Sunday, March 31, 2013

Titan Tidal Wave Wipes Out Pacific

Pacific at Titans: Won 9-2 (Thursday), 11-6 (Friday), 25-0 (Saturday)

By Don Hudson

The Cal State Fullerton Titans accomplished what no other team had done so far this season (go figure): they swept the University of the Pacific Tigers in a three-game series that began Big West Conference play.  The Titans outscored the Tigers, 45-8, but the games really weren’t as close as that sounds.

With the wins, the Titans reached the mid-point of their season with a record of 24-4, their best start since the 1996 team won 31 of its first 33 games.  The Titans are tied for first in the early BWC standings with Cal Poly SLO (who swept UC Davis) and UC Riverside (swept UC Irvine).

Game 1: Titans 9, University of the Pacific Tigers 2

Freshman Thomas Eshelman was matched with Pacific’s Michael Benson, who entered action with a record of 2-1 and ERA of 2.17.  Benson was a hard-luck loser in the series opener last year in scenic Stockton, as he allowed just two earned runs in 7-2/3 innings against the Titans.  The Tigers held their own the first half of the game and held a slim 1-0 lead going to the bottom of the fifth inning before the Titans scored a touchdown and took a commanding 7-1 lead.

Thomas Eshelman
Benson is a talented young (sophomore) pitcher and was a good benchmark for Eshelman’s development.  Benson went through the Titans order the first time giving up just one hit, began to get hit more the second time and then got knocked out of the game the third time through the line-up.  Eshelman, on the other hand, was consistent throughout his eight-inning stint, allowing just four hits while equaling his career best with eight strikeouts.  He walked none, but you already knew that.

The Tigers scored the game’s first run in the top of the third on a leadoff triple by Tyger Pederson and a foul-ball sacrifice fly to second-base.  With the injury to third-baseman Matt Chapman, the Titans inserted Jake Jefferies into the line-up at second-base and moved utility-man Keegan Dale to third, with J.D. Davis resuming his normal role as designated hitter.  Jefferies had a long run to catch the ball in foul ground in shallow rightfield and had no chance to stop his momentum away from the plate and throw out the speedy Pederson.

The Titans showed signs of offensive life against Benson in the bottom of the fourth on solid singles by Davis and Michael Lorenzen, but were unable to get on the scoreboard.

But Jefferies got the fifth inning going with a line-drive single to leftfield after fouling off numerous 1-2 pitches.  Even with the Tigers expecting a bunt by Austin Diemer, he dropped the ball beautifully towards third-base and easily beat it out, bringing up Dale, the team’s best bunter.  Even with the Tigers expecting a bunt by Dale, he dropped the ball beautifully towards third-base and easily beat it out.

(Second verse, same as the first.)

With the Tigers’ cage rattled by consecutive bunt hits, Benson faltered and walked Richy Pedroza on four pitches, tying the score at 1-1.  Carlos Lopez quickly untied with a sacrifice fly to centerfield.

With Davis batting, Benson uncorked a wild pitch, removing the double-play situation.  Davis promptly scaled a two-run single up the middle to give the Titans a 4-1 lead.  Wallach followed with a single and advanced to second when the leftfielder misplayed the ball.

With Wallach taking second, it left first-base open with Lorenzen coming up.  Do you walk him and try to get out of the inning with a double-play against the next batter, Anthony Hutting?  Nah – Tigers’ skipped Ed Sprague opted to pitch to him and the first pitch Benson threw him was deposited deep and over the wall in left-centerfield to give the Titans a commanding 7-1 lead.

The Tigers stirred slightly in the top of the sixth.  Pederson again started a rally with a leadoff single and went to second on a sacrifice (curious call, bunting a runner over trailing by six runs against a good-hitting team like Fullerton) and scored on a solid single down the rightfield line.  Was this about the time Eshelman would get lit up?  Leading 7-2, he got a nice break when the next hitter, Erik Lockwood, hit the ball hard back through the box.  The ball looked like it was heading into centerfield for a hit, but it hit the pitching rubber, ricocheted to shortstop Pedroza, who started an inning-ending 6-4-3 double-play.

While Eshelman shut down the Tigers with back-to-back 1-2-3 seventh and eighth innings, the Titans scored solo tallies in each frame against the Pacific bullpen.  Chad Wallach lofted a double deep to right field, went to third on a bunt single by Lorenzen and was driven in on an RBI single by Hutting.  The Titans scored their final run in the eighth on consecutive one-out singles by Pedroza, Lopez and Davis.
Tyler Peitzmeier pitched a scoreless ninth inning in relief of Eshelman.

The Titans notched a season high (albeit soon to be surpassed) of 16 hits, with Davis and Lorenzen pacing the offense with three hits and three RBI each.  Pedroza, Wallach and Diemer had two hits each, with both of Diemer’s coming in the fifth inning rally.

Game 2: Titans 11, Pacific Tigers 6

The anticipated pitching match-up between the Titans’ freshman phenom Justin Garza and Pacific transfer Cory Popham (2-0, 2.18 ERA coming in) never materialized, as Popham left with an injury in the bottom of the first inning after surrendering four unearned runs.

Jake Jefferies goes for the cycle
But the story of this game wasn’t pitching – it was Jefferies hitting for a cycle: a two-run single in the first inning, two-run double in the third, one-run triple in the fifth and topping it off with a line-drive two-run homer in the sixth.  He drove in seven runs and became the first Titan player to have a four-hit game in the 2013 season.  See video of Jefferies’ cycle.

Garza gave up a sharp leadoff single, but then retired the side, including a pair of first-inning strikeouts.  Popham’s defense failed him quickly: with one out, second-baseman Pederson booted a groundball by Lopez and then compounded the problem by throwing the ball wildly.  Lopez was safe on the boot and was awarded an extra base on a second error on the play: Pederson’s throw bounced off the trashcan that just happens to be inside the visitors’ dugout.  After Davis walked and Wallach struck out,
Lorenzen came up with two on and two out.  After a wild pitch opened up first-base, Coach Sprague might have learned something from the series opener and he opted to intentionally walk Lorenzen.

But Hutting drew the first of his three walks and drove in Lopez with the first unearned run.  A balk by Popham made it 2-0 and put two runners in scoring position for Jefferies, who hit a sinking line-drive to rightfield that appeared to have initially been caught on a great diving play by the Pacific outfielder, but the ground caused a fumble and Jefferies had the first leg of his cycle and the Titans had a 4-0 lead.  Sprague came to the mound for the second time of the inning accompanied by the trainer, and Popham left the game because of injury.

The Titans added a run in the second to make it 5-0 on a triple to centerfield by Pedroza and an RBI groundout by Lopez.  The lead was stretched to 7-0 in the third when Jefferies, batting left-handed, hit an opposite-field double to drive in Wallach and Lorenzen, who had both singled to start the inning.

Garza fgaltered slightly in the fourth and gave up one run on a single, wild pitch, deep flyball and another wild pitch.  The Tigers squared it up against Garza in the top of the fifth and scored twice to make it a game again, with the Titans’ lead cut to 7-3.  Garza surrendered a single and back-to-back doubles.  Plate umpire Carl Coles’ strike zone seemed to shrink about 50% from the game’s previous four innings, a fact apparently noted by Titans’ pitching coach Jason Dietrich when Coles came out to break up a meeting on the mound.  Coles had a short wick and ejected Dietrich without any visible argument – which resulted in a classic moment with Dietrich leisurely walking through the infield right in front of the red-faced umpire while toting his backpack.  (If anybody got a picture of Dietrich leaving the game wearing his backpack, please send me a copy.)

But the Titans answered with two of their own in the bottom of the fifth.  Lorenzen led off with a walk and appeared to have easily stolen second but was inexplicably called out by umpire Bradley Hungerford. (Brad is a very nice guy and he hustles and works hard on the field – but he blows easy calls on a regular basis.)  Hutting drew a walk and Jefferies rifled a shot into the gap in right-centerfield for an RBI triple, making it 8-3.  Diemer then drove in Jefferies with an RBI single to make it 9-3.  The Tigers escaped additional damage when the Titans left the bases loaded.

Garza left the game after six innings with the Titans enjoying a comfortable six-run lead, having allowed seven hits but also recording seven strikeouts (Klondike!).  Peitzmeier came in for the third straight game (including the 3-2 midweek loss against Loyola Marymount) and pitched a scoreless seventh inning.

Hutting drew a two-out walk in the bottom of the sixth to bring up Jefferies, who already had a single, double and triple.  Jefferies got ahead in the count and crushed a 2-1 fastball deep to rightfield – it got out and bounced off the screen above the rightfield fence in a hurry.  (Without the screen, the ball might have knocked over a tree or two in the Arboretum.)

Freshman pitcher Joe Navilhon came in to pitch the eighth inning with the Titans ahead, 11-3.  The Tigers jumped all over Navilhon as if he was Roy Horn (of Siegfried & Roy fame.) The first batter he faced, Lockwood, hit a deep bomb to leftfield to make it 11-4.

The next batter hit a hard smash past first-base into the rightfield corner.  It was like déjà vu all over again to Hutting’s inside-the-park home run against Oregon, except this time the Titans were on the bad side of the formula.  Rightfielder Greg Velazquez tried to prevent a triple by signaling for a ground-rule double as the ball bounced around the visitors’ bullpen in foul ground, but Blue didn’t buy it and Brett Sullivan circled the bases with an uncontested inside-the-park home run.  The back-to-back home runs made it 11-5.

A double by Pacific catcher Jason Taasaas brought Coach Hook out with a hook – side-arming right-hander Michael Lopez was called in from the bullpen to try to quell the Tigers’ onslaught.

Michael Lopez induced a groundball from the first batter he faced, but a high throw from Jefferies drew Carlos Lopez off the bag (error on Jefferies) and there were runners at the corners with nobody out.

But Michael Lopez got a 4-6-3 double-play to break the Tigers’ momentum, with the Titans’ lead now cut to 11-6.

The Titans left the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth and there was an uneasy feeling, but Michael Lopez got three quick groundball outs to end the game.

Garza (6-0) was the winning pitcher, with great offensive support from Jefferies and his 7-RBI cycle.  Hutting walked three times and scored each time.  Pedroza was the only other Titans with multiple hits (2).  Lopez did a great job in relief, getting seven consecutive groundballs against a team that had been hitting the ball hard all over the field until that time.

Game 3: Titans 25, Pacific Tigers 0

The Titans completed the series sweep in dominating fashion, scoring 25 runs on 25 hits and posting a shutout.  It was the Titans’ most lopsided win since beating Cal Poly SLO, 27-2, in 2004.

