Thursday Thoughts: Cal State Northridge Series

The Titans are halfway through their Big West Conference schedule and sit fourth in the Big West baseball standings. UC Irvine currently leads the pack with a .800 conference wining percentage followed by UC Santa Barbara (.708) and then Cal State Bakersfield (.688).

Notice how we mentioned winning percentage and not win/loss records? That’s because in the COVID-19 era with protocols and positive case numbers canceling series, in order to determine a conference champion, winning percentage will be used. The Big West Conference failed to put in make up weekends to account for the potential of an entire team or athletics program shutting down due to Coronavirus. Unfortunately that is exactly what happened within the CSU Bakersfield program and that series was lost. Other Big West baseball teams have not lost a conference series but as Murphy’s Law prevails, the Titans lost four games to potentially improve their conference record.

With five more conference series to go, the Titans need to play better and piece together more winning series while those in front of them need to cool down. Good news comes in the form of a tougher schedule for UC Irvine in the next two weeks. The Anteaters play Long Beach State this weekend and although we here at Cal State Omaha would never encourage Titans fans to root for the Dirtbags, in this case the Dirtbags handing UCI some losses may not be a bad thing. The Titans have yet to play Long Beach State and if they win that series, it can offset the wins.

UC Irvine also plays UC Santa Barbara and many are hoping that the Anteaters and the Gauchos split that series 2-2, thus giving neither program an advantage in the standings. No matter what the other teams in the Big West are doing, in order for the Titans to have a shot at the conference title and a berth into the post-season, they need to start playing better baseball and playing .750 baseball from here on out.

Unfortunately the Titans did not leave Northridge playing .750 baseball and left squeaking out a 2-2 split vs. the Matadors. We break it all down here and cover the CSUN series that had some good, some bad and some ugly aspects to it.

The Results

Friday, April 23, 2021 @ CSUN: LOSS – 11-1 (8 innings)
Saturday, April 24, 2021 @ CSUN: WIN – 6-4 (10 innings)
Saturday, April 24, 2021 @ CSUN: LOSS – 10-1
Sunday, April 25, 2021 @ CSUN: WIN – 6-5 (10 innings)

Season to date stats

Overall Record: 17-18
Conference Record: 10-6
Streak: Won 1
Last 10: 6-4

Offense

Runs Scored: 182
Hits: 321
Doubles: 59
Triples: 9
Home Runs: 15
RBI: 164
Team Batting Avg: .271
On-Base %: .359
Slugging %: .374
Walks: 136
Extra base hits: 83
Total bases: 443
Hit by pitch: 37
Stolen Bases: 19
Strikeouts: 269

Defense

Errors: 38
Fielding %: .971
Double Plays turned: 18
Passed Balls: 2
Stolen Bases allowed: 20

Pitching

Team ERA: 5.61
Batting average against: .277
Hits allowed: 331
Total Runs Allowed: 205
Walks Issued: 102
Strikeouts: 245
Ks per 9 innings: 7.19
Home runs allowed: 31

Titans of the Week

Winners chosen via Twitter poll

Pitcher of the Week

Kyle Luckham
Kyle Luckham: 6.2 IP – 7H – 1ER – 2BB – 4Ks

Also considered:
Tanner Bibee: 4.2 IP – 6H – 3ER – 4BB – 5Ks (W)
Peyton Jones: 2 IP – 2H – 1ER – 0BB – 1K
Michael Weisberg: 3 IP – 2H – 0ER – 0BB – 1K (W)

Batter of the Week


Nate Nankil: 4/6 – .667 – 0R – 3RBI – 0BB – 1K – 0HR

Also considered:

Caden Connor: 6/15 – .400 – 3R – 0RBI – 2BB – 0K – 0HR
Isaiah Garcia: 5/12 – .417 – 4R – 2RBI – 2BB – 2K – 1HR
Jackson Lyon: 5/16 – .313 – 2R – 1RBI – 0BB – 5K – 0HR

The Good

Caden Connor

(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

Caden Connor Mr. Consistent

Ask any baseball coach what they want out of a player and consistency is probably the most common answer you will receive. Caden Connor has been the shining example of consistency this season for the Titans.

