Saturday, May 5, 2012

Titans Emerge from Collision with Tigers

By Don Hudson

Cal State Fullerton Titans         010  001  030  -   5   11   0
University of the Pacific Tigers 000  020  000  -   2     5    3

For the many Titans fans that pine for the return of football to campus, you would have loved last night’s game.

In a game that included three bone-jarring collisions, the Cal State Fullerton Titans rode the complete game pitching of Dylan Floro (7-3, 2.25) to a 5-2 win over the University of the Pacific Tigers in the series opener at Klein Family Field in Stockton, CA.  Floro allowed just five hits and posted seven strikeouts, to the delight of a throng of friends and family members who came out to support him.  Floro hails from nearby Merced, CA.

Facing hard-luck losing pitcher Michael Benson, the Titans got on the scoreboard first with a solo tally in the second inning.  Anthony Hutting led off with a double to left-centerfield and scored on base hit up the middle by Matt Chapman.  It was a nice piece of hitting by Chapman, who battled back after falling behind in the count.

Floro walked a batter in the second, but he was aided by an inning-ending double-play on a soft liner to second-baseman Richy Pedroza on a hit-and-run play.

The Titans had Benson on the hook in the third when Pedroza led off with a single and went to second when Ivory Thomas placed a groundball through the vacated shortstop hole on a perfectly executed hit-and-run play.  Carlos Lopez lifted a deep flyball that went approximately 400 feet – caught just in front of the 405 foot sign in centerfield.  Pedroza tagged and went to third – had the relay been slow or even slightly misplayed, I think Coach Vanderhook would have kept him wheeling towards home.  But it brought up cleanup hitter Michael Lorenzen with one out and runners at the corners – he hit the first pitch for a 6-4-3 double-play.

The Tigers did not get their first hit against Floro until the fourth inning – a questionable hit at that.  Leadoff man Tyler Sullivan bunted in front of the plate.  Floro’s throw seemed to be easily ahead of the runner, but it was a little wide and pulled Lopez off the bag.  After a strikeout, stolen base and walk put two runners aboard with one out, Lopez came to rescue of Floro with a nice backhand grab of a line-drive and a throw to second to double off the lead runner and end the inning.

Meanwhile, the Titans continued to get runners on – they had a runner on base in each of the first eight innings – but Benson worked out of every situation.  The scoreboard radar had Benson sitting in the 83-85 range with his fastball all night.

Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the fifth inning, the Tigers rallied and took a 2-1 lead.  With one out, UOP’s Curtis Gomez hit a sinking liner to centerfield.  Lorenzen came in quickly and made a great diving effort, but the ball was dislodged when he hit the turf.  (Unlike football, the ground can cause a fumble in baseball.)  Taylor Murphy followed with a double into the leftfield corner that gave the Tigers runners at second and third with one out.

The Titans were alert for a potential suicide or safety squeeze play, but the next batter, Daniel Johnston swung away and produced what was tantamount to a safety squeeze base hit.  He chopped a weak nubber about five feet in front of the plate.  There was a look of momentary confusion by the pitcher, catcher and base-runner.  Catcher Jared Deacon was closest to the ball, so as he went to field it, the runner made his break for the plate and made it ahead of the soft toss to Floro covering the plate.  A sacrifice fly to centerfield pushed the second run across the plate.

That’s when a football game broke out.

Hutting walked to lead off the top of the sixth and was erased on a fielder’s choice groundout by Chapman.  With pinch-hitter J.D. Davis batting, the UOP catcher, Jason Taasaas, made a strong throw to first to attempt to pick off Chapman.  It looked to me that Chapman would have been out easily had he slid back to the bag – but he went back upright, where he collided with first-baseman Erik Lockwood, whose face appeared to strike Chapman’s elbow hard.  The ball rolled to the ground – Chapman was safe and Lockwood was on the ground for several minutes while he was being examined for a possible concussion.  Lockwood, who is hitting .369 and leads UOP in hits and RBI, was forced to leave the game.

After Davis walked, shortstop Anthony Trajano delivered a base hit through the 3-4 hole into rightfield.  Outfielder Allen Riley charged the ball and made a great throw to the plate ahead of Chapman, but Chappy made a great slide and got under the tag to tie the score, 2-2.  The Titans had a chance to go ahead, but pinch-hitter Greg Velazquez hit a hard line drive straight to the third-baseman, who easily doubled Davis off of second.

In the bottom of the sixth, Lockwood’s replacement, Tyger Pederson, rolled a bunt up the first-base line.  Floro grabbed the ball and realized his best play was to tag the runner.  As Pederson attempted to avoid the tag, his legs went airborne and he tumbled to the ground after colliding with Floro, who applied the tag.  It was the type of play that gets Floro an “All Madden Team” nomination.