Perhaps the less said about this game, the better.

Michael Lorenzen's grand slam
The Titans scored nine runs in the first inning – and it wasn’t even their biggest inning of the game.  With one out, Lopez singled and advanced on a wild pitch before Davis and Wallach walked, leaving no place to put the red-hot Lorenzen, who hit a towering grand-slam to make it 4-0.  Hutting went back-to-back, hitting his fourth home run of the season right after Lorenzen’s fifth.

A solid single by Jefferies made it a quick day for starter Michael Hager, the first of seven pitchers for Pacific on the day.  The most effective may have been shortstop Dustin Torchio, who allowed just one run in the bottom of the eighth.  After a single by Diemer, Pedroza delivered a two-run single and Davis hit a two-run double and the score was 9-0.

Grahamm Wiest was staked to the big lead and he pitched aggressively and effectively.  His biggest challenge may have been running back and forth from the dugout to the bullpen – he went to the bullpen twice during the first-inning rally and twice again during the eleven-run sixth inning.  Wiest (5-1) went seven innings, scattering five hits and striking out four, allowing no walks.

The Titans held a 12-0 lead going into the bottom of the sixth and had already begun emptying their bench and playing station-to-station baseball.  Then things got really ugly for Pacific, as the Titans scored eleven runs on just five hits, aided by five walks, a pair of errors and a third-strike passed ball that could have ended the inning 20 minutes sooner.  The Titans sent 17 batters to the plate, nearly batting around twice.  The hits were a leadoff single by Dale, an RBI triple by Pedroza, a pinch-single by freshman Allan Kennedy, an RBI single by Pedroza and a three-run double by Kennedy.

Yeah, scoreboard totals are correct
Koby Gauna and Willie Kuhl each pitched a scoreless inning in relief of Wiest.

Pedroza had four hits, scored four runs and drove in four on two singles, a double and a triple.  Lorenzen also had four RBI on his grand slam.  Lopez, Lorenzen and Dale each had three hits.  Substitutes Kennedy (single, double and three RBI) and Clay Williamson (two triples) also made significant contributions.

That must have been one long ride back to Stockton.


So what did we learn this week?

It’s hard to draw any conclusions playing against teams like Pacific.  The impressive thing is that the Titans are handily beating up the teams they are supposed to beat up – there seems a fiercer ‘killer instinct’ that was lacking the past couple years when the team often played to its level of competition.

As you can imagine, the offensive stats more closely resembled a slow-pitch softball team.  Pedroza had the most hits (8-for-17 with 7 runs scored and 5 RBI), while Lorenzen had highest average amongst starters (.583 on 7-for-12 with 4 runs, 7 RBI, a double and two home runs, including a grand slam.

Jefferies led with 8 RBI (on 7-for-14 with 5 runs and his cycle.)  Stats that would generally make headlines were “ho-hum” in this series: Lopez and Wallach both hit .364 (4-for-11 each), while Davis hit .417 (5-for-12 with 5 RBI).  As a team, the Titans batted .415 (51-for-123) with 45 runs scored and 41 RBI.  Chad Baum doesn’t get hit that hard in batting practice.

Pacific coach Ed Sprague
Don’t try to ‘big league’ us:  the Titans are 7-0 against teams coached by former major league ballplayers.  The Titans swept Nebraska (coached by Darin Erstad) four games and Pacific (Ed Sprague) three games by a combined score of 82-14, averaging nearly twelve runs a game.  The fewest runs scored by the Titans in those seven games were in the 8-7 win in the first game against Nebraska.  If college programs want to hire former pros, perhaps they should consider a pitcher or two.

If you don’t think there was rampant steroid use in major league baseball, consider the 1996 season in which three teams (Baltimore Orioles, Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners) broke the all-time season home run record and seventeen players hit 40+ home runs (the previous high was eight in 1961, when expansion diluted major league pitching staffs.)  Brady Anderson, a speedy 32-year-old 170-pound former UC Irvine Anteater outfielder, hit 50 home runs that season after hitting just 72 in his previous eight major league seasons.  At the time, just a dozen players in MLB history had accomplished that feat, including Babe Ruth, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenburg, Johnny Mize, Ralph Kiner, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Cecil Fielder and Albert Belle.  Ted Williams never hit 50 bombs in a season, but Brady Anderson did.

By pure coincidence, Ed Sprague hit 36 home runs for the Toronto Blue Jays in 1996.  He had hit 18 the year before and 14 the year after.  That was also the year admitted juicer Ken Caminiti hit 40 bombs, one behind Todd Hundley’s 41.

Was 1996 just an anomaly for home runs?  Maybe the balls were juiced, the mounds lowered, the bats corked, the strike zones squeezed, the pitchers’ arms tired, the pitch calls stolen or some other combination of factors that created a display of power back in an era where MLB was battling the NFL, NBA and emergent sports with more appeal to younger generations for retention of its ‘national pastime’ identity.  But it underscores the unfair concept of ‘guilt by association’ and how all statistics from that era are considered somewhat dubious.  When average players put up extraordinary numbers like they did in 1996, there is no way to know which ones were legit and which ones were cheating.

The Titans ended up 16-4 during Mustache March.  That’s a lot of games for a month – I really liked the way the roster was used during the non-conference part of the season and how the roles have solidified moving into conference play.  Of the 35 players on the roster, just two (pitchers Shane Stillwagon and Miles Chambers) have yet to play and presumably will redshirt – I have never been a proponent of carrying 5-6 non-medical redshirts on a roster.  There are fourteen pitchers with four or more appearances – I can’t remember seeing that before.

Thomas Eshelman’s streak of 50.0 innings without issuing a walk has drawn much attention, but I am intrigued by an ancillary statistic: he hasn’t thrown a wild pitch.  This might be obvious, but you can only throw a wild pitch with runners on base, so when you have given up zero walks and hit just one batter, there is great mathematical reduction in your opportunities to throw wild pitches.

The Titans have had 52 batters hit by pitch, while opposing hatters have been plunked just 15 times.  There is also big gap in wild pitches: 17 allowed and 36 received.  There is a similar advantage in passed balls: 4 allowed and 14 received.  Chad Wallach’s defensive improvement has been incredible: he had 11 passed balls in 2012 in limited duty as second or third catcher while learning the position ‘on the job,’ but has yet to have a passed ball halfway through the 2013 season.

Jake Jefferies’ natural cycle (e.g. he got the single, double, triple and home run in order – did you even know they had a term for that?) was great to watch, but what impresses me most is his productivity.  Jefferies has 16 RBI on just 15 hits.  Hutting is even more productive: he has 17 RBI on 15 hits.

Does anybody remember the last time a Titan hit for a cycle prior to Jefferies?  I had never seen it happen here and nobody I spoke with or read cited a previous Titan cycle.  In fact, I seldom recall even being in the situation of thinking that “All so-and-so needs is a _____ to complete his cycle.”  The day after Jefferies did it, Lorenzen (needing triple) and Pedroza (needing home run) came up a couple times each with a cycle in reach.  With the Titans leading by three touchdowns, conversation in the stands shifted to:  “With this lopsided score, which is more likely – a triple by Lorenzen or a home run by Pedroza?”  The consensus was that a triple by Lorenzen would be less likely because of station-to-station base-running in a blowout game, especially if there was a runner on base in front of him.

Lorenzen has taken over the team lead in batting average (.365), runs (25), hits (38), doubles (7), triples (3 – tied with Pedroza), home runs (5), RBI (28), HBP (8) and saves (8).  Not bad – I’m willing to excuse him for also leading the team in striking out and grounding into double-plays (tied).

New UCLA basketball coach
Call me old-fashioned, but I don’t like when baseball teams dog pile until they win the College World Series or when basketball teams cut down the nets before winning the NCAA championship game.  Winning your Regionals is thrilling and you obviously can’t make it to the championship game without successfully achieving that milestone, but it is just a step along the journey.  There was even a coach recently who cut down the net after winning the Mountain West Conference championship game – then five days later lost to 14th-seeded Harvard!  What do you do with your MWC championship game net after you tank to Harvard in The Dance?

In a related story, why don’t NCAA hockey teams cut down the nets when they clinch a berth in the Frozen Four?

Congratulations to the seven former Titans who are on Opening D ay major league rosters, including first-timer Khris Davis (Milwaukee Brewers).  Others are Reed Johnson, Mark Kotsay, Kurt Suzuki, Vinnie Pestano, Brett Pill (disabled list) and Justin Turner (disabled list).

That’s all for now and I can’t wait for the game Tuesday night at Jackie Robinson Stadium against the UCLA Bruins, who were undefeated all last season in midweek games and have yet to lose midweek this season.  It has been part of their success platform in recent years – with so many RPI-killers awaiting the Titans on their remaining schedule, a road win over UCLA would be very beneficial.

I hope to see you at JRS and then again next weekend at UC Davis.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Jake Jefferies' Natural Cycle

In the Titans' 11-6 victory over Pacific on Friday night, freshman second baseman Jake Jefferies went for the cycle, with a two-run single, two-run double, RBI-triple and a two-run homer.

(Video Courtesy of BigWest TV)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Pacific Series Preview

Pacific at Titans
Thursday 6 p.m.; Friday 7 p.m.; Saturday 2 p.m.

By FullertonBaseballFan

Cal State Fullerton has been riding a tidal wave of momentum throughout the start of the 2013 season, winning their first ten games for the first time in the history of the program and winning all five games last week to increase their winning streak to ten games, which is the first time that the Titans have had two ten game winning streaks in a season since 2001.  Fullerton returned home after sweeping Oral Roberts and swept Nebraska in a two game midweek series with 8-7 (11 innings) and 10-4 wins before going over to Blair Field and sweeping Long Beach State 6-0, 8-6 and 2-1 with two of the crazier finishes to games in a series that has been filled with them over the years to improve the Titans record against the Dirtbags to 19-3 over the last five seasons and the 21-3 start for Fullerton is the best one for the program since 1996.

