Titans Win Opener in SLO

Titans Win Opener in SLO

The Cal State Fullerton Titans met the challenge of Big West Conference rival Cal Poly SLO last night and emerged with an 8-4 victory at Baggett Stadium, riding the arm of Daniel Renken's second consecutive complete game, 10 strikeout performance.

Originally published on www.csfbaseball.com

The Titans got off to a quick start against Renken's opponent, D.J. Mauldin. Gary Brown and Josh Fellhauer's one-out singles placed runners at the corners for Jared Clark, who delivered a sacrifice fly to give the Titans a quick 1-0 lead. Khris Davis walked and Dustin Garneau reached on an error to load the bases, but Mauldin minimized the damage by inducing Jeff Newman to groundout.

Renken showed a touch of wildness that would recur throughout the game when he hit leadoff man Ryan Lee with a pitch. But after a flyout, Garneau nailed Lee (who had been 23-for-25 in base stealing) attempting to pilfer second base.

The second and third innings were scoreless, but both teams put at least one runner aboard each time. Renken and Mauldin made the big pitches they needed, though, to escape unharmed. The Mustangs finally got to Renken in the bottom of the fourth inning on a home run by Luke Yoder on a two-out, two-strike pitch, tying the game, 1-1.

The Titans broke the tie right away when Gary Brown led off the fifth inning with a triple to rightfield - a stand-up double for virtually any other player. Jared Clark delivered his second sacrifice fly to give the Titans a 2-1 advantage.

Mid-game momentum remained with the Titans when Renken had his first 1-2-3 inning in the bottom of the fifth. The Titans extended their lead in the sixth inning when Jeff Newman was hit by a pitch, stole second and scored on Joey Siddons' RBI single to rightfield. Siddons went to second on the throw home, to third on Christian Colon's single and scored on Gary Brown's sacrifice fly, knocking Mauldin from the box and bringing in lefty Jared Eskew, who escaped with no further damage, but trailing 4-1.

The Mustangs responded right away in the bottom of the sixth. Renken hit the first two batters he faced before a flyout put runners at the corners with one out. D.J. Gentile then hit a ball hard to the left of 3B Siddons - a possible double-play ball, but it bounced off Siddons towards Colon at shortstop, who relayed it to Joe Scott at second base for the attempted forceout. To those that think every call goes against the Titans, you should have seen this one: Joe Scott caught the ball closer to Pismo Beach than to the base and relayed late to first-base trying to turn the double-play. The runner was called out at second-base and a bigger rally may have been snuffed.

But Renken was hardly out of the woods in that inning. Yoder hit a ball hard over the third-base bag that was backhanded nicely by Siddons; however, his long throw across the diamond was off target and went into rightfield. The Mustangs' second run of the inning scored, making it 4-3, before Kyle Smith walked. But Renken was equal to the task whenever he had to be: he struck out J.J. Thompson to hold the thin one-run advantage.

Just as they did early in the season during the red-hot streak, the Titans stifled the momentum shift with three runs of their own in the top of the seventh inning: "You score two, we'll score three." Eskew's wildness set the table: he walked Jared Clark, who stole his thirteenth base of the season, and Dustin Garneau. With one out and a 1-2 pitch upcoming, you're not expecting a bunt, right? But Newman surprised the stadium with a two-strike bunt back towards the mound: Eskew picked it up like it was a live hand grenade and Newman beat it out to load the bases. Out goes Eskew, in comes Mark DeVincenzi.

With the count 0-1, the Titans called for a suicide squeeze attempt: Clark came barreling down the line from third, but the pitch to Scott was down near his feet and impossible to put in play: Clark was a dead duck, the crowd was screaming and the Mustangs looked like they would escape the peril down just 4-3. But Scott ruined their night when he singled into centerfield to score Garneau and Newman, making it 6-3. Scott stole second and scored an insurance run on Siddons' RBI single.

