Thursday Thoughts: April 2-Game USD Series

Coming out of the UC Riverside series, we didn’t think we would have Thursday Thoughts this week. The unexpected cancellation of the Cal State Bakersfield series left Titan Baseball without a dance partner this past weekend. (Rather difficult to write an opinion on intra-squad games and an Easter Egg Hunt at Hooky’s house that we weren’t even invited to attend.)

Thanks to COVID within the Pepperdine baseball program, USD was faced with the same problem. Thankfully Rick Vanderhook and Rich Hill were able to piece together a two-game series and salvage a weekend that would have been lost otherwise.

With Friday’s game in Fullerton and Saturday’s game in San Diego, we’ll take a closer look at how the weekend went and it wasn’t without some good, bad and ugly aspects.

The Results

Friday, April 2, 2021 vs. USD: WIN – 1-3
Saturday, April 3, 2021 @ USD: LOSS – 2-8

Season to date stats

Overall Record: 10-14
Conference Record: 5-3
Streak: Lost 1
Last 10: 6-4

Offense

Runs Scored: 121
Hits: 219
Doubles: 39
Triples: 7
Home Runs: 12
RBI: 109
Team Batting Avg: .271
On-Base %: .363
Slugging %: .381
Walks: 101
Extra base hits: 58
Total bases: 308
Hit by pitch: 24
Stolen Bases: 9
Strikeouts: 211

Defense

Errors: 28
Fielding %: .968
Double Plays turned: 13
Passed Balls: 1
Stolen Bases allowed: 11

Pitching

Team ERA: 5.68
Batting average against: .271
Hits allowed: 222
Total Runs Allowed: 141
Walks Issued: 68
Strikeouts: 177
Ks per 9 innings: 7.62
Home runs allowed: 24

Titans of the Week

Winners chosen via Twitter poll

Pitcher of the Week

Tanner Bibee Fullerton
Tanner Bibee: 7 IP – 4 H – 1 ER – 0 BB – 3 Ks

Also considered:
Timmy Josten: 1.1 IP – 2 H – 0 ER – 0 BB – 1 K
Cameron Repetti: 1 IP – 1 H – 0 ER – 0 BB – 1 K
Michael Weisberg: 1 IP – 1 H – 0 ER – 0 BB – 0 K

Batter of the Week


Zach Lew: 3/8 – .375 – 2R – 3RBI – 1BB – 1K

Also considered:
Jason Brandow: 2/5 – .400 – 0R – 1RBI – 2BB – 1K
Isaiah Garcia: 1/3 – .333 – 2R – 0RBI – 2BB – 1K
Josh Urps: 1/2 – .500 – 0R – 0RBI – 1BB – 0K

The Good

Lew Comes Through

Zach Lew
(Photo courtesy of Shotgun Spratling of D1Baseball.com)

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, members of the band… Zach Lew’s performance on Friday night vs. USD was what Titans fans have been waiting for all year.

Zach Lew delivered in the clutch belting a two-out triple in the bottom of the eighth inning at Goodwin Field to score Caden Connor and Isaiah Garcia to give the Titans the 3-1 lead. Lew is now batting .264 and has driven in 12 Titans on the year and looks to be heating up at the right time.

Lew’s recent uptick in performance has not been lost on Titan fans since he was named the Cal State Omaha Batter of the Week for the first time this year. Lew was nominated for Batter of the Week following the UCSB series but struggled early in the series vs. Utah, USD and Arizona State.

In Episode 36 of the 1544 Miles to Omaha Podcast when Head Coach Rick Vanderhook previewed the 2021 hitters, Hooky referred to Lew as the “secret weapon“. Meaning, Lew can play multiple positions on the infield and his bat should be a formidable weapon offensively. After 24 games in the books in 2021, Lew has reached base safely in 20 games and appears to be heating up at the right time.

Closer Cam?

Cameron Repetti

As the season evolves and takes shape, so do player roles within the team. Although Ryan Hare and Michael Weisberg were the two favorites to win the closer role, it appears that label may fall on the shoulders and specifically, on the right arm of Cameron Repetti.

Coming into the 2021 season, Cameron Repetti looked poised to take over the role of regular third baseman for the Titans. A minor (non-injury) issue prevented Repetti from playing in the Utah and February USD series. His first action in 2021 came at USC when he started at third base and proceeded to go 0-for-4. Repetti has taken at least one at-bat in five games and has mustered only two hits in 13 ABs. His last at-bats came in the Sunday game vs. Arizona State and his batting average sits at .154 with 1 RBI and 5 strikeouts.

