for at least the first month of the season due to an injury to JR #35 Janzen Witte (RH – .331/.400/.469, 4-31-7. ’10 – .374/.425/.552, 4-39-2), who was 1st team All MWC and was in the top ten in the conf in R, H, RBI, TB, 2B and BB. Wright went 1-6 with 4 BB and a HBP and hit eighth in the first three games.


As inexperienced as TCU is in the infield, they are much more experience in the outfield with both of their corner OF’s returning along with a part-time starter taking over in CF.

LF – SR #38 Jason Coats (RH – .325/.403/.518, 5-56-8. ’10 – .361/.403/.617, 13-69-8. '09 – .316/.393/.518, 6-32-2) is a dangerous hitter who was 1st team All-MWC the last two seasons after starting as a FR. He was in the top ten in the MWC in R, H, 2B, 3B, HR, RBI and TB. Coats absolutely wore out Fullerton’s pitching staff on his previous visit to Goodwin Field when he went 8-14 with 2 HR and 3 RBI but was only 2-10 against the Titans last season and is 14-35 in his career against Fullerton. Coats poor series against Fullerton was part of his cold start due to adjusting to the new BBCOR bats and pressing while trying to improve his draft status as he went 4-33 to start the season before rebounding to hit .402 in MWC games. He was drafted in the 12th round but decided to return to school and is projected to be drafted around the 5th-6th round in June. Coats is among the national leaders in career H, R, 2B, RBI and TB and figures to end up among the school leaders in those categories as well as in HR’s. He takes a big cut when he gets the chance to but he works counts and had a solid 25/34 BB/K ratio in 2011. Coats went 3-11 with 2 RBI in and hit third in the first three games.

CF – JR #1 Kyle VonTungeln (LH – .267/.363/.384, 0-11-8 in 86 AB’s. ’10 – .236/.364/.324, 0-16-3 in 89 AB's) has been one of the fastest runners on the team the last three years and has been a part-time starter in CF and RF. He hasn’t been able to crack into the lineup on a regular basis until this season due to being inconsistent at the plate and not being able to put everything together. VonTungeln is 3-22 in his career against Fullerton. He went 3-12 with 2 RBI in the first three games and hit second in both games against Ole Miss before leading off at Baylor. VonTungeln is projected to be drafted in the teens in June.

RF – SR #5 Brance Rivera (RH – .324/.411/.512, 7-36-14. ’10 – .342/.404/.481, 6-28-9) didn't play much as a FR (32 AB’s) and cracked into the lineup in the middle of 2010 and got scorching hot and hit .471 with a .736 SLG %, 6 HR and 21 RBI in MWC games to be named 1st team All MWC. He followed that up last season by finishing in the top ten in the MWC in R, H, 2B, TB, SLG and TB and was a 2nd team All-MWC selection. Rivera is a very good bunter and was 2nd in the MWC and led the team with 12 SAC's. He is the leadoff hitter and has good speed, leading the team in SB’s last season. Rivera has trouble making contact and led the team with 58 K’s in 2011. He is 5-13 in his career against Fullerton. Rivera went 2-6 with 2 BB in the first two games and sat out Tuesday’s game with a sore hip.

DH – SR # 23 Zac Jordan (RH – .303/.333/.508, 4-24-4 and .273 in 44 AB's in 2010) started a few games in the OF last season but was usually the DH when he was in the lineup. He doesn’t usually see too many pitches because he goes up there hacking and only walked six times last season. Jordan got off to a good start before slumping and only hitting .196 in MWC games. He went 0-10 in the first three games and played RF on Tuesday. Jordan hit fifth in both games against Ole Miss and batted sixth at Baylor.


Fielding % - .965 (1/130) – 78 errors. TCU will be breaking in a new infield although they had issues with defense last year with the infield combining to make 50 errors. Good range and decent arms at all three OF spots with Coats, VonTungeln and Rivera. The Horned Frogs have played pretty solid defense with only one error in three games.