After both Renken and DeVincenzi tossed 1-2-3 innings, the Mustangs came to bat in the eighth inning trailing 7-3. Adam Buschini - a .406 hitter - stroked one inside the rightfield line for extra bases. But he broke one of baseball's cardinal rules - never make the first or third out at third-base - when Brown and Colon connected on perfect relay throws to nail Bruscini trying to turn it into a triple. The air came out of the SLO dugout and the crowd impersonated Dodgers fans heading to the parking lot.

The Titans took further advantage of inexperienced freshman catcher Jordan Hadlock - who had been redshirting this season until injuries a couple games ago forced him to be activated - when Clark was hit by a pitch and took two bases on a wild pitch. By taking the extra base, Clark was able to score on a flyball by Khris Davis: the Titans' fourth sacrifice fly of the game.

Renken was touched for a run in the ninth on a double by Smith and an RBI single by Thompson. Two wild pitches later, Renken got a flyout from Lee to end it.

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So what did we learn last night?

The baseball and softball fields at Cal Poly are adjacent. With the fires in Santa Barabara forcing the series between Fullerton and UCSB to be transferred to San Luis Obispo, Titans fans got to stroll back and forth between the two games. The softball team won both games of their double-header to remain in contention for a possible co-championship in the Big West Conference. The Titans softball team won the second game by a 2-1 score in nine innings, thwarting a Gaucho rally when they loaded the bases with one out in the ninth but were unable to score. It was a great diamond day all around for Titans fans.

Joey Siddons continues to produce a quality at-bat almost every time he comes up - he had three singles tonight and even his outs tend to be hit squarely. Gary Brown and Jeff Newman had two hits each, while Clark, Siddons and Scott led the RBI parade with two each. The four sacrifice flies were important, also: naturally, you'd prefer a base hit to drive in a run, but getting the runner in from third base with fewer than two outs on a consistent basis is an important part of winning baseball, and the team is taking care of business in that department.

Renken's outing last night was quite similar to his previous outing against UCSB. He pitched a complete game and equalled his career high of ten strikeouts. Considering the offensive success of his opponent, it was a very good performance. Cal Poly coach Larry Lee was interviewed in the local paper and said, "Renken is one of the better pitchers on the West Coast. He was very dominant with some of our hitters." Lee went on to say, "It's not realistic, offensively, to do some of the things we've done in the past, when we know we are facing some of the better pitching staffs."

Renken improved his record to 7-2 and looks like he will be allowed to pitch as deep into games as possible rather than rely on the bullpen. His pitch count this week was a mere 138, following his 146 pitch outing last week. He walked only one, but he hit three batters and had two wild pitches.

Baseball has always lent itself almost perfectly to statistics that measure players offensively. However, capturing the contribution of a player defensively has never been possible in baseball on a purely statistical basis. There is no statistic that shows how many times a catcher blocks a ball in the dirt or intimidates the opposing offense from running the bases more aggressively. Dustin Garneau has been remarkable behind the plate, which was showcased several times last night. Throwing out Lee attempting to steal in the first inning was a big play right away to set the tempo of the game. Garneau made another great play against Lee in the third inning on a foul bunt that he had to sprint back toward the screen and make a diving catch, without having time to even remove his mask.

There are a couple statistics that do indicate defensive contributions, though: Garneau has retired 20 of the 33 would-be base-stealers against him: a remarkable 61%! Joe Scott has a fielding percentage of .990, which is absolutely remarkable for a middle infielder. Those numbers don't lie.

Tonight will be an acid test for both teams. Cal Poly is ranked high (#12 by Baseball America and #11 by Rivals.com), but key injuries have cooled off their offense and their weak schedule has their RPI in the 50-ish range, which means they are not a lock to make the NCAA field, despite their current record of 32-14. The Mustangs are taking solace in that their Friday record this season is just 8-6 (.571), while their record the others days is 24-8 (.750). It tells me they are highly proficient at beating up the #2 and #3 pitchers of the tomato can teams they have scheduled. If they can do the same thing against Noe Ramirez and Tyler Pill, then they would be a legitimately strong NCAA tournament team - it will be interesting to see if they can do it.

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