Repetti in the COVID-shortened 2020 season made three pitching appearances, throwing six innings with a 3.00 ERA. Two-way Cam looked like it would be a reality starting with his first pitching appearance in 2021 in Game 2 of the Saturday double-header with UCSB, a game he would earn the save.

In five pitching appearances and seven and 2/3rds innings, Repetti has only given up one earned run and surrendered three hits. His 1.17 ERA is currently the lowest on the team and he has a record of 2-0 with two saves on the season.

It’s unclear if Repetti will stay in the bullpen and saved for late in games when the Titans are ahead and need to keep a lead. Or will he be utilized in more of a two-way role playing on the infield and then pitching late in games. We’re not trying to make any unfair comparisons but if Repetti’s offensive numbers can increase, he could be the next Titan like Nick Ramirez, Michael Lorenzen or dare we say Mark Kotsay to trade in their fielder’s glove for a pitching glove and slam the door when the Titans have a lead. Repetti is apparently still taking batting practice before games so the idea of him playing offense has not been completely shut down by the coaching staff. It’s up to Repetti to determine if he will be a pitcher only and if the bullpen is where his future with the Titans remains.

We’ve seen in previous games in previous seasons that if a player shows out in bating practice, Hooky is amenable to putting that player in the starting line-up. It happened in 2019 vs. Stanford when Jairus Richards put on a laser show during BP and ended up being the hero in that game, slapping a walk-off single to drive in Sahid Valenzuela and gave Fullerton the 6-5 victory. Richards was not a regular starter that season but when asked in the post-game why Richards was in the starting line-up, Hooky simply stated, “He had a really strong BP session before the game.”

If Repetti still wants to come to the plate with a bat in his hands, having a strong batting practice pre-game may be the ticket.

Bibee Back on Track

Tanner Bibee
(Photo courtesy of Shotgun Spratling of D1Baseball.com)

The middle of March was not kind to Tanner Bibee after starting the month off with a complete game shut-out over USC. In the end of March vs. UC Riverside, Tanner Bibee got back on track recording the 4-3 victory and pitched eight strong innings. That carried over into April and although Bibee did not get credited with the win, Bibee was instrumental in keeping the Titans close so that Zach Lew could drive in the eventual winning runs Friday vs. USD.

On Friday night at Goodwin Field, Bibee tossed seven innings, giving up four hits, one earned run, striking out three and walking none. On the year, Bibee has thrown 46 innings, struck out 35 while only walking seven. Opposing batters are hitting .230 vs. Bibee and his K:BB ratio sits at 5:1.

Titan fans knew that in order for the Titans to succeed, much of that success would come on nights Tanner Bibee pitches. Bibee and the Titans get another chance tomorrow when they face Cal Baptist at Goodwin Field.

Arizona Projected to Host Regionals

Sergio Brown while coaching at the University of Arizona

Hold on… Why are we talking about the University of Arizona in the “good” section of a Cal State Fullerton Titan Baseball blog? The answer is simple: Sergio Brown.

This time of year is a popular time for all the college baseball publications to make their predictions and prognostications about who will make the field of 64 and who will host regionals. D1Baseball.com put out their projects and they have the University of Arizona ranked 22 in their top 25 and they predict the Wildcats to not only host, but be a No. 8 national seed and be in line to host a super regional.

Again, how is Arizona having success in 2021 a good thing for Titan Baseball? Sergio Brown joined the Arizona baseball program as an assistant coach on July 9, 2015 and served as the recruiting coordinator and first base coach before returning to Fullerton in 2020. Brown did not waste any time in getting top-level baseball players to come to Tucson during his time there. Brown’s second recruiting class in 2016 was ranked as the No. 4 class in the country by Collegiate Baseball, while the 2018 recruiting class checked in at No. 3 nationally by Collegiate Baseball. The players in the 2016 recruiting class are seniors and the 2018 recruits are now sophomores.

Although Sergio is now at Cal State Fullerton, his legacy of finding and recruiting talent to Arizona remains and still is paying dividends. The season is not over and Arizona’s future could be different come tournament time but as they say, “It’s not about the X’s and O’s… it’s about the Jimmys and Joes.” Sergio Brown has shown he knows how to get the Jimmys and Joes to come to campus.

