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Pitching-Rich Titans Optimistic

March 27, 2001|LON EUBANKS

The Cal State Fullerton baseball team is near the midway point of its regular season, and Coach George Horton is optimistic the Titans are capable of a strong run the rest of the way.

"We believe the prognosis is positive," Horton said. "We think we still have a chance to compete with anyone in the country."

The Titans, who are 15-10 after winning two of three games from Long Beach State last weekend, have won 13 of their last 18 after a 2-5 start.

Fullerton will face one of its most challenging weeks of the season with a home game against 12th-ranked USC at 7 tonight and a three-game series against fourth-ranked Miami on the road beginning Friday. "It could be a real springboard for us if we play well," Horton said.

The Titans will begin Big West Conference play the following weekend with a three-game series at home against Pacific.

Fullerton's three-man weekend pitching rotation has been impressive. Kirk Saarloos (6-2) has a 1.32 earned-run average, Jon Smith (5-0) is at 1.81 and freshman Darric Merrell (1-2) has a 1.65 ERA. Chad Cordero (1-2, 1.99 ERA) has been solid in relief. He has one save.

Saarloos has been superb with five complete games in seven starts. Opponents are batting .162 against him, and he has walked only six batters while striking out 76. He has given up eight extra-base hits in 68 innings.

Horton would like to settle on a fourth starter for midweek games, and will start freshman Wes Littleton (1-0, 5.73 ERA) against the Trojans.

The hitting, on the other hand, hasn't been as consistent as Horton had hoped.

Fullerton is batting .265, with outfielder Robert Guzman leading the way with a .321 batting average.

First baseman Aaron Rifkin has raised his average to .309 with a team-leading five home runs after a slow start. Catcher Brett Kay, sidelined since late February with a broken thumb on his throwing hand, is batting .304, but the rest of the lineup and the top reserves are below .300. Kay could return for the Pacific series.

CHAPMAN BASEBALL

The Chapman baseball team, which finished third in the NCAA Division III World Series last season, has bounced back after losing its first three games this season.

Chapman (18-6), an independent, had won eight consecutive games before losing to Whittier, 8-7, a week ago in the Cal Invitational at Claremont.

Chapman has been getting solid pitching from sophomore Andrew Tisdale (5-0) and junior Mike Carey (4-1). Senior Jude Chavez is batting .421 after going three for four in Chapman's 8-4 victory over Eastern Connecticut last weekend.

The Panthers host Claremont tonight.

TITAN GYMNASTICS

The Cal State Fullerton women's gymnastics team is one of six to qualify for the NCAA West Regional on April 7 at UCLA, Titan Coach Julie Knight said.

The Titans will join UCLA, Brigham Young, Oregon State, California and Boise State. Fullerton's qualifying score was 194.7250, sixth in the field.

Fullerton finished second behind Utah State in the Big West Conference meet Saturday at UC Santa Barbara. Fullerton sophomore Kelly Mathiasen won the all-around championship and was selected conference gymnast of the year by Big West coaches.

TRACK AND FIELD

In preparation for the April 7 Big West Challenge Cup at Cal State Fullerton, the UC Irvine men's and women's track and field teams compete Saturday at UCLA.

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Staff writer Paul McLeod contributed to this report.

If you have an item or idea for the college report, you can fax us at (714) 966-5663 or e-mail us at lon.eubanks@latimes.com or paul.mcleod@latimes.com.

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