Sunday, May 6, 2012

'Black Jack' Titans Take Down the House

By Don Hudson

Cal State Fullerton Titans      312  301  236  -   21   21   0
University of the Pacific Tigers 200  100  001  -     4     7    4

The Titans’ 5-2 win in the series opener had all the physical play of a football game; the middle game on Saturday had scoring more typically associated with football.  With the Titans’ (29-14, 11-3) 21-4 clobbering of University of the Pacific, the Titans clinched their tenth consecutive weekend series win and moved into sole possession of the Big West Conference lead, a half game ahead of Long Beach State.  (The Dirtbags are playing outside the conference this weekend against Jason Gill’s Loyola Marymount University Lions.)

Our Game 1 recap reported two UOP players left the game with injuries, subsequently determined to be a concussion (first-baseman Erik Lockwood) and broken arm (catcher Jason Taasaas).  Tigers skipper Ed Sprague had no options but to use a patch-work line-up that included a freshman walk-on third-string catcher (Dallas Correa), a first-baseman (Daniel Johnston) playing just his second game at the position and third-baseman (Curtis Gomez) playing the position for just the fourth time.

The Titans kicked a field goal in the top of the first.  After Richy Pedroza led off with a double and Ivory Thomas reached on an error and advanced on a wild pitch, Carlos Lopez delivered a two-run single.  Lopez stole second and scored the third run of the inning on a single by Anthony Hutting, following a walk to Matt Chapman.

Pacific came back with a safety in the bottom of the first on a double and two-run homer by switch-hitter Allen Riley against winning pitcher Kenny Mathews.

The Titans scored in the second on a leadoff single by Anthony Trajano up the middle, a sacrifice by Casey Watkins and an RBI single by Thomas.  They added two more runs to make it 6-2 in the top of the third on a double and stolen base by Michael Lorenzen, a walk to Hutting and a two-run double to right-centerfield by J.D. Davis.

The Titans kicked another field goal in the fourth inning, with most of the damage coming with two outs.  Thomas had walked and nearly stole second about ten times, each time returning to first after Lorenzen fouled off pitches.  Thomas eventually came around to score on a single by Lorenzen and a wild pitch.  Chapman’s single drove in Lorenzen.  A base hit by Hutting drove in Chapman and the rout was on.

The last good thing that happened for Pacific was a solo home run by Daniel Johnston in the bottom of the fourth inning.

I’ll spare you the details of how the remaining runs scored and stick to the highlights.  The Titans replaced six of the nine offensive starters mid-game and played station-to-station baseball, but the runs continued to amass against the inept pitching and defense of UOP.

Casey Watkins was a big contributor, with a single and two opposite-field doubles perfectly placed to rightfield.  His second double was the key to a field goal kicked in the eighth inning.

In the ninth inning, the UOP infield defense fell apart and opened the door for 5 unearned runs.  The big blow was a grand slam by Lopez, his first home run of the season.

Jose Cardona relieved Mathews and threw a scoreless eighth inning before getting touched up for a solo tally in the ninth.  (The run was inconsequential to the game outcome, but a 21-3 final would have been better for my football score theme.)

It was a balanced attack for the Titans, with 21 hits spread out between 11 players.  Lorenzen, Chapman and Watkins led the hit parade with three each, while Lopez, Hutting, Matt Orloff and Austin Diemer had two each.  Lopez drove in six runs while Hutting knocked in three.  Davis and Orloff also chipped in two RBI each.


So what did we learn last night?

It’s nice to have talent and depth on a baseball roster.  You couldn’t blame Coach Sprague for being a tad envious of the depth and talent differential on display last night for Rick Vanderhook’s Titans.

With all their injuries and general dearth of talent, the Tigers had just 11 able-bodied players participate in pre-game fielding practice.  While the Titans used 15 offensive players during the blowout, UOP did not substitute for any of their starting nine.  Every starter for CSUF got a hit – substitutes Orloff and Diemer had two each off the bench.

Yesterday was graduation day on campus at UOP, the oldest chartered school in California.  Pacific is ranked in the Top 100 of American universities, with renowned programs in law, dentistry and pharmacy.  It was chartered in 1851 in Santa Clara under the name California Wesleyan College, and moved to San Jose before settling in Stockton in 1923.  While UOP is more famous for the successful doctors and businessmen it has produced, it is also the alma mater of famous actors and musicians (Dave Brubek, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Robert Culp and Chris Isaak) and sports figures (Scott Boras, Tom Flores, Eddie LeBaron, Pete Carroll and Hue Jackson).

The campus is beautiful and has been used to shoot 15 films (such as All the King’s Men, Porgy and Bess, The Empire Strikes Back and Flubber) because of its resemblance of an East Coast Ivy League setting.  The official tuition rate for the 2011-2012 academic year is $36,290, which stretches to approximately 60 large per year with housing, books and activity fees.

NCAA Division 1 teams are limited to 11.7 scholarships, which doesn’t go very far in filling a 35-player roster.  I understand Pacific doesn’t even use its full allotment, so you can imagine how steeply the field is imbalanced against them when it comes to recruiting baseball players.  Even if a player was fortunate enough to get a half-scholarship, it would still cost him and his family a small fortune to send him to Pacific for 3-4 years.  While it’s tempting to criticize Sprague’s inability to develop a sustained winning program in his nine years at the helm at UOP, it is simply an unrealistic expectation for them to compete with the UC and Cal State universities for baseball recruits.  It makes all the sense in the world for Pacific to return to the West Coast Conference, which it will do for the 2013-2014 season.

Kenny Mathews improved his record to 5-0 with his 7 innings of work.  While it is slightly troubling that he has allowed four home runs in his last two starts – all of them of the ‘no doubt about it’ variety – he retired 19 of the last 20 batters he faced.  He didn’t get rattled by Riley’s first inning bomb and he recovered to pitch well.  He allowed just three hits.

Yesterday was a good day for #19, starting with the stirring come-from-behind Kentucky Derby win by I’ll Have Another.  It was also a good day for the Titans’ #19, Matt Chapman.  At the plate, he had two singles, a double, a walk, two runs scored and an RBI, but his best moments may have been on defense.  In the fifth inning, he made back-to-back web gems: The first was a diving stop to his left and the second was a great backhand of a ball rocketed over the bag and seemingly destined for the leftfield corner.

On Friday night, the Titans had a runner reach base in eight of the nine innings; last night, they scored in eight of the nine innings.  What do you think will happen today?  The way baseball typically works, it should be a 3-2 nail-biter.

There is still work to be done today to complete the sweep and go home with sole possession of the BWC lead.  Once again, the Titans are in the position today of ‘playing for the bus ride home.’  As mismatched as this series might look on paper, baseball is a funny game and a team with nothing to lose sometimes jumps up and bites you in the ass.  Let’s see how it works out today.  I’d be real happy with a 1-0 win that gets us headed home in under two hours.

Go Titans!

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