Fullerton played like they had jet lag at the start of the first game against Nebraska and made three errors in the first two innings and the Cornhuskers parlayed those into a four run lead before the Titans responded as they have all season with four runs in the bottom of the third to tie the game.  Back to back singles by Jared Deacon and Keegan Dale got things going and Austin Kingsolver’s single scored two runs to cut the lead in half, walks to J.D. Davis and Tanner Pinkston loaded the bases and Michael Lorenzen’s single scored two runs to tie the game.  Fullerton starter Koby Gauna had a rare off game and allowed a run in the top of the fourth and the Titans responded once again with two runs in the bottom of the inning to take a 6-5 lead when Deacon walked, Austin Diemer singled him to third, Dale’s SF tied the game and Richy Pedroza singled in Diemer gave Fullerton the lead.  Gauna gave up a single to start the fifth and his night was done when Willie Kuhl came into the game.  Kuhl threw a pickoff attempt away and that runner ended up scoring to tie the game.  After two straight three up, three down innings for Nebraska the Titans took the lead in the bottom of the seventh when Kingsolver was hit by a pitch and doubled to third by Davis, Pinkston walked and Lorenzen was hit by a pitch that forced in a run but Fullerton left the bases loaded.  Nebraska tied the game in the top of the eighth with the help of the fifth error of the game by the Titans and almost pulled ahead in the ninth before Tyler Peitzmeier came into the game to stop the rally against the team from his home state.  The game stayed tied until the bottom of the eleventh when Kingsolver was hit by a pitch and stole second, Davis walked, Kingsolver stole third, Lorenzen was intentionally walked and a walk to Deacon forced in the run for a walk off win for Fullerton.  The Titans had fourteen hits in the game but the heroes were the relievers with Kuhl (4 2/3 IP, 1 unearned run, 8 K’s), Peitzmeier (2 IP) and Michael Lopez (1/3 IP) combining to throw seven innings and allowing one unearned run with Lopez picking up the first win of his career after throwing one pitch with the Cornhusker runner he inherited caught stealing.

Nebraska came out determined to get their first win against Fullerton after losing three times to the Titans and scored runs in the first and third innings but once again Fullerton responded in the bottom of the third to tie the game.  Clay Williamson singled and Dale walked, Williamson stole third and Dale moved up when the throw bounced off of Matt Chapman’s helmet, Chapman’s SF scored a run, Dale went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a ground out by Davis.  Nebraska scored a run in the fourth and another in the fifth on a HR by Chad Christensen to take a 4-2 lead before the Titans responded once again, this time with their biggest inning of the season with an eight run rally to put the game away.  Chad Wallach and Deimer were hit by pitches to start the inning, Williamson’s bunt single loaded the bases, Chapman’s two run single tied the game, Carlos Lopez’s RBI single gave Fullerton the lead, Lopez and Chapman executed a double steal and were both driven in on a single by Davis, Jake Jefferies followed with an RBI double, Wallach crushed a ball to deep right center that gave him time to get to third for an RBI triple and he scored on a wild pitch to finish up the scoring in the inning and the game.  It was a staff day for the Titans with six pitchers taking the mound and Kyle Murray picked up his first career win with two scoreless innings and Jose Cardona and Joe Navilhon wrapped things up with scoreless innings.  The leading hitters in the two game series were Davis (5-8, 3 RBI, 3 BB), Lorenzen (4-8, 3 RBI, 3 BB/HBP), Chapman (2-5, 3 RBI), Kingsolver (2-4, 2 RBI, 2 SB) and Dale (2-3, RBI, 3 BB).

The match-up with Thomas Eshelman and Shane Carle on Friday figured to be a pitchers duel and lived up to that billing through seven innings.  Lorenzen got the scoring started in the second by crushing a HR to LF and Fullerton added to the lead in the third when Diemer singled, Pedroza bunted him over and Lopez singled in Diemer.  Those runs would be all that Eshelman would need on a night where he was lights out and allowed only one hit in seven innings, a single in the fifth by Eric Hutting, the younger brother of Anthony Hutting, with no walks and no strikeouts as he increased his streak without allowing a walk to 42 innings.  Fullerton increased the lead to 3-0 in the seventh when Wallach walked, Dale bunted him to second, Wallach went to third on a wild pitch and scored on an error by Long Beach’s SS to end Carle’s night.  The Titans blew things open in the eighth against the Dirtbags bullpen with three runs when Lorenzen doubled, Kingsolver reached on an infield single, Wallach was hit by a pitch, Dale walked to force in a run and Diemer’s singled scored two runs.  Davis finished things off with two scoreless innings, allowing only an infield single, and Eshelman improved his record to 5-1 and lowered his ERA to 1.07 while throwing only 56 pitches in his seven innings of work.

Saturday’s game was a tale of two games.  The first part was all about Ino Patron and SP Jake Stassi for Long Beach and the second part was all about the Dirtbags bullpen.  Long Beach got to Justin Garza by manufacturing a run in the first and stretched their lead to 3-0 when Patron hit a long triple to score two runs.  Fullerton got a run back in the fourth when Pedroza and Lopez singled and Pedroza scored on a DP by Davis that thwarted the rally.  The Dirtbags scored two more runs in the fifth on a bases loaded double by Patron that finished Garza’s day in the first poor start by the freshman.  Kuhl came into the game and struck out both batters to end the inning and strand two runners in scoring position and kept Long Beach off the scoreboard in the sixth and seventh.  It looked like the Dirtbags 5-1 lead was going to be more than enough with Stassi able to weave in and out of trouble and holding the Titans to one run on seven hits in seven innings before Long Beach went to the bullpen to start the eighth.  What followed was one of the wilder innings in the history of this storied series.  Davis singled and Lorenzen was hit by a pitch to get things started, Wallach reached on an infield single to load the bases and Jefferies walked to force in a run and the Dirtbags went to their closer Jon Maciel, who allowed a pinch-hit single by Hutting to cut the lead to 5-3 and after a strikeout for the second out, pinch-hitter Deacon was hit by a pitch to force in a run.  Pedroza hit a full count chopper up the middle with the runners going and the SS tried to get the force out at 2B but pinch-runner Kingsolver was safe, Jefferies scored to tie the game and Hutting scored all the way from second, beating the throw home for the go ahead run, Pedroza tried to advance to second and Kingsolver was thrown out at home on the play.  Peitzmeier and Gauna combined for a scoreless bottom of the eighth and Fullerton added two insurance runs against Maciel in the ninth when Lopez and Davis singled, a wild pitch moved the runners up, Lorenzen’s SF scored one run and Wallach’s single scored another.  The Dirtbags scored an unearned run against Gauna in the ninth before Lorenzen finished things off by striking out Patron to end the game for his seventh save and Kuhl picked up the win with his three scoreless innings of relief with four strikeouts.

Sunday baseball usually means that the hitters have a chance to get healthy and pad their stats but that wasn’t the case this time with Grahamm Wiest and David Hill both throwing very well in this one.  Both teams squandered opportunities in the first three innings before Fullerton got on the board in the fourth when Lorenzen was hit by a pitch, Williamson walked and Deacon singled in Lorenzen.  The Titans increased the lead in the fifth when Dale walked and Pedroza doubled him in but he ended up being stranded at third and Long Beach cut the lead in half when Patron doubled in a run.  Fullerton stranded two runners in scoring position in the sixth against Hill and threatened to score against the bullpen in the eighth when Hutting led off with a double but a blown squeeze play ended the rally.  It looked like Wiest was going to make the one run lead stand up when he retired ten straight batters going into the ninth before allowing a leadoff single and Lorenzen was summoned in from CF to finish off the game.  He allowed a single to the first batter he faced and a SAC bunt moved the runners up with one out.  It looked like Eric Hutting’s fly to medium deep CF was going to be a SF to tie the game when Michael Hill, the older brother of the Long Beach SP, beat the throw to the plate.  Fullerton appealed to the umpires that Hill had left 3B early and they agreed, turning a game tying SF into a game ending DP with the Titans winning in one of the more bizarre ways that you will ever see a team win a game.  Wiest improved his record to 4-1 with his outstanding outing, going 8+ innings, allowing one run on seven hits with no walks and a career high nine strikeouts and Lorenzen picked up his eighth save with the help of the ruling from the umpiring crew.

Fullerton didn’t have too many offensive standouts against Long Beach and it was a balanced effort with many players contributing with key hits, walks and HBP’s.  Lorenzen led the way by going 4-10 with an HR, 2 RBI and 4 R followed by Lopez (4-14), Pedroza (3-11, 2 RBI, 2 BB’s), Deacon (3-4, 2 RBI), Diemer (3-6, 2 RBI) and Wallach (2-7, RBI, 3 R).  Thanks to the fifteen hit comeback effort on Saturday, the Titans hit .267 on the weekend but only had six hits in the other two games for a similar output to what they had in hitting in the .235 - .240 range the previous four weekends.  Fullerton continued to stay patient at the plate and drew ten walks and were hit by pitches seven times to help keep the offense going.

Fullerton started this week with a midweek game against LMU and for the second time this season saw a ten game winning streak snapped as the Lions put together a three run rally in the seventh inning to pull off the 3-2 upset as the Titans squandered many opportunities during the game.  There isn’t much time for Fullerton to dwell on Tuesday’s loss with the weekend calendar pushed up a day due to the Easter holiday and the start of Big West play coming this weekend with the Pacific Tigers visiting Goodwin Field for the final time.  This will be the swan song for Pacific because Pacific, the only private school in the Big West, will be moving on to the West Coast Conference after the season where they will be joining a conference comprised solely of private universities.

Pacific Tigers (7-12)

  • 2012 Overall Record – 16-40
  • 2012 Conference Record – 6-18 (9th)
  • 2012 Post-Season – None
  • 2013 RPI/ISR – 169/154.  2012 RPI/ISR – 230/187
  • Pre-season ranking/Current ranking – None
  • Predicted conference finish – 9th by Perfect Game, 10th by the Big West coaches, Baseball America and Easton College Baseball. 

2012 Summary and 2013 Preview

Pacific hit their high water mark under Ed Sprague in 2010 when a veteran squad went 31-23 overall and finished fourth in the Big West at 12-12 after going into a slump late in the season and losing seven of their final nine games and it has been all downhill since then with the Tigers going 19-37, 9-15 in 2011 and 16-40, 6-18 in 2012.  Pacific lost nineteen of their final twenty-three games in 2011 and it didn’t get much better with a 4-16 start last season with 1/4 of their wins for the year coming in a four game sweep of Brown and they were 13-40 before sweeping Northridge to end the season.  The Tigers were swept six times in 2012 but haven’t been swept yet this season.  However, they also haven’t finished up winning a weekend series after losing a series to San Jose State, splitting four games at home against solid Gonzaga and UNLV teams, losing two out of three against a very good tournament field at ASU (ASU, Gonzaga, Arkansas), losing two out of three at TCU with the series deciding game going to the Horned Frogs in extra innings and losing two out of three at Creighton.

