YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Fullerton Turns It Up to Down Long Beach

College baseball: Titans wins twice to capture Big West tournament title, automatic NCAA berth.


LONG BEACH — Sometime Sunday, something must have kicked in for Cal State Fullerton.

Maybe it was the tradition of those three College World Series championships in three decades, and all those NCAA regional tournament appearances--18 in 22 years.

But whatever it was, the Titans had their most remarkable day of the season, overwhelming Long Beach State twice at Blair Field to win the Big West baseball tournament championship and the conference's automatic berth in the NCAA tournament.

The final score of the title game was--yes, believe it--15-6.

It was the 15th victory in the last 18 games for the Titans, who improved to 37-22-1 and continued a dramatic turnaround since they lost four of six games to Long Beach in the regular season.

"There are a lot of people on this team who aren't used to going home early," said Titan first baseman C.J. Ankrum, who played on the 1995 national championship team. "I think things really turned for us this week in the Nevada game. We were outs away from being out of the tournament, and we came back and won. And we were close to elimination again in the next game and came back."

Long Beach Coach Dave Snow says those come-from-behind Fullerton victories might have been the difference Sunday.

"They had a tougher route to get to today than we did, and they appeared to play with more emotion than we did," Snow said. "We had an easier road, and I think that may have given them the edge."

Snow was shell-shocked from the battering his pitchers took from the Titans. Fullerton had 19 hits in the final game, including three each by Jerome Alviso, Steve Chatham and Ryan Owens. Alviso, named the tournament's most valuable player, had 12 hits in 24 at-bats, including a two-run homer in the title game, and six runs batted in.

The Titans had 15 hits in a 7-2 victory in the first game Sunday, including three each by Owens and catcher Mike Lamb.

"They just hammered the ball," Snow said. "They seemed more settled and in a better place than we were. They're playing well at the right time of the season."

Fullerton scored 10 runs in the first two innings in the title game and had a 15-1 lead after five innings.

Coach George Horton began pulling several of his regulars from the game in the sixth inning. Starting pitcher John Alkire pitched to only one batter in the sixth and was replaced by Tim Baron.

By then, about the only question the Titans had was where they will be going for this week's regional. The pairings and assignments will be announced today. The victory was only the second of the season in seven decisions for Alkire, who had a 6.75 earned-run average. Alkire gave up seven walks and three hits, but Fullerton's hitting made it a walk in the park.

Probably the most important pitching performances of the day came in the first game from Michael Garner and reliever Dustin Spencer. Garner (2-1), making only his fourth start of the season, gave up two runs on nine hits. Spencer replaced him in the seventh and held Long Beach hitless the rest of the way, giving up only one walk.

Horton couldn't have asked for more from his Nos. 5 and 6 starters.

"Garner especially showed great composure for a freshman," Horton said. "He got his confidence going after a little bit of a slow start. If he hadn't gotten some help from some double plays early, it might have been different."

Horton said he was especially pleased by the way his team came back from its loss to Pacific in the opening game. "After that, our guys started playing better and better," Horton said. "Today was an unbelievable performance."

Horton said he thought Fullerton was helped by its position in the bracket.

"Even though we lost our first game, we still only had to win four games to win the championship," Horton said. "And we had enough pitching to be able to do it."

Snow said Horton deserves considerable credit for Fullerton's late-season run. "They should give the coach of the year award after this tournament, not before it," Snow said. "George deserves it, so I'm relinquishing that. He did a tremendous job of rallying this team. He should be extremely proud of his club."

Long Beach (37-23) is expected to join Fullerton in the regional field with one of the 24 at-large bids. The 49ers finished first in the Big West's Southern Division during the regular season, a game ahead of Fullerton.

Los Angeles Times Articles