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Titans' Baseball Prospects Bright

April 16, 1998|LON EUBANKS

The Cal State Fullerton baseball team is 29-12, 17 games over .500, and well ahead of its pace a year ago.

Despite that effort, however, the Titans find themselves struggling to keep pace with Long Beach State in the Big West Conference.

The Titans (14-4 in conference) won two of three against Nevada last weekend, but still fell another game behind the 49ers in the Southern Division. Long Beach (16-2) swept its three-game series against New Mexico State.

Each team will have one more weekend series before they meet for their second series of the season April 24-26 at Long Beach. That series should go a long way toward deciding the regular-season title, though each team will have conference series against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and UC Santa Barbara on alternate weekends.

"We just have to be concerned about playing well ourselves so we can still be in control of our destiny when we play Long Beach again," Titan Coach George Horton said.

Horton gives Long Beach credit for its consistency in conference play. The 49ers, who play at Nevada this weekend, have lost one game to Fullerton and one to Pacific.


The Titans appear more consistent than last year. Fullerton was 22-18 after 40 games last year. Even an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament was uncertain.

But Fullerton won 11 of its last 13 regular-season games and then beat Long Beach State twice to win the Big West tournament and secure an automatic NCAA bid. The Titans, however, were eliminated in the NCAA West Regional after three games.

Horton believes this year's team has more potential.

"It's just that every once in a while we let a bad game pop up," Horton said. "The good thing is that we still have more room for growth with this group."

The team has depth, enabling Horton to do more platooning.

The return of David Trentine from a broken foot has restored the ability to platoon Trentine, who bats left-handed, with right-handed Craig Patterson at catcher.

Ryan Fullerton, a right-handed hitter, also has moved into the picture at first base since he filled in well there when Kevin Duck, a left-handed hitter, was held out of two games because of an unexcused class absence, then missed two more games at Pacific when he was ill.

Horton also has done some additional platooning on the infield, but it seems to be at its best with Ryan Owens at shortstop and Ryan Moore at third. Owens also has played third at times. "I'm ready every game to play wherever they want me to play, but I'm more comfortable at short," Owens said.


The pitching remains solid, though freshman starter John Smith is still sidelined because of a sore arm. Greg Jacobs, who is second on the team in batting at .352 (Aaron Rowand leads at .356) and normally is the designated hitter, has provided a lift by taking over the third starting spot and doing well.

Smith was 2-0 with a 4.03 ERA after five starts before developing arm trouble. Jacobs, who has made four starts, is 3-2 with a 2.17 ERA.

Starters Benny Flores and Erasmo Ramirez, the Cal State Northridge transfers, have been a big lift. Flores (8-0) continues to lead the Big West in victories, and Ramirez, with a 3.60 ERA, has pitched better than his 5-5 record.

Horton and pitching coach Dave Serrano remain hopeful Smith will be able to return late in the season.

"Smith threw well in the bullpen this week, but he's still having some stiffness in his arm," Serrano said. "We'll just have to see how he does over the next several days."

Serrano says they also haven't forgotten about Arizona State transfer Ruben Jurado, who pitched five shutout innings against the Angels in an exhibition game two weeks ago.

Jurado has pitched three innings since without giving up a run. He was on the list to pitch in relief against Nevada, Serrano said, but "the situations didn't dictate him coming in." He did pitch two innings Wednesday against San Diego.


Cal State Fullerton is one of 16 schools represented in the national Intercollegiate Bowling Championships today through Saturday in Madison, Wis.

It's the fifth time in the last 10 years that Fullerton has qualified.

Fullerton is ranked 11th this season, but team captain Vayle Floria expressed optimism regarding the team's potential.

"We've finished second in two of the big qualifying tournaments already this year, one in St. Louis and one in Las Vegas," Floria said.

Floria and John Mongillo were on the team that finished fourth in 1996 when the tournament was in Kansas City. Other team members are Scott Emery, Vince Wood, Jason Sjobom, and Mark Otsuji.

Titan Notes

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