Arizona is experiencing success now because Sergio put in the hard work years ago. Although Titan fans want to win now, trust the process and the future is looking up at Fullerton.

The Bad

Caden Connor Cools Off

Caden Connor
(Photo courtesy of Shotgun Spratlin of D1Baseball.com)

All good things must come to an end. You knew it was going to eventually happen but Caden Connor’s two-week tear of hitting the cover off the ball came to an end this past weekend vs. USD. For the USD weekend, Caden Connor went 0-for-7 but did walk twice and scored a run on Friday.

USD pitching may be Caden Connor’s kryptonite because looking back at the previous series played in February, Connor went 1-for-6 with a strike out and did not even play in the Sunday game, a game the Titans would win 5-1.

Despite the oh-fer weekend vs. USD, Connor still stands as one of the top offensive threats in the Titans line-up. He leads the team in hits (25) and is second in RBI (13) and at-bats (74).

Titan Baseball fans can hope that Cal Baptist coming to town for a three game set can provide Caden Connor and the other Titan batters some much needed confidence to carry back into Big West Conference play the following week when they travel to UC Davis.

NCAA’s Decision For Predetermined Postseason Host Sites

The NCAA will have predetermined Regional and Super Regional sites for the 2021 NCAA Baseball Tournament. So much for the drama of finding out Memorial Day weekend who will host a regional. That announcement will come the week of May 10th, with three weeks to go in the 2021 college baseball season. Wait, what?

D1Baseball.com: Rogers: Diving Into The NCAA’s Decision For Predetermined Postseason Host Sites

Why is the NCAA deviating form their normal process of selecting host sites closer to the tournament? Chalk up another victory for COVID-19 and “health and safety protocols” and an “overabundance of caution“. Apparently the NCAA needs a full week to ensure the host facility at an individual school can bet setup as a testing site. The NCAA is also requiring a minimum of three weeks preparation time to ensure that the site is functioning efficiently.

The NCAA has not yet finalized the hosting criteria although schools applying to become a host site are not required to submit a financial guarantee. Hosting criteria will consist of a hybrid approach, combining merit, location and “other factors“. Anyone care to guess what “other factors” may include?

Although not explicitly stated, you can bet that a “factor” will be stadium seating capacity and what percentage of capacity can be sold as tickets. If you are already thinking the schools that reside in states with less restrictive Coronavirus protocols will get host site preferential treatment, you are thinking with the right side of your brain. Don’t be surprised if states like Texas (University of Texas, Texas Tech and TCU) and Mississippi (Mississippi State and Ole Miss) are locks to host Regionals and Super Regionals. Why? The Governors in those states have lifted mask mandates and capacity restrictions regarding open air stadiums, churches, restaurants and other venues.

States with heavy-handed COVID-19 restrictions like California may not have any host sites. The idea of hosting a regional at Goodwin Field is a pipe dream right now considering the team is four games under .500. Even though the Titans chances of hosting a Regional are slim, consider other colleges within California. If the Titans can go on a run and get into the post-season, the pre-determined sites means Titan fans would have to travel further and probably out of the state. The idea of playing UCLA in the playoffs is not an appetizing one for Titans fans but if the Bruins can not host because Jackie Robinson Stadium cannot be filled to 100% capacity, Titan fans get ready to pack your bags. You honestly think the NCAA will select a host site in California that has capacity restrictions over a similar host site in Texas or Florida with no capacity restrictions?

Many do not know this but when a school hosts a regional, the NCAA is the entity that sells the tickets, not the school. It is an official NCAA event and the NCAA is just “borrowing” the host site. COVID-19 safety measures is an easy and convenient way of the NCAA saying it would rather make money and have larger crowds than award host sites based on W/L records and merit.

The NCAA won’t come out and say it but we will. If the Titans make the playoffs, we hope you have some frequent flyer miles banked. You’ll need them if you don’t want to stay home and watch it on TV.