Each week when compiling the stats to determine the four candidates for the Cal State Omaha Batter of the Week, Caden Connor’s name is always in the mix. Being one of the top hitters on the team has kept Connor batting either lead-off or at the top of the line-up each week.

Connor currently leads the team in hits (39), batting average (.342), on-base percentage (.429), runs scored (21), RBI (18), walks (17) and at-bats (114). We should note Connor shares the RBI lead with Jason Brandow and ranks second in games played (31). The only aspect of Connor’s game that has yet to be achieved is the power. Connor is still seeking his first home run of the season and for his Titan career for that matter.

Despite that lack of home run power, look for Caden Connor to continue to bat in the first or second spot this weekend when the Titans welcome Hawai’i to Goodwin Field for a four-game series.

The 2021 Titans line up for post-game high fives and fist bumps
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

Wining in Extras

The Titans won two games at Cal State Northridge but both wins came in extra innings. This is a good thing because winning in extras innings, especially on the road when the home team has the last at-bats, can bring a team together and improve confidence.

Of course most Titan fans would prefer winning the game in a run-rule, mercy ruled game (we’ll talk more about that later…) but the extra confidence the players gain knowing they can win games in crunch time is helpful.

Tanner Bibee a Reliever Too?

The Cal State Northridge series definitely had a post-season feel to it. Not only was the series important for each team to keep pace in the Big West Conference race but to help prepare the teams should they make the post season. The series, and especially the final game on Sunday, felt like the Titans were playing in a regional.

Tanner Bibee, the Friday night ace for the 2021 Titans, scuffled on Friday vs. Northridge. The 6’2″, 190 lb righty from Mission Viejo went only three innings on Friday giving up four hits, three walks and a home run and recording only three strike outs. The Matadors plated six runs, three earned, all while Bibee was on the mound. He was subsequently saddled for the loss, his fourth of the season. Uncharacteristic for Bibee who has been stellar on the mound and one of the most dependable arms the Titans have this season.

Much to the surprise of those watching Sunday’s game on the live-stream, and the 60 people in the stands, Tanner Bibee came into the game in the bottom of the ninth inning to relieve Cameron Repetti. The score was tied 5-5 when Bibee took the mound on only one day of rest. Bibee is used to throwing 100+ pitches in a game and has done it vs. UC Davis (101), UC Riverside (104) and UC Santa Barbara (123). Since Bibee only pitched three innings for a total of 73 pitches Friday, Bibee still had some left in the tank despite the short rest.

Bibee proceeded to strike out Blake Doremus, intentionally walk Denzel Clarke and the induced Mason Le to ground out to end the threat. The Titans in the 10th inning would scratch across a run when Deylan Pigford hit a two-out single up the middle to score Jackson Lyon from second base. With the Titans regaining the lead in the top of the 10th, Head Coach Rick Vanderhook sent Bibee back to the hill to get the win.

Bibee got a line out to record the first out but provided some nail-biting drama before ending the game. Two singles put two men on and a ground out by Kai Moody got both runners into scoring position. Pinch hitter Luke Powell struck out swinging to end the game and Bibee got the win and the Titans split the series two games apiece.

Don’t expect Bibee to come in late in games to shut the door. That job still looks to be firmly on the right arm of Cameron Repetti. But after throwing 73 pitches on Friday, the additional 22 on Sunday did not seem to be a hindrance to Bibee starting this Friday vs. Hawaii. Depending on how he feels and to get his full rest in, Bibee could pitch one of the Saturday double header games if he does not go on Friday.

CSUN Live-stream

Despite COVID-19 restrictions loosening, college baseball fans are becoming more and more reliant on the live-streams put out by various universities. CSUN’s live-stream this past weekend was very professional and the play-by-play announcer, Ghizal Hasan, was quite good.

