Titans Win Fullerton Regional (3-0)
def. Columbia 4-1, def. Arizona State 1-0, def. Arizona State 6-1
By Don Hudson
You either saw the games in person or on ESPNU – no need to rehash the details of what you already witnessed. Rather than detailed recaps, I feel in more of a reflective mood as we get ready for the Super Regionals against the UCLA Bruins.
Game 1 Reflections: Arizona State Sun Devils 4, New Mexico Lobos 3
Coming into the Regionals, both teams had advanced billing as prolific offenses, with ASU having better pitching. Both teams started their regular “Friday guys”, albeit with NMU’s Josh Walker coming in with an 11-0 record matched up with ASU’s Trevor Williams, who is a highly regarded pro prospect (selected #44 overall today) but had scuffled this year after earning all-conference honors and pitching for Team USA in 2012.
Part of the intrigue of this quartet of teams was that it included three pitchers with 11-0 regular season record: Walker, Fullerton’s Justin Garza and ASU’s Ryan Kellogg. All three pitched impressively and certainly well enough to win, but Walker and Kellogg ended up with their first losses of the season before the weekend was finished.
The lasting impression from this game was that neither team hit as well as their advance press clippings. The Lobos outhit the Devils, 8-4, but committed three errors and allowed three unearned runs and gave the game away. Two of the errors were by shortstop Jared Holley, who was named to the All-Regionals team; the other was committed by Walker himself, who struck out three, walked four and allowed just four hits in 7-1/3 innings. Williams was “good enough” for ASU, allowing eight hits, three walks and three hit-batsmen in 7-2/3 innings.
It’s a strange feeling sitting at Goodwin Field when you don’t have a dog in the fight – you feel no stress, enjoy no adrenaline, don’t get too mad, don’t get too thrilled – don’t even get mad at Blue. It’s a nice reminder of how partisan we are when we watch a baseball game: the neutral fan sees a pitch low and a foot outside, while the die-hard fan with emotional investment sees it perfectly “painting the black” and screams “That’s on you, Blue!” when the hitter drives the next pitch into the alley.
Game 2 Reflections: Cal State Fullerton Titans 4, Columbia Lions 1
Even against an Ivy League opponent that had played just one game in the last three weeks, I was worried. I think I was worried as much about the Titans not wearing the orange uniforms in a Friday night opener as I was about eschewing our top two pitchers and going with Grahamm Wiest, a pitcher I have utmost confidence in but who had an ERA of 8.59 in his three prior starts.
But my worries were misplaced: Wiest did a great job and pitched a complete game, allowing just one run (a home run by Columbia third-baseman David Vandercook) on three hits with no walks and three strikeouts. It was a very efficient outing for Wiest, who threw just 86 pitches.
By completing the game, it allowed the Titans to eschew the use of closer Michael Lorenzen, lest he use up pitches and give his next opponents a chance to see him pitch in person.
|Chapman goes deep|
But what stands out the most to me was the amazing defense played by the infield. Pedroza demonstrated every possible shortstop skill in dazzling fashion – backhands deep in the hole; ranging far to his left (like somewhere in shallow centerfield) and throwing guys out; charging slow-hoppers and grabbing in-between hops; and eating up balls smashed hard. Third-baseman Chapman also had some late-game web-gems where both his glove and howitzer arm were on display. First-baseman Carlos Lopez also had some great scoops and stretches – there were a couple plays where “both ends” of the play were spectacular.
Game 3: Columbia Lions 6, New Mexico Lobos 5 (too many innings)
College baseball has grown astronomically since ESPN began televising selected College World Series games back in 1980, in addition to a few locations at both the Regionals and Super Regionals. Based on the inaugural popularity, they began televising all the CWS games played in Omaha. This year’s progression to cover all games at all sites is a huge game-changer, albeit there being a pretty major difference between games shown on ESPN2 and ESPNU versus ESPN3 (internet only).
For all their investment, ESPN gets to call the shots – which I can’t fault. They decide the starting times, when to resume play after commercials, when the national anthem shall be sung, whether supplementary lights will be used (to make for better picture quality), etc.