Luckham Struggles with the Long Ball

Kyle Luckham
Kyle Luckham
(Photo courtesy Matt Brown)

Anyone reading this old enough to remember the 1999 Nike commercial “Chicks Dig The Long Ball” featuring Hall of Famers Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine along with Mark McGuire and actress Heather Locklear? If not, here is a refresher:

It’s true, chicks do dig the long ball but Titans fans are not such a fan when its their pitcher giving them up. Unfortunately, Kyle Luckham is averaging a home run given up in every game he has started. The only games Luckham has not given up a home run are the Utah game and the first game of the UC Riverside Saturday double-header. Luckham has given up two home runs in both the UCLA and UC Santa Barbara games he started.

After Kyle Luckham surrendered his first home run of the year against San Diego, he responded nicely and did not allow giving up a homer in the first inning to rattle him. He proceeded to shove the remainder of the game going seven and a 1/3rd innings, striking out six and walking only one.

Luckham’s ERA currently sits at 5.88 and he has a record of 2-5. That’s a stark contrast to his record in 2020 that in a pandemic shortened season, Luckham was 2-0 and carried a 2.52 ERA in 24 innings and four starts.

It appears that Bibee is going to be a force on Fridays moving forward and if the Titans are going to get on a run and start making a push to win the Big West Conference in order to qualify for the automatic postseason bid, Luckham will need to improve his game. We have all seen his talent and know it is in him to pitch well. Hopefully Luckham can channel that this weekend and use the Cal Baptist series as a confidence builder moving forward.

The Ugly

Loss on ESPNU

Losing is a part of baseball and hurts no matter where or when it occurs. But losing on national television hurts more because of the broader audience and impact it could have on your program.

The Titans really had an opportunity to show those watching on TV, whether it was recruits or casual college baseball fans, that Titan Baseball is still a force to be reckoned with. The Cal State Fullerton brand is still strong but it has been over 15 years since the Titans won a national championship in 2004. Some of the recruits that Sergio Brown and the coaching staff are recruiting now are freshmen and sophomores in high school. They weren’t even born the last time the Titans dog piled in Omaha.

Winning or losing a single game does not make or break a recruiting strategy but a win could have gone a long way. Imagine the phone call to a recruit asking him if he saw the game on TV after a win compared to a loss. Imagine that same phone call to the same recruit by USD’s Rich Hill.

Looking Ahead

The two-game non-conference series with USD last weekend was unexpected. This weekend’s three game tilt with Cal Baptist was originally scheduled due to the uneven number of Big West Baseball teams in the conference. This weekend will be the Titans’ last chance to gain some valuable RPI points to bolster their case to get into the post-season without winning the Big West Conference regular season title.

Although Cal Baptist is not ranked in any of the major college baseball polls (D1Baseball, Baseball America, Collegiate baseball, USA Today & National College Baseball Writers Assoc.) the 11.7 Podcast has a Mid-Major Power Rankings Poll that has Cal Baptist ranked No. 22.

The Lancers make the short drive in from Riverside holding a 18-7 record. They have played some decent college baseball teams including winning a series vs. Pepperdine and sweeping Big West opponent UC Davis.

The Lancers will start two pitchers who both have ERAs under 2.00 and CBU is batting .251 as a team. The Titans are expected to start Tanner Bibee on Friday but two pitchers who have not started on a weekend are scheduled to start this weekend vs. the Lancers. The match-ups look to be:

Friday – RHP, Tanner Bibee (3-3, 2.74 ERA) vs. LHP, Chris Burica (5-1, 1.93 ERA)
Saturday – RHP, Ryan Hare (0-1, 7.90 ERA) vs. Bryan Pope (4-2, 4.54 ERA)
Sunday – RHP, Jake Vargas (0-0, 6.75 ERA) vs. RHP, Drew Necochea (1-10, 1.56 ERA)

Offensively for the Lancers, Damon Keith is the most dangerous hitter for CBU. He’s currently hitting .352 with an .978 OPS and leads the team in HRs with four on the season. John Glenn is another Lancer hitter Titan pitchers should be aware of this weekend. Glenn is hitting .298 with three home runs and leads CBU in RBI with 21.

The Titan Athletics ticket office sent out notices via email and on social media to donors and season ticket holders alerting them to their eligibility of gaining access to the games. Those that submitted their request should have received notification if their ticket request has been granted.

Times listed are Pacific time:

April 9, 2021 (Friday) vs. Cal Baptist – 5:00 PM
April 10, 2021 (Saturday) vs. Cal Baptist – 12:00 PM
April 11, 2021 (Sunday) vs. Cal Baptist – 12:00 PM

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