Stolen Base Attempts – 32-49. Teams did most of their running on Pharr (19-22) earlier in the season and Elander was better against runners (13-19). Runners are 2-2 against Elander in three games.

WP’s/PB’s Allowed – 61. TCU was below average at blocking pitches and finished next to last in the MWC. Elander has allowed five WP/PB in three games.


  • ERA – 3.20 (1/26)
  • BA – .240 (1/xx)
  • HR – 28 (4/xx)
  • H’s/9 IP – 8.0 (1/20)
  • BB’s/9 IP – 2.7 (1/21)
  • K’s/9 IP – 7.7 (1/46)


Unlike last season when TCU returned their entire weekend rotation, the Horned Frogs will be breaking in a new weekend rotation with their midweek SP and their best reliever moving into weekend SP roles.

FRI – Soph #34 Andrew Mitchell (RHP – 6-1, 2.84 ERA, 22 apps, 2 saves, 10 GS, 76 IP, 52 H, 31 BB, 73 K, .197 BA, 5 HR, 5 HBP, 6 WP, 5-5 SB) usually was the midweek SP, despite injuries to the other SP’s later in the season, because of the strong midweek schedule that TCU faced and only started twice in MWC games. He got off to a great start and allowed only one run in his first 23 IP and ended the year in strong fashion by starting the first game of the regional and shutting out Oral Roberts for seven innings, allowing only two hits and one walk. Mitchell was a FR All-American and was a standout reliever for Team USA during the summer. He has a mid 90’s fastball and a power breaking ball and is working on a changeup. Mitchell was called into emergency duty last year against Fullerton and held the Titans scoreless for five innings and allowed only one hit with three walks. He wasn’t sharp in his start against Ole Miss and allowed 4 R (3 ER) on 6 H (one HR) in 6 IP but he also didn’t walk any batters.

SAT – Soph RHP #28 Stefan Crichton (RHP – 6-3, 1.98 ERA, 26 apps, 5 saves, 2 GS, 50 IP, 38 H, 10 BB, 42 K, .208 BA, 1 HR, 0 HBP, 3 WP, 3-4 SB) hit the ground running and became the most reliable option out of the bullpen and ended up being the closer, beating out other more experienced RP’s for that role and ended up being 2nd team All-MWC and a FR All-American. He was a workhorse and was able to throw several innings without losing any effectiveness. Crichton has an average fastball that sits in the upper 80’s and his best pitch is a very effective sinker that allowed him to only give up one HR in 2011. He was effective in the first four innings of his start against Ole Miss before tiring in the 5th inning when he allowed 3 runs.

SUN – TBA. FR #29 Brandon Finnegan (LHP) was scheduled to be the third SP of the Ole Miss series but his start was pushed back due to the rainout in the series. He pitched in relief on Sunday and allowed hits both of the batters he faced and allowed 2 R (1 ER) on 3 H and 2 BB in 2 IP at Baylor on Tuesday. Finnegan has a pretty live arm with a low 90’s fastball, a cutter and a changeup. He was projected to be drafted in the teens last June but due to his commitment to TCU he wasn't drafted until the 45th round.

If Finnegan isn’t the SP on Sunday then it would most likely be either FR #40 Trey Teakell (RHP) or FR #18 Preston Morrison (RHP). Teakell has a fastball that sits around 90 with good control and a solid changeup, breaking ball and sinker. He threw one scoreless inning against Ole Miss and allowed 1 R on 3 H in 3 IP at Baylor. Morrison is a sidearmer whose fastball sits in the mid 80’s and he was very effective against Ole Miss when he retired all ten batters he faced with 2 K’s on Sunday.


