Judi Garman, Cal State Fullerton softball coach, has spent the week practicing the delicate art of preparing a defending national champion for the NCAA playoffs.
She began by giving the team Monday off. No practicing allowed.
The Titans, who once were 43-2 and owners of a 34-game winning streak, went into what for them was a slump in the last three weeks of the season. They played .667 ball, going 12-6. They also suffered their worst loss of the season on the last day of the regular season--8-1 to Fresno State--and fell into a tie for the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. championship.
In Garman's view, a little time to regroup was just what the Titans needed.
"We have the whole week to get ourselves back together," Garman told the team after that loss. "Let's do it."
The Titans (55-8) begin their defense of the NCAA championship at 7:30 tonight in the first of a three-game West Regional series at the Titan Softball Complex against Cal Poly Pomona, the team that ended the Titan winning streak on April 21. Fullerton is 4-1 against Pomona this season.
The winner of the series will head to Omaha for the eight-team College World Series, which begins Wednesday.
Garman continued the preparation with a tough workout on Tuesday and a scrimmage on Wednesday.
After the Titans committed six errors Sunday ("And there were more that didn't show up in the scorebook," Garman said), she thought it wise to give the players a chance to field a few balls in game situations before the real thing tonight.
Fullerton wrapped up the week with a more routine practice Thursday.
"We were concerned that we haven't been playing our best," Garman said. "But probably the most frustrating part has been that, other than Sunday, there hasn't been a whole bunch of errors or even injuries to point to. We just have not been as sharp."
Cal Poly Pomona has not been playing at the top of its game, either. The Broncos (42-21) lost five of their last seven and finished fourth in the PCAA.
Fullerton and Pomona both may go with one pitcher, even through three games. The second game of the series is at 1 p.m. Saturday. A third, if necessary, will be played at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Neither Fullerton's Connie Clark nor Pomona's three-time All-American, Rhonda Wheatley, has allowed an average of one earned run a game.
Clark (29-3, 0.46) led the PCAA in strikeouts with 219.
"Clark will go Friday night and then probably both games Saturday," Garman said. "But I shouldn't say both games. . . . We're hoping it (the series) will only go to two."
Wheatley (35-19, 0.53), who pitched a one-hit shutout in the victory over Fullerton last month, is even more likely to pitch every game. She has pitched 341 of 457 innings this season. Clark, by contrast, has pitched 228 of 436.
Outfielder Chenita Rogers, who set a school record with 22 stolen bases and whose .398 batting average led the PCAA, will head the Fullerton offense, along with freshman Missy Coombes (.360, 34 RBIs) and El Dorado High School product Tiny Glomboske (.308, 27 RBIs).
Betsy Burr, who plays third base, leads Pomona with a .312 average and has 34 sacrifices.
It is not lost on the Titans that Pomona is the team that they defeated in two games--both shutouts--to advance to the College World Series last year.
"It feels pretty much the same (as last year)," Clark said. "I hope it turns out the same."