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COLLEGE BASEBALL

Titans Survived Ace's Fall

June 06, 2003|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

An All-American candidate when the college baseball season started in February, Cal State Fullerton pitcher Wes Littleton is now, at a most important time, in an unimaginable situation.

With Fullerton (46-13) two victories away from earning a place in the College World Series, he's not in the spotlight.

If he is to contribute in a best-of-three super regional series against Arizona State (53-12) that starts today at Goodwin Field, Littleton will do it from the bullpen. Fullerton's former ace, who once was projected to be selected in the first two rounds of the professional draft, has fallen from the rotation after starting the season in dominant form.

Littleton, a 6-foot-3 right-hander, was 4-0 in the season's first six weeks, which included a 75-pitch, one-hit shutout of Fresno State.

But then came March 15. On the day of a game against USC, Fullerton Coach George Horton suspended the pitcher for a violation of team rules -- reportedly the theft of a parking pass. Littleton was away from the team nearly a month, until April 7, and hasn't been the same since he returned.

In his last five starts, Littleton is 2-3 with a 5.14 earned-run average in 28 innings.

"It's not because he isn't trying," Horton said. "He's been working real hard. He's just in a slump right now."

Starting pitchers Jason Windsor, Ryan Schreppel and Dustin Miller have been strong, prompting Littleton's move to the bullpen for a series against Long Beach State that determined the Big West Conference championship.

Littleton made one relief appearance against the 49ers but wasn't needed in a four-team NCAA regional last weekend at Fullerton when the Titans' dominating pitching led to a sweep. Now, will he have a role at all for Fullerton in the postseason?

Horton said the pitcher's role "will depend on matchups that we may face. That's kind of where we're at right now with Wes. He's just not at his best right now."

Littleton was not available to be interviewed for this story. He received another indication of his falling stock when on Tuesday he was selected in the fourth round by the Texas Rangers. That's three rounds earlier than he was taken out of high school.

The news was better for Titan closer Chad Cordero, who was a first-round selection, No. 20 overall, by the Montreal Expos. "I was shocked, stunned," said Fullerton's career save leader. "Coach pulled me aside during practice and told me. My stomach was turning. It was awesome."

Five Fullerton players went in the first 10 rounds, with outfielder Shane Costa being selected by Kansas City in the second, the Chicago Cubs taking outfielder Kyle Boyer in the seventh, and Colorado selecting pitcher Darric Merrell in the eighth.

If Littleton can get back to previous form, Texas will have pulled a heist. As a sophomore, Littleton was 9-4 with a 2.40 ERA, then followed that up with an impressive summer as part of the U.S. national team.

Stanford Coach Mark Marquess has been impressed both times Littleton pitched against the Cardinal -- in a regional last year, and in the 2003 season-opening series in February.

"When I saw him [last year], I thought he had to be considered among the top pitchers," Marquess said. "I saw him again early this year and I immediately thought [Fullerton] was going to be tough. He'll match up with any [top-line] starter."

The sooner Littleton can return to that form, the better.

"Nobody wants it more than us to get Wes back on track," Horton said. "If we can do that, that's good for all of us."

*

NCAA Super

Regionals

At Goodwin Field, Fullerton

Cal State Fullerton (46-13)

vs. Arizona State (53-12)

* Today, 4 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m.; Sunday, noon (if necessary)

* The Titans are 29-2 at Goodwin Field.

At Sunken Diamond, Palo Alto

Long Beach State (41-18)

vs. Stanford (44-15)

* Today, 7 p.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m. (if necessary)

* Stanford ended Long Beach's season last year with an 8-4 win over the 49ers in a regional championship game.

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