The driving distance to Northridge combined with the limited capacity allowed at Matador Field translated to probably any Titan fans wanting to watch the game probably did it via the live-stream. The official listed attendance was around 60 for each game with the exception of 193 listed for the second game of the double header.

In all fairness, CSUN’s live-stream getting all this high praise may come in the wake of the UC Davis live-stream being so awful. On its own merit, the CSUN live-stream had multiple camera angles with cameras, hold onto to your Titan hats, that actually moved with the action. Ghizal Hasan was highly knowledgeable on baseball history, the history of both programs and provided plenty of fun facts during the games.

The Bad

Jason Brandow

Injuries

The Titans have always been tight lipped about injuries whether for player personal privacy or strategy reasons. We saw this when Jake Harvey was injured back on March 5th vs. USC. With key players and contributors out with injury, it’s anyone’s guess as to when they can return to action.

Zach Lew, the biggest contributor that has been absent the past two weeks, could possibly return this weekend vs. Hawai’i. Lew injured what appeared to be a hamstring when rounding third base during Sunday’s game in the California Baptist series. Lew has missed both road series at UC Davis and Cal State Northridge. Despite Lew sidelined for two weeks, he still ranks third in at-bats (101) behind Caden Connor and Jake Harvey and is second to only Connor in hits (28). If Lew can return this weekend vs. Hawai’i and play at 100%, his bat should provide some much needed offense.

Jason Brandow on Friday was hit by a pitch in the top of the 7th inning that required his removal from the game. Nate Nankil replaced Brandow on the bases and that was the last action Brandow saw in the CSUN series. The announcer said it appeared Brandow was struck on the hands by the pitch but he was actually nailed in the ribs. Without an official word from Titan Athletics on what prevented him from playing Saturday or Sunday, we are all left to guess. Titan Baseball fans can hope the injury does not linger and Brandow can bring his .317 batting average and more importantly, his 18 RBI back to Goodwin Field this weekend.

Highly touted and deeply talented freshman Christian Rodriguez has been MIA since March 2nd after pitching one inning vs. UCLA. The Titans have played 28 games since his last appearance but C-Rod was seen retrieving bats and foul balls, during the CBU series. We’re not sure what’s keeping Rodriguez from taking the mound again but it sure would be nice to have another weapon for opponents to game plan for in the future.

Senior right-hander Matthew Sanchez has also been missing for quite a while now. His last appearance came out in Phoenix when the Titans took on Arizona State on March 12th. Sanchez did not appear to be injured in that game and his injury must have come off the field either in the weight room or in practice. Who knows, he could have tripped and hurt himself on the front steps to house for all we know. We just know he has not thrown in about six weeks.

Switching to the left side of the mound, what about Samuel Gomez? It’s been over a month since Gomez took the mound vs. UC Santa Barbara on March 21st. No word on if he is injured or is getting extra time on the bench to think about giving up two earned runs on two hits and not retiring one batter in that game.

Is Miguel Ortiz coming back soon? He has appeared in a grand total of two games and has three official at-bats. For a team with a .374 slugging percentage, it sure would be nice to have another power option to go to late in games off the bench.

Don’t expect the program to be terribly forthcoming and transparent when it comes to player injuries. Please remember, this is the same program that remained silent regarding Kameron Guangorena’s injury. It took Kameron Guangorena’s father, David, posting a photo of Kam with a cast on his arm to indicate that Guango’s 2021 season was done. We’re not hinting that any of the previously mentioned players’ seasons are over. We’re just saying don’t expect any injury news coming from Titan Athletics anytime soon.

Outscored 30-15 in Northridge

The two losses in Northridge weren’t even close. Friday’s loss was 11-1 in 8 innings, (we’ll touch on that in the “Ugly” segment upcoming”…) and the second game of the double header was a 10-2 loss. In the losses, that’s a 19 run differential.