Pacific had a good offense in 2009-2010 and knew they wouldn’t hit as well with the BBCOR bats and their offense has regressed significantly, going from .277 in 2011 to .269 last season to .253 this season and the Tigers have been averaging just over four runs a game the last three seasons.  Pacific has been held to four runs or less in eleven of their sixteen weekend games and averaged 3.5 runs in those games.  The Tigers will go up to the plate hacking and were in the bottom thirty nationally in walks per game in 2012 and haven’t been much more patient this season averaging around three walks per game.  Pacific doesn’t attempt to help their OBP by getting hit by pitches and have only been hit eight times.  The Tigers do a decent job of making contact and have improved their strikeout rate from last season.  Pacific tried to run quite a bit in 2012 but were lousy at it and were successful less than half of the time and are running much less this season and about as well with only a 50% success rate.  The Tigers don’t bunt that much, usually ranking in the middle of the pack in the conference, preferring to let their hitters swing away unless it’s a close game.

Pacific broke in a new rotation in 2012 with none of their starters back from an underachieving staff in 2011 and brought the staff ERA down by close to a run from 6.32 to 5.50.  The Tigers have been pitching even better this season with team ERA coming down again by close to a run to 4.79 led by two starters with ERA’s in the low two’s.  Pacific had issues with a lack of depth behind their two best starters in 2012 and that has also been the case this season with only a couple of reliable options in the bullpen.  The Tigers have held teams to three runs or less in half of their sixteen weekend games and their starters have given them a chance to be much more competitive than they were in 2012.  Pacific’s pitching staff is mostly a ground ball staff and they have allowed only two HR’s to lead the conference for the fewest HR’s given up.  Despite not having few hard throwers on their pitching staff, the Tigers haven’t had good control and are allowing almost five free base runners per game and have a poor 68/77 BB/K ratio and are in the bottom twenty nationally in strikeouts per game.


  • Park Factor according to Boyd’s World – 104 (increases offense by 4%).  Dimensions of 317 to LF with a 20 ft high wall, 380 to left center, 395 to CF, 365 to right center and 325 to RF make this one of the smaller fields in the Big West.
  • Batting Average – .253 (7th in the Big West/209th nationally).  .269 in 2012 (6/192).
  • Scoring – 81 (8/218), 4.3 runs per game.  236 (6/218), 4.2 runs per game in 2012.
  • Home Runs – 5 (6/180).  14 in 2012 (5/239). 
  • Slugging Percentage – .329 (7/210).  .357 in 2012 (5/210).
  • On Base Percentage – .319 (9/255).  .337 in 2012 (9/256).
  • Walks – 57 (10/256), 2.7 per game.  152 in 2012 (9/271), 2.7 per game.
  • HBP’s – 8 (10/284).  43 in 2012 (9/220).
  • Strikeouts – 107 (8/xx), 5.6 per game.  337 in 2012 (3/xx), 6.0 per game.
  • Stolen Bases – 9-18 (9/273).  34-72 in 2012 (8/255). 
  • Sac Bunts – 17 (6/112).  43 in 2012 (7/136).


Pacific has a good amount of experience returning in the infield with starters back at C, 1B and 2B and they have moved their 3B over to SS to replace the only starter they lost from last season.

C – JR #15 Jason Taasaas (RH – .300/.382/.400, 1-8-0.  ’12 – .255/.346/.303, 1-12-0.  ’11 – .205/.337/.289, 2-13-2 in 83 AB’s) shared time as a FR but struggled both at and behind the plate.  He started out hitting .329 over the first 31 games in 2012 but slumped during the Big West schedule and only hit .125 in the last twelve games he played before injuring his arm in the first game against Fullerton and was lost for the season.  Taasaas has a solid approach at the plate and had an 11/15 BB/K ratio in 2012 and is at 8/12 this season.  He has been one of the more consistent hitters on the team, has some pop in his bat and usually hits 6th or 7th.  Taasaas is a workhorse and has caught every game except for one.  He is 0-9 in his career against Fullerton.

1B – Soph #21 Erik Lockwood (RH – .333/.434/.397, 0-9-0.  ’12 – .352/.411/.442, 1-26-2) had the unenviable task of taking over for four year starter Martin as a FR but he has stepped into those shoes rather nicely and was 3rd in the Big West in AVG and finished in the top ten in the conference in OBP and SLG as one of the best FR in the Big West.  He does a good job of hitting the ball gap to gap and is usually the cleanup hitter.  Lockwood started out red hot by hitting .409 in the first 14 games and is in the top ten in the conference in OBP but cooled off and went 3-19 in his last five games.  His plate discipline was below average in 2012 with a 12/26 BB/K ratio but is better this season with a 9/14 ratio.  Lockwood was also injured in the first game against Fullerton in 2012 and went 0-1 in the series.

C/DH – JR #13 Riley Drongesen (RH – ’12 – .321/.407/.415, 0-17-1.  8 AB’s in 2011) would be the backup for Taasaas and Lockwood and be the DH but he is injured and hasn’t played this season.  He was a very productive player in 2012 but also battled injuries and was only able to play in 30 games.

2B/LF – SR #9 Tyger Pederson (LH – .193/.314/.298, 1-11-1.  ’12 – .279/.386/.324, 0-17-1.  ’11 – .285/.354/.306, 0-13-2) is a streaky hitter who is prone to going into prolonged slumps followed by stretches where he gets red hot.  He was hitting .373 going into the series at Fullerton in 2011 while starting at 2B but only hit .208 during the bulk of the conference schedule.  Pederson got off to a slow start in 2012 when he only went 7-31 in the first twenty games, fattened up against Brown when he went 9-16 and hit .227 the rest of the season.  He hit .333 in the first seven games but since then has only hit .128.  Pederson has split time between 2B (9 starts) and LF (4 starts) while usually batting 5th and is second on the team in RBI.  He is patient at the plate and has a good 11/13 BB/K ratio.  Pederson is 2-17 in his career against Fullerton.

SS – SR #10 Dustin Torchio (Both – .276/.313/.395, 1-14-1.  ’12 – .296/.369/.352, 0-22-2.  ’11 – .369/.419/.451, 1-17-5.  ’10 – .222 in 27 AB’s) was a reserve as a FR before moving into the lineup in 2011 at 3B and got off to a solid start, hitting in the .320’s going into the Fullerton series and he tattooed the ball against the Titans and went 7-12 in the series and took off from there the rest of the season, hitting a scalding .437 in conference games on his way to the Big West batting title and being selected first team All-Big West.  Torchio got off to a solid start in 2012 and was hitting in the .330’s going into the conference season but only hit .189 in ten Big West games, was injured against Cal Poly the week before the Fullerton series and missed the last month of the season.  He moved over to SS this season and only hit .225 in the first ten games but has done better lately, hitting .333 over the last nine games while usually hitting 3rd. Torchio is not a big guy and does a good job of spraying the ball around the field with very good plate discipline (16/18 BB/K ratio in 2011, 14/15 in 2012 and 4/7 this season).  He is also a very good bunter and was second in the conference with 15 SAC bunts in 2011.

3B/2B – Soph #4 Curtis Gomez (RH – .217 in 23 AB’s.  ’12 – .261/.307/.379, 1-15-0.  ’11 – .224/.258/.345, 1-10-1 in 58 AB’s) was a backup infielder and only started thirteen games in 2011 but was a regular last season because of his defense.  He was hitting .320 going into conference play in 2012 but only hit .231 in Big West games.  Gomez is an aggressive hitter with a poor 8/26 BB/K ratio over the last two seasons.  He was injured earlier in the season but has started the last five games and split time between 2B and 3B while usually hitting in the lower part of the order.  Gomez went 2-11 against Fullerton in 2012.

3B – FR #23 JJ Wagner (RH – .208/.255/.271, 0-1-0) started fourteen games at 3B while Gomez was out of the lineup but didn’t start against Creighton once Gomez came back.  He is the best bunter on the team and is second in the conference with six SAC bunts.  Wagner will hit either 2nd or 9th when he is in the lineup.


Pacific lost three seniors who started most of the time in the OF and at DH so they are relying on part-time starters and breaking in new players at most of the OF positions.

LF – FR #19 Gio Brusa (Both – .180/.222/.240, 0-6-2) is one of the most heralded recruits to arrive at Pacific in a long time because he is a switch-hitter with good size and power potential who was supposed to be drafted in the first ten rounds out of HS.  His potential has gone untapped thus far and he has struggled getting used to facing D1 pitching but he will continue to see regular playing time to help his development and has started 14 times (13 in LF, 1 at DH).

CF – Soph #3 Tyler Sullivan (LH – .313/.370/.373, 0-3-2.  ’12 – .218/.328/.236, 0-8-2) is one of the faster players on the team and any extra base hits he gets will come from his legs because he has only five of them (four 2B’s and a 3B) over the last two seasons.  He got off to a slow start as a FR, hit a little better during the conference schedule and has been pretty consistent this season while splitting time between the leadoff and ninth spots in the order.  Sullivan had a decent 16/25 BB/K ratio in 2012 but hasn’t been as patient this season and has a 5/14 BB/K ratio and he is tied for the team lead in strikeouts despite not being a power hitter.  He went 1-8 against Fullerton in 2012.

RF – Soph #5 Taylor Murphy (LH – .231/.293/.308, 1-6-0.  ’12 – .232/.308/.290, 0-14-1) was a part-time starter in LF in 2012 before playing the last month of the season at 3B when Torchio was out of the lineup.  He started out ok in non-conference games but was overmatched in Big West games and only hit .180.  A major reason for Murphy’s struggles as a FR were his inability to make contact because he struck out 25% of the time but he has done much better with his plate discipline this season with a 5/6 BB/K ratio.  He has started 13 times in RF while splitting time between the 5th and 7th spots in the lineup.  Murphy went 2-6 against Fullerton in 2012 and both of his hits were doubles.

LF/RF – SR #24 Jacob Goulder (RH – .219/.286/.313, 1-5-1.  ’12 – .152 in 33 AB’s) has been the fourth OF and split time between LF (4 starts) and RF (6 starts).  With Fullerton starting all RHP’s his playing time could be limited.

DH – FR #8 Brett Sullivan (RH – .257/.321/.329, 0-6-2) has been the DH most of the time and like his brother Tyler, he also has good speed and will usually be the leadoff hitter when he is in the lineup.  He got hot in Pacific’s last four games when he went 5-11 with four RBI.


