Back in February, there was nothing magic about Cal State Fullerton's numbers. The Titans were 1-5, and bore little resemblance to a team that would contend for a conference championship.
Three months later, Fullerton finds itself needing only one victory or one UC Santa Barbara defeat to claim the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. title.
The Titans reduced their magic number to one with a 6-2 victory over San Jose State Friday night at Titan Field. Senior left-hander Larry Casian pitched a complete-game six-hitter and allowed only five balls to be hit out of the infield, moving Fullerton one step closer to a PCAA championship that once looked so unlikely. And he had to beat the pitcher with the best statistics in the PCAA to do it.
Fullerton handed Anthony Telford his first loss in five outings and, in the process, mathematically eliminated San Jose from the race for the PCAA title.
Tony Trevino's three-run homer in the first inning turned out to be all the support Casian would need. The Titans added two runs in the sixth and another in the eighth on Mike Ham's homer to left.
Trevino's blow was the biggest, for it gave Casian some early security and put made Telford pay a big price for some first-inning control problems. With one out, Telford walked Greg Mannion, then hit Mike Ross with a curveball that failed to curve in time. Trevino sent Telford's next pitch into the trees beyond the left-field fence for a 3-0 Fullerton lead.
"I knew that he threw hard and had a really good breaking ball, and that he had good control," Trevino said. "I just went up there looking for a fastball. Actually, it was right in my wheelhouse."
For Telford, this was a refresher course in humble. The Spartan ace hadn't lost in more than a month. The junior right-hander entered this week as the nation's leader in strikeouts with 134, and had walked only 33 batters in 110 innings. He struck out 13 in his last outing, a 4-2 victory over Cal State Long Beach last Friday. It was his fourth straight complete-game victory.
Titan Coach Augie Garrido was well aware of the Telford's recent success, which made him all the more happy to see Trevino clear the fence.
"There wasn't a happier guy in the stadium than I was when Tony took that pitch out," Garrido said. "When (Telford) settled down, you saw him ring up eight or nine strikeouts. Once he gets in a groove, boy, he can be tough."
But Telford wasn't around for the end of Friday night's game. The Spartan ace held the Titans for hitless for 5 innings after Trevino's home run, but began losing control after retiring the first two batters in the sixth. Ken Garcia singled and took second when Spartan right fielder Rob Thomas misplayed the ball. Telford then walked Paul Cameron and Ham to load the bases, bringing up Mark Razook, who had struck out twice against Telford. Razook lined a single to left to drive in Garcia, and a Telford wild pitch scored Cameron to make it 5-0.
San Jose State scored a run in the eighth and had the bases loaded with no outs in the ninth before Casian squeezed out his sixth complete game of the season, improving his record to 9-1. Fullerton (14-2, 37-14) has won 18 of its last 21 games and 36 of 45 since the 1-5 start.
Trevino said Garrido wouldn't let the Titans listen to the early season detractors who said that Fullerton would be hard-pressed to finish third in the PCAA this season.
"The Coach told us, 'Forget what they say, we know what we can do,' " the senior third baseman said. "He told us the sky was the limit."