TCU had a very deep and experienced bullpen in 2010 when they made their run to Omaha but most of those relievers moved on and their expected closer sat out for the season with an elbow injury so their bullpen was thin and that weakness was exposed as injuries occurred with their SP’s and some of their RP’s had to take on SP roles. The Horned Frogs will not have any relievers returning from last season that appeared in more than ten games or threw more than 30 innings so the newcomers will have to step up right away.

JR #6 Kaleb Merck (RHP – Redshirt in 2011. ’10 – 2-1, 1.47 ERA, 22 apps, 3 saves, 31 IP, 21 H, 6 BB, 23 K, .210 BA, 3 HR, 1 HBP, 2 WP, 1-1 SB) was going to be the closer last season after sharing closer duties in 2010 but had TJ surgery in the fall and was a medical redshirt. He was topping out in the mid 90’s in 2010 before the surgery and has been throwing in the low 90’s and his breaking ball hasn’t been as sharp as it was before the injury. He picked up the save in the Sunday game against Ole Miss when he threw a scoreless inning.

Whoever isn’t starting among Finnegan, Teakell and Morrison will be available in middle relief. The only pitcher in the bullpen with much experience is Soph #25 Nick Frey (RHP – 1-0, 3.45 ERA, 10 apps, 4 GS, 29 IP, 32 H, 4 BB, 18 K, .288 BA, 2 HR, 9 HBP, 1 WP, 0-2 SB). He allowed 3 R on 4 H in 2 IP against Ole Miss.

Others who might figure into the bullpen mix are Soph #15 Tyler Duffie (RHP – 8 2/3 IP with 11 BB in 7 apps in 2011), FR RHP’s #31 Jerrick Suiter (35th round draft pick last June) and #43 Chris Murphy and JC transfers #20 Justin Scharf and #32 Kevin Allen. Duffie and Suiter have low 90’s fastballs and Scharf is a sidearmer. Against Baylor on Tuesday, Suiter walked two batters in 2/3 IP, Murphy allowed 4 R in 1/3 IP, Scharf threw 1 1/3 scoreless innings and Allen allowed a hit and 2 BB in 2/3 IP. The only LHP on the roster besides Finnegan is FR #11 Travis Evans.


Fullerton played pretty well last weekend despite losing the series at Florida. The Titans battled the Gators in all three games and were rewarded for their efforts with a win in the final game of the series. Fullerton had solid fielding and didn’t commit an error but the pitchers had issues holding down one of the best offenses in the country and had an ERA of just over six in the series.

The series last year at TCU featured some standout pitching with low scoring games that were 4-1, 8-4 (3-3 after eight innings) and 2-1. Both teams figure to have solid offenses although TCU hasn’t hit much in three games but they will turn it around with the power that they have in their lineup and Fullerton is hoping that it doesn’t happen this weekend like it has in the Horned Frogs two previous visits to Fullerton when they scored 43 runs in six games.

This figures to a close series with two evenly matched teams that going into the season have similar strengths (offensive potential) and weaknesses (lack of experienced pitching depth) and figure to be hungry after starting out 1-2. If TCU turns it around offensively and gets better pitching than they have thus far the Horned Frogs have a decent chance to win this series. If Fullerton puts together rallies like they did at Florida and gets more consistent pitching than they did in Gainesville the Titans should win this series.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Titans Salvage Finale in Swamp - Part 2

By Don Hudson

Game 3: Titans 8, Gators 5

(Editor's note: see Part 1 of this story, which discusses Games 1 and 2 of the series.)

So where were we? The Titans had played two very competitive games against the top-ranked Florida Gators in Gainesville, losing twice but showing some very positive signs.

In the Sunday finale, the Titans faced junior left-hander Brian Johnson, tabbed as a potential first-round draft choice, making his first appearance on the mound in an official game since being knocked unconscious by an errant throw from catcher Mike Zunino during the SEC Tournament last year. Facing their first lefty of the season, the Titans showed their considerable depth and adjusted the starting line-up to include just one left-handed hitter, Carlos Lopez.