It would have made infinitely more sense to play Game 3 (e.g. the game shown only on ESPN3) early in the afternoon, since the loser would be eliminated and the winner wouldn’t play again until the next day. That way, if the game went long, it wouldn’t impact the nationally telecast feature Game 4. But that isn’t what King ESPN wants, so the game began at 4:05 p.m. and just might have finished in plenty of time – until the Lions woke up and overcame a 5-0 deficit and tied the score in the top of the eighth inning.
If you want to know what eternity feels like, just watch the reply of this game starting in the ninth inning. The Titans and Sun Devils fans lined up to watch the feature game ended up standing there for 3+ hours. Mercifully, the Lions scored a run in the top of the thirteenth inning and the Lobos rallied but were unable to tie the score in the bottom of the frame.
It was cool to see an Ivy League underdog get their first-ever NCAA playoff win – just wish it didn’t take 4 hours, 36 minutes and 437 pitches to accomplish. The teams combined for 27 hits and there was just one error (by Lobos’ shortstop Holley).
Game 4 Reflections: Cal State Fullerton Titans 1, Arizona State Sun Devils 0
The game pitted the aforementioned 11-0 freshmen pitchers – Fullerton’s Garza and ASU’s Kellogg – in what delivered on its promise to be a classic pitchers’ duel. This game was one of the best I’ve ever seen – too bad it started at almost midnight on the east coast and most of the national TV audience was sound asleep.
(Photo: Jorge Lopez)
Kellogg wasn’t nearly as sharp as Garza, but he was very impressive nonetheless. He stranded two Titans runners in the bottom of the first inning and was the beneficiary of some dubious strategy and poor execution by the Titans in the second inning when they had a golden chance to give Garza an early lead. His infield defense was shaky – for sons of former MLB infielders, you’d expect more defensively from third-baseman Benjamin and shortstop Stankiewicz – but Kellogg was at his best when the Titans had runners in scoring position.
(Photo: Jorge Lopez)
After the dog left through the gate beside the leftfield fair pole, Chad Wallach walked and Greg Velazquez blooped a single to start the inning. Hooky eschewed having Jake Jefferies bunt in a situation where it was pretty obvious, even though it isn’t the strength of JJ’s game.
After Jefferies flied out on the first pitch and neither runner could advance, Austin Diemer singled to rightfield, where the ball was quickly charged by ASU’s strong-armed Trever Allen, who already had nine outfield assists this season. Wallach’s running is timed with a sundial instead of a stopwatch, so it was stunning when he was given the signal to try to score – Allen’s throw was perhaps fifteen feet up the third-base line, but Wallach was still another ten feet away before catcher Max Rossiter caught it and made the uncontested tag.
The peculiarities continued in the bottom of the fourth, as Velazquez reached second base with one out on a single and groundout. Diemer lined the ball sharply to centerfield and Velazquez made a quick determination that the ball was going to drop in for a hit, so he sprinted aggressively towards third base and was a “dead duck” when the ball hung up and was easily caught by ASU centerfielder Kasey Coffman, who lobbed the ball to second to double off Velazquez and end the threat.
Both pitchers were nails throughout the middle innings, but with Kellogg’s pitch count rising rapidly and his throws-to-first count getting up into the 30’s. I loved how the home crowd switched from booing the ASU pitcher’s tosses to first to mock cheering them. It was a great “in your face” move when Lopez stole a base off him after about eight straight pickoff attempts.
The defense behind Garza was stellar, most notably a great diving grab by leftfielder Diemer on a sinking line drive.
|Jefferies doubles, scores winning run|
(Photo: Jorge Lopez)
With runners at the corners and nobody out, Pedroza delivered a flyball just shy of the warning track in leftfield, allowing Jefferies to trot in with what would prove to be the game’s only run. Kellogg left the game to a well-deserved ovation from the partisan supporters of both teams.
When Rossiter singled with one out in the top of the ninth, Hooky wasted no time in bringing in closer Lorenzen. Similar to when Kellogg left the game, fans on both sides gave Garza a hearty ovation for pitching a great game.
Lorenzen came in blazing – he struck out the two batters he faced to nail down the 1-0 win. It was Lorenzen’s 35th career save – breaking the tie with Chad Cordero and Nick Ramirez and making him Fullerton’s all-time leader. Garza and Lorenzen combined for eleven strikeouts and allowed just four hits.
Game 5: Arizona State Sun Devils 10, Columbia Lions 5
This was a typical Sunday afternoon elimination game, with both teams in the losers bracket in a dogfight to see which has enough pitching left to try to climb back into contention, facing the daunting task of subsequently having to beat the undefeated team twice. It really underscores the importance of winning the Saturday night game.