Fielding % – .969 (7/98) with 23 errors.  2012 – .963 (9/185) with 78 errors.  Pacific’s defense was poor in 2012 and much of that had to do with the rash of injuries that hit the team during the season, resulting in players moving around and playing out of position.  They rely more on their infield defense than most teams do because their starters are ground ball pitchers who pitch to contact.  Lockwood is solid at 1B, Pederson is average at 2B, Torchio has done a good job at SS but they have had issues at 3B with Gomez and Wagner combining for six errors.  The middle infielders have done a good job of turning DP’s and Pacific ranks in the top 30 nationally in DP’s per game.  Sullivan has good range in CF and the corner OF’s are average.

Stolen Base Attempts – 19-28 (4/xx).  2012 – 61-80 (8/xx).  Taasaas has had issues holding down the running game the last two seasons (43-56 in 2012, 19-25 this season) and allowed the most steals in the Big West last season.  Look for Fullerton to try to get the running game going this weekend.

WP’s/PB’s Allowed – 11 (1/xx).  2012 – 59 (7/xx).  Taasaas struggled with blocking pitches in 2012 but has been much better this season and Pacific has allowed the fewest WP’s/PB’s in the conference.  Their pitchers try to get hitters to pound the ball into the ground so they tend to throw many balls in the dirt, which makes Taasaas’ low number of WP’s/PB’s even more impressive.


  • ERA – 4.79 (9/201).  5.50 in 2012 (9/253).
  • AVG – .305 (9/249).  .304 in 2011 (8/250).
  • HR – 2 (1/xx).  24 in 2012 (7/xx).
  • Walks – 68 (7/143), 3.7 BB/9 IP.  187 (8/122) in 2012, 3.5 BB/9 IP.
  • HBP – 21 (4/xx).  71 in 2012 (2/xx).
  • OBP – .389 (9/xx).  .387 in 2012 (9/xx).
  • SLG – .382 (8/xx).  .421 in 2011 (9/xx).
  • WHIP – 1.61 (9/xx).  1.59 in 2012 (9/219).
  • Strikeouts – 77 (10/293), 4.2 K/9 IP.  256 in 2012 (8/283), 4.8 K/9 IP.


Pacific returned their two best starters from 2012 and brought in a JC transfer who has thrown well so the rotation for the Tigers has been pretty good.  Pacific is an extreme ground ball and pitch to contact staff without power arms.

Soph #35 Michael Hager (RHP – 0-2, 5.64 ERA, 6 apps, 3 GS, 22 IP, 27 H, 8 BB, 11 K, .318 AVG, 1 HR, 5 HBP, 0 WP, 1-2 SB.  ’12 – 6-5, 4.36 ERA, 18 apps, 12 GS, 89 IP, 111 H, 13 BB, 35 K, .318 AVG, 3 HR, 8 HBP, 6 WP, 5-11 SB) is a strike throwing control specialist and was in the top 40 nationally in BB/9 IP ratio as a FR.  He started out in the bullpen in 2012 in the first few weeks before being moved into the rotation and ended up earning six of Pacific’s sixteen wins and he had a decent 4.36 ERA in Big West games (3.38 ERA against conference teams except for Fullerton).  Hager once again started this season in the bullpen but was moved into the rotation after an excellent relief appearance at ASU when he allowed only one run to the Sun Devils in five innings.  He had a solid start at TCU (6 2/3 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 2 BB, 4 K) but didn’t pitch as well against Creighton (4 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 3 BB, 2 K) and Fresno State (4 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 3 BB, 1 K).  Hager is a ground ball, pitch to contact pitcher who gives up a big number of hits but few HR’s.  He had a terrible start against Fullerton in 2012 and allowed 7 R on 11 H in 3 IP.

JC transfer #29 Cory Popham (RHP – 2-0, 2.18 ERA, 5 GS, 1 CG, 1 SHO, 33 IP, 33 H, 11 BB, 14 K, .268 AVG, 0 HR, 3 HBP, 1 WP, 4-5 SB) has given Pacific a solid third starter, which is a spot in the rotation that was basically a disaster area in 2012.  After allowing 4 R in 4 2/3 IP in his first start against San Jose State, he has had four straight good starts against UNLV (a complete game shutout that earned him Big West pitcher of the week honors), Gonzaga (7 IP, 6 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 0 K), TCU (7 1/3 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 2 BB, 2 K) and Creighton (5 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 4 K).  Popham has been the toughest of Pacific’s starters to hit.

Soph #22 Michael Benson (RHP – 2-1, 2.17 ERA, 5 GS, 37 IP, 37 H, 11 BB, 8 K, .280 AVG, 0 HR, 2 HBP, 2 WP, 3-6 SB.  ’12 – 3-9, 3.34 ERA, 13 GS, 2 CG, 1 SHO, 84 IP, 99 H, 28 BB, 46 K, .279 AVG, 3 HR, 13 HBP, 3 WP, 11-19 SB) was the Friday SP as a FR and had an ERA just under 5.00 in his first four starts before pitching much better as the season went on and he had a 3.51 ERA in Big West games.  He was a hard luck pitcher as the Fri SP for such a bad team and went 1-5 in conference games despite that ERA and led the Big West in losses.  Benson is in the top ten in the Big West in ERA and threw well in his first four starts against San Jose State (6 IP, 7 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 1 K), Gonzaga (7 2/3 IP, 9 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 0 K), Arkansas (8 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 1 BB, 3 K) and TCU (8 2/3 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 2 K) before not throwing as well at Creighton (7 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 3 ER, 4 BB, 2 K).  He is an extreme ground ball and pitch to contact pitcher who has only allowed three HR’s in eighteen career starts.  Benson hasn’t had good control in his last two starts with four walks in each start and if his control is off he will have trouble against a patient Fullerton team.  He did a solid job against Fullerton in 2012 before his defense let him down and went 7 2/3 innings against the Titans and allowed 5 R (2 ER) on 10 H and 3 BB with 4 K.


Pacific didn’t have much pitching depth in 2012 and it was often an adventure when they had anybody besides Benson or Hager on the mound with only one other pitcher having an ERA below 5.00.  Five of those pitchers were SR’s so it is a mostly new group in the bullpen and a couple of them have thrown well but there are quite a few ugly ERA’s with six relievers having ERA’s over seven.

JR #17 Kyle Crawford (LHP – 1-0, 1.08 ERA, 8 apps, 17 IP, 16 H, 4 BB, 6 K, .254 AVG, 0 HR, 1 HBP, 1 WP, 1-3 SB.  ’12 – 2-7, 6.23 ERA, 15 apps, 12 GS, 1 CG, 69 IP, 85 H, 25 BB, 32 K, .297 AVG, 3 HR, 10 HBP, 4 WP, 9-13 SB.  ’11 – 1-2, 10.00 ERA, 15 apps, 3 GS, 18 IP, 29 H, 6 BB, 6 K, .392 AVG, 2 HR, 2 HBP, 1 WP, 2-3 SB) was the third starter in 2012 and rarely gave Pacific a chance to win when he started but things have much better this season and he has thrown very well as the best option for the Tigers out of the bullpen.  If a game is close he is likely to be the first reliever to come into the game and because he has a background as a starter he doesn’t have a problem going 2-3 innings.

JC transfer #16 Kevin Hammann (RHP – 2-1, 1.80 ERA, 1 save, 7 apps, 5 IP, 3 H, 3 BB, 3 K, .167 AVG, 0 HR, 1 HBP, 1 WP, 1-1 SB) and FR #32 Nick Viola (RHP – 0-0, 3.52 ERA, 6 apps, 8 IP, 2 H, 4 BB, 6 K, .083 AVG, 0 HR, 0 HBP, 1 WP, 1-1 SB) would be the only other relievers that Pacific would be likely to trust in a close game and Viola has one of the better arms on the staff.


JR #20 John Haberman (LHP – 0-3, 9.77 ERA, 5 apps, 3 GS, 16 IP, 29 H, 7 BB, 12 K, .397 AVG, 0 HR, 3 HBP, 1 WP, 1-2 SB.  ’12 – Started three games, missed the rest of the season with an injury) started the season in the rotation but only threw well in one of his three starts and was replaced by Hager.

SR #37 Travis Lumby (LHP – 0-1, 10.50 ERA, 9 apps, 6 IP, 9 H, 4 BB, 4 K, .333 AVG, 1 HR, 0 HBP, 0 WP, 0-0 SB.  ’12 – 1-4, 7.12 ERA, 16 apps, 6 GS, 30 IP, 33 H, 23 BB, 20 K, .275 AVG, 3 HR, 3 HBP, 5 WP, 5-7 SB)

Soph #36 Bryce Lombardi (RHP – 0-1, 7.11 ERA, 6 apps, 6 IP, 10 H, 2 BB, 2 K, .357 AVG, 0 HR, 0 HBP, 0 WP, 4-4 SB.  ’12 – 0-1, 8.22 ERA, 14 apps, 2 GS, 23 IP, 29 H, 12 BB, 10 K, .322 AVG, 1 HR, 5 HBP, 5 WP, 7-7 SB)


Fullerton has been playing with a great sense of urgency this weekend and has rarely given away games, not losing a game they led in until Tuesday night against LMU.  The Titans have been finding ways to win games and have been putting down the hammer when they have had the chance with four sweeps in the first six weekends.

Fullerton has traditionally beaten Pacific like a drum with the Titans holding an 80-12 all-time advantage in the series.  However, things were much tighter from 2009-2011 when Fullerton only won five of the nine games and Pacific won a series against the Titans for the first time ever in 2009.  Fullerton re-established their dominance in the series last season by sweeping the Tigers in Stockton by a cumulative score of 36-6.

Fullerton is still having issues putting together hits on weekends and things don’t figure to be helped with Matt Chapman unavailable for the next few weeks due to a sprained ankle.  As long as the Titans stick with their patient approach at the plate, they should be able to continue to put rallies together this weekend against a pitching staff that relies on pitching to contact and having their fielders do the work.

Fullerton has consistently pitched well all season with only a few hiccups along the way.  Pacific is a team that doesn’t have much patience at the plate and the Titans once again lead the nation in fewest walks allowed per game so the Tigers are going to have to earn their runs this weekend, something they have had trouble doing this season.