The Titans did not notch either a hit or run in the first two innings, but did work counts and got Johnson’s pitch count up to 38, including a walk, a balk and a HBP. The high early pitch count later became a factor in the game, as he was working on a short pitch count in his mound return. Johnson was stellar, allowing no runs, two hits, a walk and five strikeouts in his four innings on the mound.

Freshman left-hander Kenny Matthews, a 12th-round draft selection of the New York Mets last spring, made his mound debut for the Titans. After an uneventful first inning, Matthews retired the first batter in the second before putting himself in a hole with a streak of wildness. He hit two consecutive batters before getting the second out on a strikeout. However, facing a daunting Gators line-up in his collegiate debut, Matthews couldn’t close the door without damage. He walked Casey Turgeon to load the bases and then plunked leadoff man Nolan Fontana off the helmet with a pitch to drive in the game’s first run. Leading 1-0 without a hit, Daniel Pigott’s followed with a two-run single and it looked like the rout was on.

While the actual clouds had been replaced by bright sunshine, the metaphoric thunderheads continued to gather in the bottom of the third inning. UF catcher Mike Zunino singled leading off, bringing Koby Gauna in from the bullpen to replace Matthews. As you’ll recall from Part 1, freshman Gauna had made his Titans debut on Friday and had been roughed up. When he was greeted by a double to leftfield by Austin Maddox, the Gators fans throughout McKethan Stadium could smell the blood in the swamp. But Gauna gave the Titans a huge momentum shift when he worked out of the mess with no runs allowed, with a foul-out to catcher Casey Watkins (on a ball out of play blown back by strong winds), a strikeout and an infield pop-out.

The Gators 3-0 lead held up through the fourth inning, with Johnson and Gauna exchanging goose-eggs. Gauna was aided by a crisp 4-6-3 double-play to end the inning, the Titans’ first of the young season.

With Johnson reaching his pitch count limit early, Gators’ skipper Kevin O’Sullivan sent Jonathan Crawford out to the mound to start the fifth inning. That didn’t work out so well – he faced seven batters and surrendered five hits and a walk. Greg Velazquez walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch. With a three-run lead in the middle innings, the Gators’ infield defense played back, which Richy Pedroza took advantage of by squirting a bunt single just out of Crawford’s reach. One out later, Michael Lorenzen made it 3-1 with an RBI single deep into the shortstop hole. Ivory Thomas followed with a line-shot RBI double off the left-field wall to make it 3-2. Carlos Lopez then bounced a hard chopper over the third-baseman’s head into leftfield that gave the Titans a 4-3 lead. J.D. Davis followed with a chopped single almost identical to Lopez’s. Two pitchers and a Watkins HBP later, the Titans left the bases loaded and the Gators’ fans seemed relieved that the damage had been controlled.

After coming back every previous time the Titans had taken a lead during the series, it seemed like a Gators comeback would be swift when smasher Preston Tucker led off the bottom of the fifth with a double, and the Titans bullpen began stirring. But Gauna was up to the challenge, striking out the dangerous clean-up hitter Zunino before the next two batters flied out to Lorenzen.
Gators closer Greg Larson, who had entered the game to work out of the fifth-inning jam, gave up a leadoff double to Pedroza, who advanced to third on a sacrifice by Derek Legg. O’Sullivan brought his infield in with Lorenzen coming up – it worked for him, as Pedroza was unable to advance on a groundout to the second-baseman. With Lopez coming up after Ivory Thomas was hit by a pitch, the Gators brought in southpaw Steve Rodriguez, who had stifled the Titans’ bats in the series opener. This time, Lopez came through with the Titans first two-out RBI hit of the season, giving the Titans a still-slim 5-3 lead.

Rodriguez was left in the game to face the right-handed J.D. Davis, who delivered a prodigious three-run homer that completely left the yard, clearing the bleachers beyond the leftfield wall. Rodriguez apparently took exception to some of the post-bomb celebration and he threw the next pitch behind Austin Kingsolver, resulting in immediate ejection from the game.