Conversely, the run differential in the two wins was a whopping three runs. Add to it that both wins had to come in extra innings.

We’re confident Titan fans would much rather see blow outs and the Titans completely walk over teams just like the Matadors did in their wins over the Titans. Close games are great for the casual fan but when you are a die-hard Titan Baseball fan, you want to see the team destroy the other on the scoreboard without lifting their foot off the gas.

The 15-1 win over Utah on February 21 and the 18-6 and 16-8 wins over UC Riverside come close to the “taking the opponent behind the woodshed” type games Titan fans of the past have come to expect. Titan fans can only hope a few more come this weekend vs. Hawai’i.

The Ugly

Run-Rule Friday

For the first time in recent memory, the Titans lost a game due to the collegiate “mercy rule“. This rule has been on the books but it has not been widely used except for this season. The Big West Conference in choosing to hold four-game series with two, 9-inning double headers per weekend approved the use of the NCAA mercy rule in 2021. The full context of the NCAA baseball mercy rule is:

A mercy rule may be in use, which terminates play when one team is ahead by 10 or more runs after seven innings (6½ innings if the home team is winning). In games that are scheduled for seven innings the rule takes effect in the fifth. This rule is not used in NCAA tournament games. Several conferences institute this rule only on Sundays or the final day of a conference series so that the visiting team can travel early. In some conferences, the mercy rule may also be used to end such games in order to start the next tournament game sooner.

In the bottom of the 8th inning on Friday, Jake Vargas relieved Gavin Kennedy on the mound and struck out the first Matador batter, Brandon Bohning, he faced. After that strike out, CSUN proceeded to score three runs taking the score from 8-1 at the beginning of the inning to 11-1. The 10-run differential invoked the mercy rule and the Matadors were declared the winners despite having only one out and two runners remaining on base.

Obviously college baseball in the COVID-19 era is unprecedented and the rules and the protocols are like we have never seen. Chalk up the run-rule this past Friday to another ugly chapter in Titan Baseball history as a result of trying to play within the limitations and protocols whilst in a pandemic.

Aaron Davenport
(Photo courtesy of University of Hawai’i Athletics)

Looking Ahead

After a two week hiatus from Goodwin Field, the Titans return home to host Hawai’i for a four game series. This weekend will be a back-to-back series at home with UC San Diego coming to Fullerton the following weekend.

Hawai’i comes to Fullerton with a 20-14 record overall and a .500 winning percentage in Big West Conference play, tied for fifth place in the conference standings with Long Beach State. In looking at common opponents, both Hawai’i and Cal State Fullerton have played, the Rainbow Warriors lost the series with Arizona State (1-2), lost the series with UCSB (1-3), won the series vs. UC Riverside (3-1) and most recently swept UC Davis (4-0). The Rainbow Warriors arrive at Goodwin Field on a four game win streak and winning six of their last 10 games.

Offensively, Hawai’i is lead by a 1-2 punch of Scotty Scott and Kole Kaler. With Scott wearing jersey No. 1 and Kaler No. 2, they are hitting .302 and .340 respectively.

On the mound, Aaron Davenport has been the best arm for the Rainbow Warriors in 2021. He leads Hawai’i in innings pitched (6 1/3rd) and sports a sub-3 ERA (2.93). Davenport looks to be the Friday night guy that will face off with Tanner Bibee expected to throw on Friday should he get enough rest after throwing on Sunday vs. CSUN.

Cade Halemanu appears to have one of the Saturday double header starts locked down. He brings a 3.77 ERA in 43 innings pitched to Goodwin Field. Opponents are batting .234 (Davenport) and .263 (Halemanu) when they take the mound.

Times listed are Pacific time:

April 30, 2021 (Friday) vs. Hawai’i – 5:00 PM
May 1, 2021 (Saturday) vs. Hawai’i – 12:00 PM
May 1, 2021 (Saturday) vs. Hawai’i – 3:00 PM
May 2, 2021 (Sunday) vs. Hawai’i – 1:00 PM

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