Columbia fought gallantly and even outhit the Devils, 12-5. From a Titans fan’s perspective, the good news was that the Sun Devils used five pitchers, including their third-best starter, Zak Miller.
ASU lit up the depleted Columbia pitching staff for all ten runs in the first four innings, including home runs by Coffman and Nate Causy. The Devils enjoyed the largesse of the Lions’ first two pitchers, with ten runs on five hits, four walks and two hit-batsmen in those four innings. Columbia relief pitcher Zak Tax threw five no-hit shutout innings.
My favorite recollection from this game: sitting behind a couple of ASU fans as their boys were pounding Columbia, they were in adamant agreement that “Fullerton definitely doesn’t want any part of us!”
Game 6: Cal State Fullerton Titans 6, Arizona State Sun Devils 1
It was a comforting feeling to be sitting in the Titans’ position: it’s Sunday night, the other team has to beat you twice, their pitching staff is running on fumes and you’ve still got your Friday guy ready to go.
The Titans’ Thomas Eshelman was matched with ASU sophomore Adam McCreery, a 6-9 sophomore left-handed pitcher from Bonita High School in lovely La Verne – a teammate one year ahead of Garza. He has a live arm but has yet to establish control, yielding a disproportionate number of walks and hit-batsmen. With the patience of the Titans’ offense, you knew this was not a match-up favorable to Arizona State.
It was actually painful to watch McCreery pitch – he was nowhere near the plate. First inning walks to Pedroza, Chapman and J.D. Davis loaded the bases for Lorenzen, who sharply lined a two-run single into rightfield to give the Titans a quick 2-0 lead. With two outs, Velazquez walked to re-load the bases and Jefferies followed with an RBI walk. The Titans scored three runs on one hit and five walks in the first inning, with McCreery throwing 46 pitches before Eshelman threw his first.
After a quick 1-2-3 bottom of the first, McCreery returned to the hill and showed no better command. There was a scary moment when Lopez was hit in the helmet on a high, inside fastball. When Chapman followed with a walk, ASU coach Tim Esmay had seen enough and called right-handed side-armer Josh McAlister from the bullpen.
Davis jumped on McAlister right away with an RBI single that scored Lopez and sent Chapman to third. Lorenzen executed a perfect squeeze bunt and Chapman scored to make it 5-0 – a very comfortable feeling with Eshelman and the orange jerseys working for you.
|Eshelman mows down ASU|
It felt like a one-sided game, but McAlister pitched great and the Sun Devils scored a run in the bottom of the fourth against Eshelman. Rossiter lined a one-out sinking line drive that Lorenzen made a diving attempt to catch when it appeared certain to be a single – the ball went by him for a triple. Allen singled with two outs to drive in Rossiter with ASU’s only run of the game.
Not much else happened. Much has been written elsewhere about incidents that happened in the stands – I wasn’t anywhere near it, so I’ll leave it to others to describe and opine. My focus was directed towards the game and the team – and I was very pleased with the outcome.
Eshelman scattered seven hits over eight innings of work, striking out seven and walking – yes, you guessed it – zero. Tyler Peitzmeier finished it off with an easy 1-2-3 ninth inning.
The Titans and Devils both had six hits, but the Titans were aided by eleven walks and two hit-batsmen – Eshelman and Peitzmeier had zero walks and hit-batsmen. The Titans definitely won the WTF battle in this game.
Game 7 Reflections: “Not Necessary”
I save the ticket stubs from every game. There is no better ticket than the one that goes unused because the Titans have already clinched a series.
So what did we learn in the Regionals?
Even though the pitching had been dominant throughout the season, there is always that bit of uncertainty when the playoffs begin. Wiest came in after three weekends of shaky performances (most notably at Riverside and Northridge) – it was huge for him to set the tone for the Regionals with a complete game victory and no walks allowed.
There is also the uncertainty of how freshmen pitchers will pitch in the pressure of nationally televised playoff games and at that juncture of the season when there is concern that they will “hit the wall” as they amass innings and pitch totals far beyond their pre-collegiate experience. But Garza and Eshelman certainly were outstanding.