The Gators have a great line-up and play in a typical bandbox stadium you see down south, and with the wind blowing out, an 8-3 lead seemed anything but comfortable with four more innings for the home team to bat. Gauna continued to scatter hits, but held onto the five-run lead until the bottom of the seventh inning. The Titans also put runners aboard, but did not score against the final three of the eight Gators pitchers they faced.

Seemingly on fumes, Gauna came out to pitch the seventh inning. Pigott roped a line-drive headed towards the leftfield corner before it was intercepted on an amazing body-parallel-to-the-ground diving catch by Austin Kingsolver. (If you saw it, you probably flashed back to that catch Carl Yastrzemski made at Yankee Stadium in the bottom of the ninth inning on April 14, 1967 to rob Tommy Tresh of an extra-base hit and to keep Billy Rohr’s no-hitter bid alive in his major league debut.) It was not only spectacular, but also very meaningful, as Tucker followed with another of his laser rising-line-drive home-runs. With two outs and a runner on base, Gauna was given further support by another incredible diving catch, as Michael Lorenzen robbed a would-be double that would have brought the tying run to the on-deck circle.

Christian Coronado took over for Gauna to begin the eighth inning and surrendered one run on two singles, sandwiched around a passed ball, making the score 8-5. When the Titans stranded Watkins, who had singled and advanced on a sacrifice by Keegan Dale, in the top of the ninth, anticipation mounted as Lorenzen warmed up to make his debut as closer, facing the brutal 3-4-5 meat of the Gators’ line-up.

Lorenzen came in throwing gas – his first pitch speed was shown on the scoreboard at 97 mph. But in a classic power-versus-power match-up, Preston Tucker prevailed with a line-drive base hit to start the inning. Lorenzen threw some filthy pitches: the 96-97 mph fastballs were one thing, but the 92 mph bender impressed me the most. Zunino got sawed off and lifted a feeble pop-up towards second-baseman Legg. I’m not exactly sure what Tucker was thinking – if anything – but he wandered too far off first and was doubled off when Lopez darted behind him and took the throw from Legg. (He may have been hedging that Legg would let it bounce and he got caught with his hand in the coconut.)

It was a day of significant firsts: first win for Koby Gauna, first save for Michael Lorenzen, first home-run for J.D. Davis and the first win as a head coach for Rick Vanderhook. The Titans knocked out fifteen hits, led by Lorenzen, Lopez and Davis with three each and Pedroza with two.


So what did we learn this series?

This team with its inexperienced pitching staff held its own in all three games in a hostile SEC stadium environment and, with a better bounce here, a two-out hit there and better damage control in the opponents’ big inning (e.g., allowing perhaps just two runs instead of four), this series could have easily gone the Titans’ way.

Dylan Floro and Grahamm Wiest held their own against two of the nation’s elite starting pitchers, but the depth and experience of the Gators’ bullpen was a huge advantage for them in the first two games. While all three ‘true’ freshmen that threw this weekend for CSUF took some lumps in their debuts, the experience is incredible and will pay huge dividends down the road. If your first game out of high school was on the road in the hostile environment of an SEC ballpark, in front of an opening game record crowd in a regionally televised game against the #1 team in the country, you might have some shaky moments too.

I was very impressed with the confidence displayed by the coaching staff in Koby Gauna, who bounced back from his inauspicious debut on Friday with five innings of relief in winning the series finale on Sunday, allowing just one run while scattering six hits.

We also learned not to expect many called strikes on the road in an SEC ballpark against the local team’s superstars. The Gators have incredible hitters, led by Preston Tucker and Mike Zunino. But they seem to get an extra strike every at-bat, reminding me of the time a rookie catcher complained to the plate umpire about why he had ruled a pitch a ball with Ted Williams at the plate. The umpire told the catcher, “If it was a strike, Mr. Williams would have swung.”