Pacific has been playing more competitively this season than they did the past couple of years and has the starting pitching that will keep them in games but this is a series that Fullerton should win as long as they stick with what has been working this season.  The Tigers haven’t been swept this season but the goal for the Titans will be to accomplish what nobody else has been able to do and that is to sweep Pacific.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Titans Find a Way to Reach Imperfect 10

Titans at Long Beach State: Won 6-0 (Friday), 8-6 (Saturday), 2-1 (Sunday)

By Don Hudson

LONG BEACH - With a sweep of a three-game nonconference road series over the Long Beach State Dirtbags following a pair of midweek wins over the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the Cal State Fullerton Titans (21-3) ran their current winning streak to ten games, matching the team’s season-opening success.

With the 5-0 week, the Titans moved up to #5 (from #8) in the Baseball America rankings, as several highly ranked teams lost weekend series.  The Titans also moved up to #6 (from #9) in the USA TODAY coaches’ poll.

Four of the five games were a mixture of both well-played and sloppy baseball – the 5-0 week could just as easily have turned out 2-3 or even 1-4.  But good teams find ways to overcome mistakes and win games – there were certainly some unique demonstrations of this team’s strength on display last week.

Let’s first cover the weekend series against the Dirtbags and then take a quick look back at the midweek games against Nebraska.

Game 1: Titans 6, Long Beach State Dirtbags 0

Michael Lorenzen
Of the five games played last week, the series opener against Long Beach State was the best performance start-to-finish by the Titans.  Freshman pitcher Thomas Eshelman (now 5-1, 1.07 ERA) was once again the dominant player in the game, as he carried a perfect game into the fifth inning and pitched seven shutout innings, allowing one hit and facing just one batter above the minimum.  While Eshelman had zero strikeouts, he extended his career-starting streak to 42.0 innings without walking a batter.  Incredible!

With many Titans fans still stuck in their cars on the 405 or 605 freeways – the Dirtbags now start their nights games at 6:00 instead of the 6:30 we were so accustomed to – Michael Lorenzen gave Eshelman all the run support he would need when he belted a solo home run to leftfield in the second inning against LBSU starting pitcher Shane Carle.

The Titans added a second run in the third on a leadoff single by Austin Diemer, a sacrifice by Richy Pedroza and an RBI single by Carlos Lopez.  The svelte Lopez moved into scoring position with his ninth stolen base of the season (in just ten attempts), but Carle made good pitches when he needed them most to avoid further damage.

Meanwhile, Eshelman was pounding the strike zone and letting his defense make plays behind him.  First inning: 1-2-3.  Second inning: 1-2-3.  Ditto the third.  Ditto the fourth.

Thomas Eshelman (File Photo)
 After retiring the first two Dirtbags in the bottom of the fifth (14-up-14-down), freshman catcher Eric Hutting (e.g. Anthony Hutting’s brother) hit a solid line-drive into rightfield.  The speedy Austin Kingsolver charged quickly and contemplated attempting a diving shoe-string grab, but in light of the score, inning and depth of the field behind him (348 feet to the fair pole) in the event the ball got past him, he made a smart move by playing the ball on one hop.  (I loved Eshelman’s quote in Earl Bloom’s article in the Orange County Register: “I don’t mind giving one up to Eric, he’s Anthony’s brother and my friend.”  Very gracious!)

The top of the sixth proved painful to the Titans.  Matt Chapman led off by getting hit-by-pitch and made a hard slide into second-base breaking up an attempted double-play on a groundball by J.D. Davis.  Chapman appeared to hit the bag hard with his left leg and remained on the ground for several minutes as he was tended to.  Chapman remained in the game, but it was obvious on his subsequent throws and at-bats that this was not your garden variety “spit on it and shake it off” injury.

Carle was touched for an unearned run in the top of the seventh.  Chad Wallach led off with a walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice by Keegan Dale and to third on a wild pitch.  Pedroza hit a routine grounder to shortstop that was booted and gave the Titans a 3-0 lead and a modicum of breathing room.
The Dirtbags went to the bullpen, which proved perilous the first couple games.  Pedroza stole second and Lopez walked, but Chapman fouled out to avoid the Titans putting the game out of reach.

But the next inning put it away for the Titans.  Lorenzen hit a one-out double into a gap, then beat the return throw to third-base after Kingsolver legged out an infield single.  Wallach was hit by pitch to load the bases and then Dale walked to drive in the fourth run.  Diemer put the game out of reach with a two-run single to make it 6-0.

With the Titans’ lead extended, Davis came out of the bullpen and closed it out with two shutout innings.  He gave up just a nubbed infield hit in the ninth, as the Dirtbags sent just 29 batters to the plate in the game.  Eshelman had thrown only 75 pitches, but Hooky decided to shut him down with the big lead after the lengthy top of the inning.

The Titans made the most of their six hits, with two each by Lorenzen and Diemer.  It’s more than a statistical oddity that the Titans have managed exactly six hits in five of their six Friday games this season.  (The only exception was when they pounded out nine hits in a 7-2 win in the opening game against TCU.)  It amplifies the impact of the stellar pitching performances this year by Eshelman.

Game 2: Titans 8, Long Beach State Dirtbags 6

(Photo Gallery)

What a great day to be a Titans fan – witnessing the Dirtbags snatch defeat from the jaws of victory before their stunned crowd at Blair Field.  Behind talented left-hander Jake Stassi, the Dirtbags roughed up the Titans’ super-freshman, Justin Garza, and held a commanding 5-1 lead into the eighth inning before suffering a complete meltdown and lost a game with a bizarre finish, 8-6.

Garza entered action with a record of 5-0 and 0.99 ERA – which rose to 1.99 after allowing five earned runs on seven hits and two walks in 4-2/3 innings of labor.  It was really the only time he has been hit all year – he just seemed to be missing pitch locations and the Dirtbags legitimately beat him up.  Garza and Eshelman have made it look too easy so far in their nascent Titans careers – in the long run, a game like this will be an invaluable developmental tool.

The Dirtbags notched a solo tally in the first on a leadoff double, a wild pitch and an RBI groundout.  They extended the lead to 3-0 with a pair of third-inning runs on a walk, single and two-out triple by Titans arch-nemesis Ino Patron.  (Is it just me, or does Patron hit around .800 against Fullerton?)

The Titans showed signs of life in the fourth inning when Pedroza led off with an infield single and went to second on a balk.  I loved the quick thinking by Lopez, who realized there was nothing to lose after the balk was called and he took a wild hack at a pitch about a foot over his head.  After Pedroza advanced, Lopez came back to the plate and stroked a base hit.  Pedroza scored when Davis hit into a 5-4-3 double-play.  Lorenzen and Wallach followed with singles, but Stassi got out of the inning with the help of a great stop by shortstop Michael Hill to rob Jake Jefferies of an RBI hit.

In the bottom of the fifth, a walk and two singles loaded the bases with one out for the Human Fireplug, Patron, who notched his third and fourth RBI of the game with a double.  That sent Garza out and brought in Willie Kuhl to pitch for the Titans.  In an omen of good things to come, Kuhl left two runners in scoring position by striking out the next two batters.

The Titans had runners on base throughout the middle innings, but could never break through against Stassi.  He pitched very well – avoided allowing strings of hits or compounding danger with walks or hit-batsmen.

Stassi left after 7 innings and 92 pitches thrown with a comfortable 5-1 lead, and handed the ball over to the Dirtbags bullpen.  If you’re a Titans fan, this is where the fun began.

The eighth inning began innocuously enough for reliever Ryan Millison, who got Lopez to ground out leading off.  Little did he know that would be the only out he would record.  Davis battled and started the rally with a solid single to centerfield, and then Lorenzen was hit by a pitch.  Wallach grounded deep into the shortstop hole for an infield hit to load the bases and bring the tying run to the plate, with Lorenzen beating the throw to second on an attempted force-out.

The free-swinging Jefferies ground out a tough at-bat and eventually drew a walk that made it 5-2 with the go-ahead run coming to the plate.  Exit Millison, enter Jon Maciel out of the Dirtbags’ bullpen.

With the southpaw Stassi out of the game and facing a right-handed reliever, Mr. Clutch, Anthony Hutting, was sent up to pinch-hit.  As he always seems to do in RBI situations in close games, Hutting delivered a single that drove in Lorenzen to make it 5-3.  Pinch-hitter Clay Williamson struck out after a lengthy battle, which brought Jared Deacon out of the Titans’ dugout – the third left-handed pinch-hitter of the inning.  Maciel plunked Deacon with a pitch that scored another run to make it 5-4 and bring up Pedroza with the bases loaded.  This is when all hell broke loose.

With the bases loaded and Kingsolver pinch-running for Deacon at first, Maciel and Pedroza locked horns and ended up with a full count – which was very significant in the game’s outcome.  With a full count and two outs, all three runners were moving on the pitch.  Pedroza hit a slow hopper towards shortstop – there was no way Hill could get Pedroza at first, so he threw to second, where Kingsolver was easily safe.  Jefferies easily scored the tying run, but with the throw going to second and the runners going on the pitch, third-base coach Chad Baum kept Hutting wheeling and he beat the throw home and scored the go-ahead run.  Pedroza took off for second and drew a throw – which prompted Kingsolver to try to score all the way from first.  Kingsolver just might have made it, but slipped between third and home and was tagged out as he was flopping like a sturgeon the last twenty feet of the journey.  The side was retired, but the Titans had gone from moribund to holding a 6-5 lead.

A trio of relievers each picked up an out in the bottom of the eighth.  After Kuhl retired the first batter, lefty Tyler Peitzmeier was summoned to pitch to a left-handed hitter, but Long Beach countered with a right-handed pinch-hitter, who Peitzmeier came back and got to ground out after falling behind in the count, 3-0.  Koby Gauna came in to face another pinch-hitter, who tried to bunt his way on but was retired on nice play by Davis, subbing at third-base for the injured Chapman.

The Titans padded their slim lead with two insurance runs in the ninth.  Lopez led off with an infield single and Davis followed with a single to rightfield with Lopez running on a 3-2 count.  After Davis advanced on a wild pitch, Lorenzen drove in Lopez with a sacrifice fly and then headed to the bullpen to warm up if he would be needed in the bottom of the ninth.  Wallach’s RBI single drove in Davis to make the score 8-5.

The bottom of the ninth started innocently enough: Gauna struck out the first hitter before giving up a single to the speedy Jeff McNeill, who took second on defensive indifference.  The Titans never like to make things easy: the next batter grounded to Lopez, but Gauna dropped the throw as he covered first-base and the tying run came to the plate.  Exit Gauna, enter Lorenzen.

The first hitter Lorenzen faced grounded out to third, driving in a run to make it 8-6 and bringing Patron, who had already driven in four runs with a double and triple, to the plate.  But Lorenzen was throwing in the mid-90’s and struck him out to finish the game and clinch the series.

