Just what is it about Riverside?
The answer last night was quite simple: U.C. Riverside got excellent pitching, played great defense and got the game's only home run in defeating the Cal State Fullerton Titans by a score of 3-1 last night at the Riverside Sports Graveyard. Paul Bargas (UCR) and Daniel Renken locked up in a pitcher's duel that was ultimately decided by one swing of the bat: designated hitter Michael Hur delivered an opposite field three-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning to account for all of the Highlanders runs in the contest.
The game started in promising fashion for the Titans. With two outs in the first inning, the cleanly shaved Josh Fellhauer sliced a double to left field and scored on the first of Jared Clark's three singles. After an infield single by Nick Ramirez placed two runners aboard, Bargas pitched out of the jam by inducing a Khris Davis flyout.
Renken surrendered a soft line drive single to leadoff man Carl Uhl and then exhibited lockdown command of his pitches: he retired the next fourteen Highlanders hitters. He was hitting his spots and varying speed and location very effectively.
Highlanders' third baseman Ryan Goetz flashed the leather all night at third base, starting in the second inning when he made a great stop, looking into the popcorn machine, of a hard smash by Dustin Garneau. On the next play, Goetz made a nice play on a bunt by Joe Scott. Goetz had seven assists on the night in support of his pitcher.
The Titans had a golden opportunity to extend their 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning when they had three hits but were unable to score. After a leadoff hit by Clark, Goetz started an around-the-horn double-play on a grounder by Nick Ramirez. Khris Davis followed with a base hit to right field and advanced on Garneau's bunt single in front of the plate. After both runners moved into scoring position on a passed ball, Bargas reached back for something extra and struck out Scott to end the threat.
With one out in the fateful sixth inning for Riverside, the speedy Carl Uhl hit a slow bouncer to shortstop and just barely beat Christian Colon's rifle throw. (Doesn't it seem like Uhl has played for these guys longer than Yaz played for the Sox?) Uhl stole second base easily and was held at third base following a sharp single to rightfield by Trevor Hairgrove. (Had he been sent, Uhl would have been out by a mile on Khris Davis' great throw to the plate.)
With runners at the corners and one out, Michael Hur came up looking for a pitch to drive: a game-tying sacrifice fly at a minimum and hopefully more. When the count went to 2-1, Renken threw a pitch that was high and on the outer half of the plate: Hur roped it deep to the opposite field and over the rightfield fence for all the runs the Highlanders would get (or need) in the game.
Both Bargas and Renken pitched deep into the game. The Riverside bullpen didn't get active even in the eighth inning when the heart of the Titans batting order came up, as Bargas had plenty of gas in the tank to retire Colon, Fellhauer and Ramirez, sandwiched around a Clark single. Renken seemed to be tiring in the eighth inning when he allowed a leadoff single by the #9 hitter, Bryan Horst, and walked the pesty Uhl. The Titans bullpen was ready to go, but Coach Serrano displayed confidence in his Friday starter and left him in. Renken justified the show of confidence by striking out Hairgrove and inducing a double-play ball from Hur.
Highlanders coach Doug Smith also showed confidence in his starter by sending Bargas out to start the ninth inning. Khris Davis got behind in the count and then took a couple borderline pitches called balls and he reached base, much to dismay of the associate umpires rooting for the home team. In came the flame-throwing closer, Joe Kelly. Garneau hit a potential double-play ball to Goetz at third base, but the relay throw from second-baseman Horst went into the dugout and Garneau was at second base. Kelly nailed down the Highlanders' win by striking out pinch-hitter Tyler Pill and getting pinch-hitter Billy Marcoe to ground out.
So what did we learn last night?
With the loss, the Titans record at the Graveyard dropped to 1-9 since 2003. It's almost at the point that I look forward to games at the Sunken Diamond more than going to Riverside. But as much fun as it is to attribute failure to curses (sorry, folks, I'm a lifelong Red Sox fan, so I was brought up this way), in each case you have to give credit to U.C. Riverside for coming up with the big hits when needed and combining good pitching with defense.
Paul Bargas pitched a great game last night and he was supported by All American closer Joe Kelly when he needed help in the ninth inning. Bargas was ahead in the count to most Titans hitters and he did not walk or hit anybody until Khris Davis drew a leadoff walk in the ninth inning (only the second inning the Titans got the leadoff man on base.)
Jared Clark got three hits for the Titans, while Dustin Garneau and Nick Ramirez had two apiece. Although Bargas gave up nine hits, he avoided crooked numbers by not allowing free baserunners or long balls: eight of the hits were singles. He (and Kelly) also got stingy after getting through the middle of the Titans line-up: the 8-9-1-2 spots in the batting order went a combined 0-15. Hopefully, this is just a one night result of the Curse of the 909: the Titans recent hot play has been largely a result of excellent productivity throughout the lineup.
The leftfield position remains a work in process. Against two tough lefthanded starting pitchers at Oklahoma State, Tony Harkey was inserted in the line-up to give the Titans an extra bat, but with a trade-off of Jeff Newman's outstanding defense. Newman got the start against Riverside's tough southpaw last night but was removed for a pinch-hitter when the Titans fell behind.
Renken pitched a complete game and was in command - except for the one pitch to Hur. If you want to understand why Dave Serrano is a winner, look no farther than what he had to say afterwards about the home run pitch: "Daniel Renken took a big step forward despite the loss. He made one bad pitch and I'll take the blame for it. We went outside and he stepped on it. We should have gone inside." (Quote from article at http://www.fullertontitans.com/.) That is what leadership is all about and why I expect this team to go very far this season. The days are long gone when the Titans had to play a monstrous non-conference schedule to compensate for weak opponents in the conference: the Big West includes some of the toughest teams in the country and the Titans will be challenged to the brink nearly every time, made an even bigger target with the lofty national ratings and that word "Fullerton" on the fronts of the jerseys.
Finally, I loved the way the game coverage began at the Highlanders website:
"A season-best crowd of 756 UCR faithful came out to the Riverside Sports Complex Friday night to watch the Highlanders take on the number one team in the nation, Cal State Fullerton. they didn't go home disappointed....."
That's funny: approximately 400 of the UCR faithful demonstrated their loyalty with caps that had a big "F" and shirts and jackets that said "Titans." I'm guessing at least half of the season-best crowd went away disappointed - but they're going to be back today with new hope. There's always another day. Mike "Crappy" Gilmore will be calling the balls and strikes this afternoon - maybe he can be the lucky charm the Titans need to break the Curse of the 909.
In a game that had more ups and downs than the playing surface at the Riverside Sports Graveyard,…