There were some notable individual performances. Austin Kingsolver hit the spit out of the ball, going 5-for-9 (.556), along with Michael Lorenzen (.462) and Carlos Lopez (.412 with 5 RBI). Lorenzen’s debut as a closer was impressive, as was the Friday performance by “situational left-hander” Dave Birosak. The side-arming transfer Birosak will be tough on left-handed hitters, but it should be noted that the first batter he faced was the talented freshman switch-hitter Taylor Gushue, so he actually retired a right-handed batter with two men on base.

With a young team, sometimes progress is measured by improvement, not just wins. The pitching and defense both improved from Friday to Saturday to Sunday. There were zero Titans errors in the series, which is encouraging but a little misleading given the propensity of the official scorer to inflate statistics with generous rulings of hits instead of errors. There were a couple critical misplays on Friday that contributed to the defeat. The defense was decent on Saturday, except for the miscommunication between the outfielders. But on Sunday, the defense was amazing. Not only were all the routine plays executed flawlessly, the seventh inning catches by Kingsolver and Lorenzen may have been the best pair of catches I’ve ever seen in the same inning in the past seventy years. Watkins and Wallach both played well behind the dish in the series.

But what I liked the most in this series was how the Titans passed a major gut check. After losing the first two games and trailing 3-0 in the finale with two runners in scoring position and nobody out, they got up off the matt and fought their way back.

There were two instances Sunday that symbolized the Titans’ refusal to back down from anybody, even the big, bad bully in his home sandbox. First was when the pitcher intentionally threw behind Kingsolver’s back and was banished from the game. While emotions stirred throughout the stadium, Kingsolver calmly waited while the replacement moundsman took his unlimited warm-up pitches and then lined a seed up the middle for a base-hit.

But my favorite moment was one of those classic games-within-a-game that make baseball so rich yet don’t show up in the boxscore. It happened in the sixth inning when the Titans were clinging to the 4-3 lead, with Pedroza on third when Ivory Thomas was hit by the pitch. As reliever Rodriguez was warming up, Ivory was in the base-path intently studying the pitcher’s motion from the actual location where he would be running. The UF infielders brought out a practice ball to stay loose, with the first-baseman tossing grounders like they do between innings. Except Ivory was directly in their way, which prompted shortstop Fontana and first-baseman Ramjit to start yelling at him to “Get out of the way!” Rodriguez even looked over a couple times as the volume increased – the Gators infielders even threw balls directly towards Ivory, but he never said a word to them and focused on studying the pitcher’s motion. Lopez followed with his RBI single and Davis jacked the next ball back to somewhere near Tallahassee – the way Ivory Thomas stood his ground reflected the way the team closed out the weekend.

If this is a sign of things to come, this ought to be a very fun season. See you Friday.

Go Titans!

  • Photo 1: Michael Lorenzen closes out Game 3 victory
  • Photo 2: J.D. Davis is mobbed by teammates after a mammoth home run
  • Photo 3: Koby Gauna bounces back to pitch a strong series finale
  • Complete photo gallery

Titans Salvage Finale in Swamp - Part 1

By Don Hudson

The Cal State Fullerton Titans opened the 2012 season with the most formidable challenge possible: they traveled across country to play the top-ranked team in the country, the University of Florida Gators, compared recently to the 1927 Yankees and the 1995 Titans by CSUF coach Rick Vanderhook. The Gators have made deep runs in Omaha the past two seasons under Coach Kevin O’Sullivan, and they brought back all but two of their key position players, as well as their entire weekend pitching rotation, closer and set-up men. They also displayed some fantastic freshman talent.

Despite being an overwhelming underdog, the Titans played competitively in all three games, dropping the first two, 7-3 and 5-2, before making a scintillating comeback and winning the finale, 8-5. Despite their loss on Sunday, the Gators retained their #1 ranking in the polls released Monday, which shows me some respect for the Titans despite CSUF dropping out of Baseball America’s Top 25 rankings. Second-ranked Stanford swept tenth-ranked Vanderbilt and could have easily been justified to move up to the top of the polls.