The Titans had 15 hits: seven singles in the first seven innings against Stassi and then eight singles in the next two innings against the bullpen.  Lopez and Wallach had three hits each, while Pedroza and Davis had two each.  Kuhl (1-0, 2.25 ERA) was the winner in relief, with Lorenzen earning his seventh save of the season.

Game 3: Titans 2, Long Beach State Dirtbags 1

(Photo Gallery)

The Dirtbags suffered their second consecutive gut-wrenching loss – an appealing win to Titans fans everywhere.

This was your atypical Sunday game – when both teams tend to amass high totals of runs and hits and churn through a bunch of relievers.  Fullerton’s Grahamm Wiest (4-1, 3.29 ERA) and Long Beach’s David Hill got locked into a tight pitchers’ duel, with Wiest getting the best of it by the thinnest of margins.

The Titans threatened in the second on singles by Lorenzen and Deacon, sandwiched around an error, but could not score and left two runners aboard.  Long Beach catcher Eric Hutting made the big play by throwing out Lorenzen attempting to steal, the first time he has been retired after four successful pilfers.  Wiest also stranded two runners in the second after surrendering singles to Richard Prigatano and Eric Hutting.

The Titans took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth.  Lorenzen was hit by a pitch and tagged up and advanced to second on a deep flyout by Anthony Hutting.  After a walk to Williamson, Deacon drove in Lorenzen with a single.  Hill averted more damage when he induced a double-play grounder by Kingsolver right near the second-base bag – one of the few places you can double up Kingsolver with his speed.

The Dirtbags threatened to tie it up when they got a runner to second on a bunt single and error, but Wiest retired the next two batters and the Titans held their slim one-run lead.

The Titans added a second run in the fifth inning when Dale led off with a walk and Pedroza spiked a long double to rightfield.  A groundout moved Pedroza to third with one out and the 3-4-5 hitters coming up, but after walking Davis, Hill retired Lorenzen and Hutting to work out of the jam.

The Dirtbags notched a run in the bottom of the fifth.  Jonathon Serven led off with a bunt single (generous home team scoring – I would have called it an error and the run would have been unearned) and went to second on a sacrifice.  But “that man” got us again – Patron doubled to make the score 2-1.

For the next few innings, it was a nail-biter – multiple opportunities, but no runs cashed in by either side.  The top of the eighth was especially frustrating for Fullerton.  Hutting went opposite-field to lead off with a double against reliever Josh Frye and Williamson did a nice job pulling the ball to the right side to move him to third.  But Deacon was unable to put the ball in play on a suicide squeeze attempt and the Hutting brothers played a brief game of pickle before Anthony was tagged out.

Grahamm Wiest
Wiest was in “lockdown” mode in the bottom of the eighth – two flyballs to Lorenzen and a strikeout.  When the Titans went quietly in the top of the ninth, we sat in the stands biting our nails to see if Wiest would come out to pitch the inning or if the coaches would go straight to Lorenzen.

Wiest came out to start the inning and gave up a leadoff single to Long Beach’s Michael Hill on his 103rd and final pitch of the game, prompting Lorenzen to take over pitching duties.  Lorenzen was greeted by a single by Richard Prigatano – his third hit of the day – which put the tying run on second and the winning run on first with nobody out.  A sacrifice bunt moved both runners ninety feet closer to a potentially joyous outcome for the Dirtbags after Saturday’s gut-wrenching loss.

With the infield back to prevent a disastrous two-run game-ending single, the Titans were prepared to concede the tying run, but were hoping Lorenzen could strike out Eric Hutting and avoid putting the ball in play.  But Hutting battled and lifted a 2-2 pitch into medium-shallow centerfield.  Kingsolver made the catch and threw home, with Hill sliding in just ahead of the throw to tie the score, with Prigatano still hugging second-base as the potential winning run.

But hold the phone!  As soon as Hill left third-base, the Titans bench in unison began yelling that the runner had left early.  (Author’s confession: I didn’t see it, as I was looking through the camera lens to line up a shot of the play at the plate. Everybody I spoke with later said he had left at least two steps early.)

Long Beach Scoreboard ... In Denial
It seemed an eternity as the next batter scuffled around before finally entering the batter’s box and plate umpire Bill Van Raaphorst put the ball back in play – the Dirtbags must have known what was about to transpire.  Once time was back in, Lorenzen calmly stepped back off the mound, took a few strides towards third-base and flipped the ball to Dale, appealing that the runner, Hill, had left the base before the ball had been touched by the outfielder.  Third-base umpire Ramon Armendiraz emphatically gave the “Out!” sign, which stunned the fans on both sides.

Has anyone ever seen a game end on a walk-off appeal play?  It’s one of those plays that, even if the runner did leave early, you just never expect Blue to make the call. The play occurred right in front of the Dirtbags’ third-base dugout and they did not argue the call at all – the Dirtbags fans booed lustily as the umpires exited the field, but there were no coach’s arguments.

Wiest was magnificent: he allowed just one run on seven hits (at least two were generous scorekeeping) and struck out nine batters while allowing no walks.  Deacon had half of the Titans’ six hits and raised his season average to .409.


Let’s take a quick look back at the two midweek games against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  The two wins completed a sweep of the four-game season series, which began with a double-header at Goodwin Field on the opening weekend of the season.

Tuesday, March 19: Titans 8, Cornhuskers 7 (11 innings)

The less said about this game the better.  Hooky said it was the ugliest game he’d ever been involved with as a coach – he wasn’t kidding.  But the Titans overcame a boatload of self-inflicted wounds (like fiver errors, fourteen hits allowed, rally-killing double-plays to end three consecutive innings, leaving the bases loaded, etc.) and came back from an early 4-0 deficit to win the game in extra innings.

Tom Emanski would be puking in the dugout if he saw a replay of this game.

The wheels came off defensively for the Titans right away.  With Gauna starting on the mound, the leadoff man hit a line-drive right at shortstop Pedroza, who dropped the ball and compounded the calamity by throwing the ball away.  It was leniently scored as a hit-and-an-error; it could have easily been ruled a double error (one on the drop, another on the overthrow.)  But damage was averted when the next batter lined out to second-baseman Dale, who threw back to Pedroza to double off the napping Husker runner.

Gauna was roughed up for four runs in the second inning – two earned and two unearned.  Ugliness.  There were five hits, two more errors by Pedroza and another one that could have easily been ruled an error.  The Cornhuskers were hitting the ball hard, but were also enjoying extra outs being handed to them.  It was a fluke occurrence: Pedroza has been amazing in the field all season and just had an awful night defensively.

The Titans scored four runs with two outs in the bottom of the third to tie the score.  After singles by Deacon and Dale around a couple outs, Kingsolver got the Titans on the board with a clutch two-out, two-run single and took second when the Huskers threw to the wrong base.  After Davis (making his first career start at third-base) and Tanner Pinkston (batting clean-up in his first career start as a Titan) walked, Lorenzen delivered another two-out, two-run single and the game was tied, 4-4.

But the momentum shift was temporarily interrupted when Nebraska answered with a solo tally in the top of the fourth to retake, the lead, 5-4.  Gauna allowed two singles and uncorked a wild pitch in the inning.

It was like watching a tennis match.  The Titans came back with two runs in the bottom of the frame and took a 6-5 lead.  Deacon walked, went to second on a wild pitch, to third on a single by Diemer and scored on a sacrifice fly by Dale, which also allowed Diemer to advance into scoring position.

Pedroza gave the Titans the lead with an RBI single.  It could have been much bigger, but the Huskers escaped on a strike-him-out-throw-him-out double-play to end the inning.

Gauna gave up a leadoff single in the top of the fifth and gave way to Kuhl, who promptly made a two-base error on an error pickoff attempt that advanced the runner to third, where he scored on a sacrifice fly to tie the score, 6-6.

From that point on, the game took on a different kind of ugly.  The pitching and defense got better for the next few innings, while the offenses stalled.

Willie Kuhl
Kuhl was awesome against a Nebraska team renowned for crushing fastball pitchers but who struggled with Willie’s assortment of sliders, curveballs and change-ups in various locations.
 Kuhl was the biggest difference in this game, pitching 4-2/3 innings and allowing just one unearned run and striking out eight batters (tied his career best).

Tied 6-6, the Titans had an assortment of Nebraska bullpen arsonists on the ropes but hit into rally-killing double-plays to end the fifth and sixth innings empty-handed.  Coaches Vanderhook and Darin Erstad (Nebraska) must have been fitted for straitjackets during this match.

The Titans took a short-lived 7-6 lead with a single run in the bottom of the seventh on a Kingsolver HBP, double by Davis, walk by Pinkston and bases-loaded Lorenzen HBP.  But the nest wave of relievers came in and the Titans left the bases loaded.

Kuhl allowed an unearned run in the top of the eighth as the tennis match continued, tied 7-7.  He gave up a single, stolen base and a runner advanced on a throwing error and scored on another single.  But just when it looked like Kuhl had run out of gas in by far his longest outing of the season, he got a second wind and struck out the side.

Peitzmeier replaced Kuhl with two runners on base in the top of the ninth and he induced an inning-ending groundout.  The Titans had the potential winning run in scoring position in the ninth but could not deliver a walk-off hit.  Peitzmeier and the Huskers’ Josh Roeder swapped scoreless tenth innings.

Peitzmeier walked one and struck out two in the top of the eleventh before the Titans summoned right-handed side-armer Michael Lopez to face a tough right-handed batter.  Lopez threw exactly one pitch – a strike – and catcher Deacon threw a seed to second-base to retire the would-be base stealer.

Michael Lopez
Without benefit of a hit, the Titans managed an unlikely comeback win in the bottom of the eleventh, making “Swoop” Lopez a one-pitch winner.  Kingsolver was hit by a pitch leading off.  When he stole second, the Huskers pitched around Davis and walked him – although Blue seemed to get very tight with his strike zone all of a sudden.  Kingsolver alertly stole third, putting the winning run just ninety feet away for pinch-hitter Chapman, who along with Carlos Lopez had been given the night off to give playing time to others.  Chapman hit a hard chopper that nearly went over the shortstop’s head, but the defender made a good play and looked Kingsolver back to third while retiring Chapman.

With Davis taking second on the play, Lorenzen came up with first base open and he was intentionally walked.  Carlos Lopez had a chance to deliver a walk-off win, but he popped the first pitch he saw straight up in the air for an infield fly rule out.  It then became a battle between pitcher Roeder and batter Deacon.  Finally, Deacon drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch to drive in the winning run, just shortly before daybreak.