Floro was aided in that inning when catcher Casey Watkins, who had just entered the game after Deacon was pinch-hit for by Velazquez, threw a seed to second base to retire a runner who tried to advance on a pitch in the dirt that momentarily bounced away.

Tied 2-2 after seven innings, things got crazy.  Hutting led off with a walk and went to second on a sacrifice by Chapman.  Davis lifted a high pop-up to shallow leftfield that shortstop Josh Simms camped under and seemed to have completely under control – until it dropped to the turf a few feet away from him.  Hutting had to stay close to second when the ball appeared to be easily playable, so he had a very late jump going to third and would have been out from here to Lodi if the throw was good.  The throw wasn’t good – Hutting was safe at third and Davis advanced to second on the throwing error.

The Titans looked once again to Trajano for a big hit, but he grounded to second-baseman Taylor Murphy, whose throw to the plate was well ahead of Hutting, who ran on contact.  Hutting played it just like Tom Emansky teaches on his videotapes – slide late and hard.  Catcher Taasaas had the ball waiting to tag Hutting, but the hard, clean slide kicked the ball out of his mitt.  Hutting scored and Taasaas was on the ground writhing in pain as the ball scooted 20 feet behind him, which allowed Davis to also score uncontested.  Trajano made it to second on the play.

Taasaas was removed from the game with an injured wrist or arm, replaced by Dallas Correa, an inexperienced freshman from Hawai’i who had appeared in only two prior games.  Trajano scored to give the Titans an insurance run on two wild pitches that Correa could not corral.

With a 5-2 lead heading to the bottom of the ninth, Floro was sent out to the mound to try to close it out, with Lorenzen waiting in the wings.  But Floro was dealing and needed no help.  He started the inning with a strikeout and ended the game with a strikeout, and had a putout on the second out on a grounder to the right of Lopez.

Despite the injury delays, the game was played in just 2:37 in front of a crowd of 589. The Titans outhit the Tigers, 11-5, led by  Pedroza with three and two each by Thomas and Chapman.


So what did we learn last night?

The Titans find a way to win.  As well as Floro pitched, they still could have lost that game were it not for the base-running of Chapman and Hutting.  The collisions involving Chapman, Floro and Hutting were all clean and unintentional, but nevertheless reflective of a toughness synonymous with ‘Titan baseball.’

Expect a big game tonight from Lorenzen.  He always seems to explode following an off night.  Last night, he went 0-for-5 and stranded 8 of the 11 Titans runners left on base.  In his first three at-bats, Michael swung at the first pitch each time and made four outs, including the double-play in the third inning.  It underscores just how difficult a game baseball is: On Tuesday against USC, he tore up Goodwin Field like Herman Munster trying out for the Dodgers and in his next game, the opponent chose to pitch to him instead of the #3 hitter, Lopez.

This put the #5 hitter, Hutting, in the rare situation of leading off an inning five times.  In those appearances, he produced a double, was hit by a pitch and walked.  His jarring play at the plate ultimately led to the win.

It was a command performance by Floro, who made his first career start at Klein Family Field as a freshman in 2010, a 6-2 Titans win.  When Noe Ramirez broke his wrist in a freak batting practice accident, the freshman who had made 18 relief appearances was dropped into the Friday night role and he stepped up big-time, retiring 17 of the first 18 hitters he faced.  Floro was dominant again last night, facing the minimum number of batters for the first 3-1/3 innings and the final 4-2/3 innings.  The Tigers did not get a runner aboard in the final three innings.  Floro threw 99 pitches and was throwing 90 miles per hour in the ninth inning.  Closer Lorenzen was ready if needed, but Floro ended the game on a surge.

Klein Family Field is a delightful ballpark.  The Titans played there in 2008 when they had not completed construction – the fire marshall would have been apoplectic had he seen the only way to exit in an emergency was single file though just one open aisle.  The field itself was great, but the surroundings were still being developed.  In 2010, the stands and field were great, but you had to walk a ways to the basketball arena for concessions and bathrooms.  Now those facilities are inside the baseball stadium – their loaded baked potatoes stack up with college baseball food anywhere.

I can’t wait to see tonight’s game.  It will be interesting to see how Mathews pitches after a two-week layoff following his tough outing against Cal Poly.  I’ll also be interested in seeing how Pacific responds to a tough loss last night.

Go Titans!


Anonymous said...

Thanks Don....RT

Anonymous said...

Sadly, the catcher injured on Hutting's slide home sustained a broken arm. Wishing him a speedy recovery.