It was a series in which the winning in each game put up a four-spot in an inning – for good measure, the Titans did it back-to-back innings on Sunday. In the Friday and Saturday losses, the Titans played the Gators even up except for a single big inning in each game.

Game 1: Gators 7, Titans

Matched against Gators ace Hudson Randall, Dylan Floro pitched exceptionally well and tamed a potent line-up for six innings, allowing just two solo home runs and another run on a misjudged flyball. The game was televised regionally and played before a crowd of 5,356, an all-time Gators record for opening day attendance, presumably there to see Vanderhook’s debut as a head coach. (Perhaps not – the stadium announcer called him “Rick Vanderbook.”)

The Titans drew first blood in the second inning on a double by Michael Lorenzen, a sacrifice by Anthony Hutting and an RBI groundout by Anthony Trajano, who reached base when freshman second-baseman Casey Turgeon’s throw to first ended up somewhere near the on-deck circle. The Gators tied it in the bottom of the inning when freshman Taylor Gushue hit the first pitch thrown to him in his collegiate career for an opposite-field home run. Gushue is a player to watch – two months ago, he was playing high school football and was expected to be a high selection in the MLB draft this spring. He graduated early and arrived on campus in January and earned a position as UF’s designated hitter on opening night.

Both starting pitchers dominated the next few innings until the Gators took a slim 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fifth on a single, stolen base and a two-out double on a high flyball down the leftfield line that Austin Kingsolver ran hard towards the foul line to get under after shading the left-handed hitter slightly into the gap. He overran the ball, which dropped harmlessly into fair territory. The Titans outfielders seemed to have difficulty with the lights, which were installed at McKethan Stadium in 1977 with a generous donation by Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner.

The Titans bounced right back, however, with two runs in the top of the sixth inning. Casey Watkins led off with a ground-rule double to rightfield and went to third on a single by Richy Pedroza. Derek Legg hit a slow bouncer to the right side to drive in the tying run, with Pedroza advancing to second. Carlos Lopez doubled to rightfield to give the Titans a short-lived 3-2 lead, chasing Hudson from the game (Randall – not me.) Lefty Steve Rodriguez replaced him and was dominant during his 2-1/3 innings of work.

Floro allowed a home run to Gators masher Preston Tucker to tie the game in the bottom of the sixth inning – a line drive that just kept rising and just made it over the glove of a leaping Ivory Thomas. With his pitch count (approximately 86) near where they wanted him for his first start of the season, the Titans opted to go to the bullpen to begin the seventh inning to avoid having an inexperienced reliever potentially enter a game in the middle of a jam. Freshman Jose Cardona struck out the first hitter he faced, but then the wheels came off the wagon. Josh Tobias reached base when Pedroza threw low and in the dirt on a hard-hit groundball, which was ruled an infield hit. (Don’t get me wrong – these Gators have a great hitting team – but the hometown official scorer does his part by ruling rather generously to the betterment of the local lads’ statistics.)

Two walks by Cardona ensued, which brought freshman Koby Gauna into the game in that situation we were hoping to avoid: bases loaded and just one out and a precarious one-run lead, which quickly vanished when Gauna plunked Daniel Piggot with a pitch to tie the score, 3-3. The next play was perhaps the changing point in the game. When Tucker lifted a flyball to shallow right-centerfield, Legg, Lorenzen and Thomas all converged on the ball. With Lorenzen’s rifle arm and its growing legacy, we want the ball in his hands, right? If Lorenzen catches it, there’s a good chance the runner bluffs down the line or gets thrown out at the plate to end the inning. But at the last second, Thomas called him off and Turgeon easily scored the go-ahead run. Gauna gave up two more runs on solid RBI singles before giving way to Dave Birosak (younger brother of former Titan Dustin Birosak), who shut the door by retiring all four Gators he faced.