In total, the pitching staff allowed just two runs and zero walks in 27 innings in the Regionals. Besides their obvious talents and skills, I think Eshelman and Garza were well prepared by the number of road games played against quality opponents in hostile environments, plus they had each pitched in televised games during the regular season. It’s cliché to say “they are no longer freshmen,” but it is obvious they both demonstrate the pitching command and maturity of juniors or seniors.
I liked how Paul Lo Duca made several mentions how much Wiest has contributed to the rapid development of both freshmen phenoms.
Pitching and defense are what wins championships – but defense doesn’t seem to matter much when they select the All Regionals team. Congratulations to Wiest, Garza, Chapman (4-for-10, 3 RBI home run), Davis (4-for-11, 4 RBI) and Jefferies (2-for-7, huge hit and scored only run in crucial winners bracket game) for their selections, with Garza named MVP – all well-deserved honors.
New Mexico’s Holley batted .571 (4-for-7), while Pedroza was just 1-for-10 and scored three runs. But Pedroza was spectacular on defense and was a HUGE factor in the Titans’ wins, while Holley made three errors and almost single-handedly kicked away the opening game against Arizona State.
Pedroza didn’t hit for much, but he got on base with walks and drove in the game’s only run with a sacrifice fly to beat ASU in the 1-0 game on Saturday night/Sunday morning. I understand how they try to have at least one player from each team and that Holley’s offensive numbers were outstanding, but if you actually watched the games and didn’t just scan the stats sheet, Pedroza was the obvious choice.
Overall – including the regular season games and this weekend’s series – I wasn’t greatly impressed by Lo Duca. He was strong in certain areas – good insights on in-game action and strategies, plus he exhibited absolutely no bias towards Arizona State, his alma mater. (If anything, he sounded like a Fullerton sycophant.)
But I don’t think the ESPNU broadcast team did much homework. Lo Duca worked five Fullerton games (regular season games against Long Beach State and UC Irvine, plus the three games in Regionals) and told the exact same stories each time about the Titans players whose dads he knew from MLB. (Paul, we get it: Jake learned to swing the bat under water and Chad used to be your batboy but now is a foot taller than you.) But every other player has a story to be told, not just the kids of guys who played with you on the Mets or coached you on the Dodgers. Not once did I hear any mention on ESPNU of Nick Hurtado or why #56 was so ubiquitously on display – contrast that with the FSN West telecast of the second UCI game that talked about Nick’s passing and what it has meant to his teammates.
|Big Glove Man earns lots of airtime|
(Photo: Jorge Lopez)
I’m still not sure Lo Duca has figured out that “the guy with the big glove” is a heckler … he made numerous mentions to him having “the biggest glove I’ve ever seen” to catch foul balls hit into the stands.
Lo Duca is one of the players I respect most for “owning” his inclusion in the Mitchell Report and publicly apologizing for his “mistakes in judgment.” He is an earnest guy and a likeable personality – I would like to see him work harder at becoming a student of color commentary if he is going to make that his vocation. Conversely, FSN West’s John Jackson did an amazing job in Game 2 of the UCI series, providing insightful commentary and a deep bench of stories about players and coaches from both teams.
|Pedroza named BWC top defender|
Lorenzen and Eshelman are also Golden Spikes Award semi-finalists. Lorenzen is also a semi-finalist for the John Olerud Award (best two-way player) and Dick Howser Trophy (best closer).
The Titans also dominated Big West Conference honors, with Rick Vanderhook named Coach of the Year; Garza was Pitcher of the Year; Eshelman was Freshman Pitcher of the Year; Lopez was Co-Field Player of the Year; and Pedroza was Defensive Player of the Year. First-team All Big West first team honorees included Lorenzen, Pedroza and Lopez, while Chapman, Chad Wallach and Austin Diemer were on the second team. Wiest, Koby Gauna and Tyler Peitzmeier received honorable mention accolades.
Of all the awards recognition, my favorite might be Carlos Lopez being named third-team Capital One Academic All-America honors, just the second Titans baseball player to earn this distinction. Carlos also has a slim lead in voting for the Senior CLASS Award – have you voted today?
