LONG BEACH — No doubt about it, Cal State Fullerton is without peer in the Big West Conference.
The Titans proved as much during the conference season and reaffirmed their status as the best Sunday with an 8-4 victory over Long Beach State in the conference tournament's title game at Blair Field. Fact is, the top-ranked Titans were too good for the 49ers.
Even so, finishing second to the Titans, which the 49ers also did after the regular season, is nothing to hang your head about. If anything, the 49ers should be quite pleased with themselves, said someone familiar with such things.
"Sure I was impressed (with Long Beach)," Titan Coach Augie Garrido said. "Long Beach has a quality program and great coaches.
"They have an outstanding work ethic, complete comprehension of the game and how to teach it to their players."
Long Beach struggled to remain above .500 for most of the season as Coach Dave Snow searched for the right combinations. He seems to have found what works: Long Beach won 11 consecutive games entering the tournament.
"I just think that we've taken a bigger step in terms of responsibility," Snow said, "individually, collectively and as a team. Our preparation, our approach and our attitude are three things we've elevated and it's shown up in our play."
Has the NCAA tournament selection committee noticed?
The Titans locked up the conference's automatic berth with the tournament title. As if they really needed it.
Long Beach is 34-21-1 entering its season-ending three-game series with Miami (May 18-20) at Blair Field. It also has those two second-place finishes, which should look pretty good. Or at least Snow hopes.
"We're not in a regional yet, but I would find it hard not for us to get in," Snow said. "We clearly established ourselves as the second choice out of our conference, I would think."
Not to imply that those well-trained NCAA officials won't make the right call, but Garrido knows nothing is a given. In 1991, the Titans had a season--and record--similar to that of the 49ers this season. To Garrido's shock, Fullerton didn't receive a bid.
"I don't see any reason why, how, they can be overlooked," Garrido said of Long Beach. "I say that only because of our experience in 1991.
"We had a similar season where it took us a long time to get it together. By the time we got to the end we were as good as anybody, not only in the conference but in the country in my opinion.
"The Long Beach players have a chance to win the NCAA championship. Any team that can win the NCAA championship should be given the opportunity, because they're going to be a lot of teams in that tournament that don't have a chance."