While the Titans committed five errors – which could have been more – and allowed fourteen hits, they at least didn’t issue many walks (just two) and had ten strikeouts.  Nebraska pitching allowed fourteen hits, eight walks and three hit-batsmen, surely to the chagrin of pitching coach Ted Silva.

Davis and Lorenzen led the Titans with three hits each, while Kingsolver, Deacon and Dale had two each.  Dale made a few excellent defensive plays at second-base.  Kingsolver also scored three runs and had two RBI, a triple and two stolen bases.

It was truly one of the ugliest games you will ever see on a baseball diamond – but also peculiarly entertaining.  The sparse crowd still there at the end enjoyed an adrenaline rush of exhilaration with the walk-off win.

Wednesday, March 20: Titans 10, Nebraska Cornhuskers 4

This was a classic “Johnny All-Staff” game as both teams were playing their fifth game in six days.  When all was said and done, the back end of the Titans’ pitching roster was superior to what the Huskers could trot out after a three-game weekend series against UC Irvine and the extra-innings game the previous night at Goodwin Field.

Freshman lefthander Bryan Conant got the start for the Titans and allowed two runs in three innings, followed by Henry Omana (one run in 2/3 inning) and David Birosak (one run in 1-1/3 innings).  None was especially distinguished, but they got good experience and kept the Titans in the game until they turned a 4-2 deficit into a 10-4 lead with an eight-run sixth inning.

The inning began innocently enough, with Wallach and Diemer both hit by pitches.  Trailing by two runs and two runners on with no outs, everyone in the ballpark expected a bunt by Williamson.  He did as expected – dropped a nice bunt towards third base which turned into a base-hit when the pitcher and third-baseman converged and played a brief game of Hacky Sack with the baseball.

This brought Chapman to the plate, who had been struggling recently with the bat and had been moved into the leadoff spot to get him an extra at-bat or two with Pedroza given the night off.  Chapman ripped a rope into rightfield for a two-run single that tied the score, 4-4.  Lopez then gave the Titans a 5-4 lead with an opposite field RBI single.  After Chapman and Lopez executed an uncontested double-steal, Davis drove them both in with a two-run single that made it 7-4.

After a pitching change and a force-play, Jefferies stroked an opposite field double into the leftfield corner that made it 8-4.  Wallach tripled – yes, you read that right – to make it 9-4 and scored on a wild pitch to make it a big 10-4.

After that, it was a parade of substitutions and pitching changes for both teams.  Kyle Murray, Jose Cardona and Joe Navilhon combined to shut out the Huskers the final four innings of the game.

The Titans scored their ten runs on ten hits, led by Williamson, Chapman and Davis with two apiece.  Murray earned the first victory of his brief career.


So what did we learn during this 5-0 week?

We learned that they don’t rig the 50/50 games at Blair Field: Carlos Lopez’ mom won for the second time.

There were some very strange games this week, a nice indication of this team’s ability to find a way to win.  While the best the Titans played this week was the Friday shutout in the series opener at Blair Field, it’s easy for me to choose the most impressive win: the Tuesday debacle against Nebraska.  If a team can do so many things to give away a game yet still manage to win, they must be pretty darn good.

The next time you’re at Goodwin Field, check out the new placard in the recently named Nick Hurtado Bullpen (leftfield home side.)  Very classy.

The Titans play four home games this week: a Tuesday night nonconference game against Jason Gill’s Loyola Marymount squad before beginning Big West Conference action Thursday night against the University of the Pacific Tigers.  This will be the final time the Titans and Tigers play a conference series, as Pacific will be moving to the West Coast Conference beginning in the 2013-2014 academic year.  The biennial trip to scenic Stockton has been replaced by Hawai’i – I’m okay with that.

Somebody recently asked me to “name the worst place you’ve ever visited to watch Titans baseball.”  The question actually stumped me, especially when the rules were qualified to be somewhere far enough away that it necessitated staying overnight – that precluded listing Riverside or Northridge.  I’m probably the wrong guy to ask – I don’t hit the nightspots, I never go sightseeing and I abhor doing ‘touristy’ things, so 70% of my response to a road trip destination is tied to the ballpark and the ballgames.  The other 30% is based on comfort and logistics (e.g. hotels, transportation, parking, traffic, weather, etc.) plus restaurants.  If I find a great greasy spoon Mom’n’Pop diner in a town we visit to play baseball, it just don’t get no better than that.

The easy choice would be to pick Stockton – but I have to say I have enjoyed each trip to the series against the University of the Pacific.  I like Klein Family Field and the Titans have generally played well there.  I found a great steakhouse in Stockton (a really unique place – I think it’s called “Outback”) and you can get a nighttime discount on gasoline (if you’re willing to risk getting carjacked at gunpoint.)  Not only is there a greasy spoon I like in Stockton (the Duck Nook), there are a couple in Lodi well worth the extra fifteen minute drive.

Some of my favorite destinations turned out to be places where I wasn’t expecting much.  Playing Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg turned out to be perhaps the most enjoyable baseball trip I’ve ever been on, although it’s hard to surpass LSU.  (Had the Titans won just once in Baton Rouge, the LSU trips would be the clear-cut winner in the “best baseball trip destination” competition.) The three game sweep against Southern Miss was the hottest I’ve ever seen the Titans play and the Golden Eagles fans were knowledgeable, friendly and hospitable.  Leatha’s Bar-B-Que Inn was amazing.  Plus I got to meet one of my all-time idols, Southern Miss alum Ray Guy.

Rabid fans that fervently support their teams but are respectful of both the game and their opponents are high on my list – Texas A&M and Arizona stand out for their creative, well-informed heckling.

(At the other end of the spectrum – you know the fans are idiots when their best form of heckling is “Left….right….left….right.…Sit down!” when an opposing player is returning to the dugout after striking out.)

Believe it or not, I didn’t find Tulsa all that great.  I was extremely excited when I found Porky’s Kitchen on Yelp – until I got there and learned Porky was the 12-year-old girl who waited on me and that she hands you a packet of dry, powdered Cremora after asking if you want cream for your coffee.

Cremora might be okay in prison, but I generally prefer my corn syrup solids, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, sodium caseinate, dipotassium phosphate, salt, monoglycerides, silicon dioxide, artificial coloring, sodium tripolyphospahe, sugar, carrageenan, datem and artificial flavors to come in liquid form.  It’s just a personal preference, I guess.

Even the worst chicken fried steak has some semblance of ex-animal buried somewhere deep amidst the batter and grease – but I never found it at Porky’s.  It was more like ‘chicken fried fry.’

Readers, you take over – please comment on your favorite and least favorite Titans baseball trip destinations.

With the help of some previous opponents – most notably Texas A&M, Nebraska and Oral Roberts – the Titans moved up to #3 in RPI following their road sweep of the Dirtbags.  The next few weeks are likely to drag down the Titans’ RPI based on the schedule weakness:  weekend series against Pacific (RPI 169), UC Davis (226) and UC Santa Barbara (141) before locking horns on the road against Cal Poly SLO (35).  Other than winning their own games, the Titans need the teams on this year’s schedule to win as many games as possible (except against us, of course).  Come on, TCU!

The biggest negative of the week was the ankle injury suffered Friday night by Matt Chapman.

Kendall Rogers tweeted that Coach Vanderhook had told him Chapman is likely to be out 4-6 weeks.

The silver lining for Chapman’s injury is that it comes now and he has time to be fully healed in time for tougher late season series and the playoffs.  It is hard to replace the #3 hitter in your batting order who is also such a superb fielder and tenacious player.

I’ve been watching Titans baseball since 2003 (relatively short compared to many fans and readers), but Chapman is the only third-baseman I’ve seen during that period worthy of comparison defensively to Ronnie Prettyman.  I would rate them on par as far as fielding the ball (range, backhand, charging balls, robbing opponent hits, defending bunts, etc.), with Chapman having a stronger arm but Prettyman more consistently accurate with his throws.  While it’s hard to compare players from the BBCOR era to those before, Prettyman’s offensive contributions tended to get lost in the shadow of higher profile teammates.  In his three years at Fullerton, Prettyman played 197 games (195 as a starter) and had a career average of .332 with 51 doubles, 11 triples, 11 home runs and 124 RBI.

Davis is likely to get the bulk of playing time at third-base, with Dale perhaps used as a late inning defensive replacement and when Davis pitches.  It’s going to be interesting to see how the third-base situation impacts the way Davis is deployed as a pitcher.  Davis (3.07 ERA, .236 opponent batting average) has been effective in his recent relief appearances.  With Chapman and Matt Orloff both out with injuries, the infield depth is becoming an issue.  One of the unsung heroes in this year’s improvement has been the versatility of Dale, who has played all four infield positions.

If you’re looking for an unsung hero this week, try reliever Willie Kuhl.  He made monumental contributions in the Tuesday win over Nebraska and Saturday he was the winning pitcher against Long Beach State.  In the two games, he gave his team 7-2/3 outstanding innings in long relief, allowing just three hits, no earned runs and two walks while registering twelve strikeouts.  Kuhl, Gauna, Davis and Peitzmeier are becoming a formidable bridge between the starters and the closer, Lorenzen.  Michael Lopez and Jose Cardona also sport 0.00 ERA’s out of the bullpen.

I’m from the school of “expect the worst and hope for the best.”  This 2013 Titans team is making it very hard to not “expect the best” – but teams have a way of setting you up for a disappointment when you begin to expect them to always win.  Any lifelong Red Sox fan from my generation can attest to that – look no further than Bob Gibson beating us three times in the ’67 World Series, Bucky “Bleeping” Dent in ’78, Bill Buckner in ’86, Grady Little leaving Pedro in the game too long against the Yankees in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS and 2011’s September Swoon, fueled by fried chicken and beer.  Other sports emotionally kill you too.  I still suffer from Franco’s “Immaculate Deception” and “the Tuck Rule” game that denied the Raiders.  More recently, the Syracuse Orange basketball team (tied with Fullerton baseball as my favorite teams) started this season 17-1, looked like a cinch to be a 1-seed in March Madness and was ranked #1 at one point – before going 8-8 in the next stretch of games.

Moral of the story:  I’m loving every second of this Titans season, but not loading Omaha into my GPS just yet.

That’s all for now.  We’ll see you around the yard and please leave your comments about favorite and least favorite Titans baseball trip destinations.