With the lockdown pitching of Rodriguez and closer Greg Larson, the Titans bats were quieted in the final three innings. The Titans had seven hits, led by Lorenzen and Kingsolver with two each.

Game 2: Gators 5, Titans 2

“Second verse, same as the first.” (Sorry – I’m still tormented by childhood memories of my little brother Davey standing on a tree stump in an empty field near our house, singing Herman’s Hermits’ “I’m Henry the VIII” for about six hours a day, every day, for six straight months. We moved a lot when I was a kid, but somehow Davey always found us.) Just as happened in the season opener, the Titans’ starting pitcher, Grahamm Wiest, performed very well in a match-up against an opposing star. (Sophomore Karson Whitson was the ninth overall selection of the 2010 MLB draft, but couldn’t reach contract terms with the San Diego Padres and ended up at UF, where he was 8-1, 2.40 ERA as a freshman during the Gators’ 2011 season when they finished runner-up to national champions South Carolina.) Also, the game was played evenly throughout, except for a big four-run inning that decided the outcome.

The Titans had Whitson on the ropes early, but as is often the case with elite pitchers, they let him off the hook and he settled into a groove. The Titans scored once in the first on a single by Legg and an RBI double by Lopez. After Wiest had a quick 1-2-3 inning, the Titans threatened again in the second when they loaded the bases with one out on a walk to Chad Wallach, a double by Kingsolver and a Trajano HBP. Pedroza ripped the ball hard, but right to the second-baseman for an inning-ending 4-6-3 double-play. A few feet away in either direction, this could have been a completely different ballgame.

The Titans extended their lead to 2-0 in the third inning on a walk to Lopez, a double by Lorenzen and an RBI groundout by Anthony Hutting. Meanwhile, Wiest allowed no hits through three innings, aided by catcher Wallach, who picked a runner off first base and threw out a would-be base-stealer at second base. Whitson continued to allow base-runners, but used his sinker (again) to induce a double-play to end the fourth inning.

The powerful Gators’ bats came alive in the fourth inning and they posted a four-spot to take command of the game. With one out, Pigott got the first UF hit of the game and scored on consecutive singles by Tucker and Mike Zunino. That darned freshman Gushue delivered a huge hit again, a triple to rightfield that gave the Gators a 3-2 lead and re-energized the crowd of 4,951. Gushue scored on a sacrifice fly – the ball was hit medium-deep to left-centerfield and Lorenzen was cranked up to attempt to gun the speedy runner out at the plate. But again, the corner outfielder converged and made the catch at the last instance, colliding with Lorenzen and allowing the run to score uncontested. In all likelihood, the runner would have made it anyways, but Lorenzen was demonstrably upset with the miscommunication.

From that point on, the story of the game was Gators reliever Austin Maddox, who threw the final four innings, allowing just one hit and no walks or runs. Having Maddox coming out of the bullpen in the sixth inning shows the sick talent on this team – he is a two-way stud with power at the plate and a fastball in the mid-90’s. He was 3-0, 0.67 ERA and 5 saves last year – and that was before he learned how to throw a filthy four-seamer!

Dimitri DeLaFuente and Christian Coronado pitched effectively in relief, allowing just one run in three combined innings. Kingsolver led the way with his second consecutive two-hit game, all of them hit hard.

Game 3: Titans 8, Gators 5

Okay, folks, we’re going to have to stop here – I have to work sometime! But I promise you, the story only gets better from here. See you soon ...

Continued in Part 2 ...

  • Photo 1: Koby Gauna bounces back to pitch a brilliant Game 3
  • Photo 2: Michael Lorenzen slides into second base
  • Photo 3: Austin Kingsolver, Ivory Thomas and Anthony Hutting celebrate victory
  • Complete photo gallery