And on Thursday night, Michael Lorenzen became the 15th Titan to be taken in the first or sandwich round when the Cincinnati Reds selected him 38th overall. He's the first Titans to go in the top round since both Christian Colon (No. 4) and Gary Brown (No. 24) were taken in the first round in 2010.
|Vedo: Stupid words|
It was kind of a dumb thing to say in the press – especially since the series wasn’t finished. Karma bit Vedo in the ass the next day when his comments became bulletin board fodder and the Titans and their traveling fans broke out of their somnambulant state when Vedo entered the finale in the seventh inning of a 3-3 game. He got lit up for six runs (one in the eighth and five in the ninth) and grabbed his crotch and gestured with his junk towards the Titans side of the stands. After the 9-3 win, Hooky told the same reporter, “Number 27 popped off and said ‘it was fun making them look stupid (on Saturday), so I think we made him look a little stupider today.”
Didn’t you just know karma would bite Drew Stankiewicz in the ass when he made comments in the Arizona newspaper the week before the Regionals: “Fullerton is just another team on our way. The only thing that’s going to be special is my grandparents live in Fullerton, and they’re going to see me play.”
|Stankiewicz: Stupid words II|
After making himself the lightning rod for attention, how did Stanky perform in the four games he played? He went 0-for-12 and was mediocre in the field: he made a couple decent plays but also misplayed a few. It was poetic justice that he was the final out in the loss to “just another team.”
Instead of arguing with the fans, ASU pitching coach Ken Knutson might think about teaching his pitchers how to keep runners close using a slide-step. I felt badly for both Kellogg and McCreery for the incessant signals from the dugout to throw over to first to hold runners close. Notwithstanding irritating the crowd – who cares about that? – it took the pitchers out of their rhythm, took away their focus on the batter, consumed throwing energy, got the ASU fielders back on their heels and probably also impacted the ball/strike calls.
So much for last weekend – this UCLA series ought to be epic. I have seen computer projections and message board polls that favor the Titans, but I believe this series is virtually a 50/50 coin flip: two virtually mirror image teams with dominating pitching, outstanding defense, opportunistic offenses and great coaching.
There are two factoids that have me encouraged: the Titans are 9-1 against the Pac-11 and are riding a ten-game winning streak, their fourth such streak of the season.
There are also two factoids that scare the shit out of me: the Titans are 9-1 against the Pac-11 and are riding a ten-game winning streak, their fourth such streak of the season.
The Garza vs. Kellogg match-up was fantastic, but the Friday match-up between Garza and UCLA’s Adam Plutko takes it to another level. Plutko is 5-0 in his five career playoff starts, with an ERA of 0.97 – you can’t underestimate the importance of experience in these games as the stakes continue to get higher.
Eshelman against Nick Vander Tuig before a jam-packed sellout crowd on Saturday night should also be fantastic. It will be interesting to see how the Titans offense adapts to facing right-handed pitchers in the first two games after facing three southpaws in the Regionals. Anthony Hutting and Austin Kingsolver will get an opportunity to become offensive factors as the left-handed component of the corner outfield platoons.
Perhaps the biggest weapon the Bruins hold, besides the post-season experience of their starting pitchers, is closer David Berg, the first reliever ever to be honored as Pac-11 Pitcher of the Year on the strength of a 6-0 record with 20 saves, ERA of 0.81, and a 69-7 strikeouts-to-walks ratio in 67 innings pitched. That is a staggering amount of innings for a closer – compare to 22-2/3 by Lorenzen. If you want to beat UCLA, you’d better be ahead by the sixth inning – after that, you’ll face formidable headwinds in the late innings against Berg and set-up men James Kaprielian and Zack Weiss. The Sheriff is obviously not afraid to bring Berg into the game earlier than most closers.
|UCI Super Fan pulling for Titans|
Subject: Best Wishes from Irvine
Donny Boy, now's the time, perpetuate destiny. You and your Titan comrades on the terraces are the bugle sound the charge for the boys, smell the muskets and the horses’ breath and dispel all who oppose you into certain death.
With love from Superfan
To me, it’s what makes college baseball such a great experience that transcends mere winning and losing. Whether it’s The UCI Superfan, Dr. Dan from Long Beach State, “Tempe Tim,” the witty hecklers from Texas A&M and University of Arizona, the Cal Poly parents, the UCLA and USC alums, the incredibly hospitable people at LSU and Southern Mississippi, etc., I truly treasure meeting and befriending fans whose passion for the sport is simply directed towards a different set of young student-athletes. Not every kid can be lucky enough to be a Titan!