Thursday Thoughts: Grand Canyon University Scrimmage

Two weekends and two scrimmages in the books for the 2021/2022 Titan Baseball team. This past Sunday it was the Grand Canyon University Scrimmage that lasted a pre-agreed upon 11 innings and resulted in a 6-0 victory for the Titans.

This week’s Thursday Thoughts will mainly focus on the 11 innings vs. GCU but we’ll mix in some musings about the fall ball scrimmages and workouts as a whole.

Spoiler Alert: We’re very inspired and terribly optimistic that the rebuilding process of a once deeply heralded college baseball program will be short. And before you start painting us a biased homer, even Baseball American lists Cal State Fullerton as one of 10 College Baseball Teams That Could Bounce Back In 2022.

Only the 2022 schedule (which has yet to be released) will determine if that optimism is in earnest and Titan Baseball fans can once again claim their beloved baseball program deserves to be considered a college baseball Blue Blood yet again.

The Results

Sunday, November 14, 2021 vs.GCU: WIN – 6-0 (11 innings)

The Good

Ken Jeong Small Paper
Trying to find the Titans team ERA this Fall.

0.36 Team ERA in Fall Scrimmages

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls… welcome to the Jason Dietrich effect.

Pitching is back at Cal State Fullerton and the Titans finished the fall ball schedule vs. UNLV and Grand Canyon allowing only one (1) earned run. In 25 innings pitched, only one run could be attributed to a pitcher.

Jason Dietrich Call to the Bullpen
Jason Dietrich motions to the bullpen he wants a right hander to come in relief.
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

For the math challenged, that comes out to a 0.36 team ERA. A far cry from the 6.01 team ERA the Titans had in 2021.

Diving even deeper, the lone earned run scored in Game 2 vs. UNLV came late in the same inning when three infield errors occurred. Those three errors resulted in five unearned runs scoring. One can imagine had those errors not extended the inning, would that earned run have really come across the plate?

We’ll never know but logic suggests that if two or maybe even one error had been eliminated, the Titans pitching staff could have a 0.00 ERA coming out of Fall Ball.

Not too shabby.

JT Navyac Double Play
JT Navyac prepares to throw to First Base to complete one of two double plays recorded vs. Grand Canyon.
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

Defense is back

After 11 complete innings vs. GCU, the Titans recorded zero errors on the day. The infield duo of JT Navyac and JJ Cruz turned two double plays and Cole Urman caught Ty Siffermann stealing.

Carter White made a nice running grab from his Center Field position and Deylan Pigford snared a diving snow cone catch from his Right Field spot.

Zach Lew played Third Base primarily before moving to Second Base later in the game. Lew’s throws over to first were on target and First Baseman Caden Connor rarely had to stretch for the catch and put out.

The communication between fielders was noticeably better with fielders calling for the ball loudly and clearly to the point those in the Goodwin Field seats could tell who was going to catch the ball.

Caden Connor infield pop-up
Caden Connor catches an infield pop-up, calling off the short stop and the pitcher in the process.
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

One slight hiccup occurred when an infield pop up carried to the backside of the mound. Caden Connor ended up making the catch without any collision occurring but typically the shortstop, JT Navyac at the time, would make that play. It went down in the box score as an out but was not “text book” infield play by the Titans.

It’s nit picky to even bring that up because the defense was exceptional on Sunday.

Brayden Rogers
Freshman Brayden Rogers saw his first D1 action during the scrimmage with GCU.
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

Dietz Emptied the Bench

You may recall in last week’s Thursday Thoughts: UNLV Scrimmage, we listed in “the Bad” section that not as many newcomers got to play and demonstrate why they deserve a roster spot. Head Coach Jason Dietrich rectified that, (clearly he reads this column) and got a lot of the new faces into the GCU scrimmage late.

Freshman Jakob Shardt and Brayden Rogers along with JC transfer Anthony Pomilla got into the game offensively. Veteran Tristan Gomes did not play vs. UNLV but made the most of his late-game opportunity. (We’ll touch on that soon enough.)

Wyatt Johnson
Wyatt Johnson
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

On the mound, Christian Rodriguez pitched the fourth inning while Wyatt Johnson pitched the final inning after not getting in last weekend.

All in all, 20 position players got into the GCU scrimmage while nine Titan pitchers took the mound. Freshman Tyler Stultz went the longest on the hill going two complete innings in the fifth and sixth, facing eight batters. James Wambold saw 1 1/3rd innings while Cameron Repetti got 1 2/3rd innings of work in the scrimmage.

With 25 innings at his disposal, it appears Jason Dietrich and staff tried to get as many guys into game situations as possible. We’re confident the guys that did not get any scrimmage action these past two weekends will be given numerous opportunities this weekend when the Titans close out the fall practice schedule. Which leads us to…

Orange vs. Navy World Series

(Photo courtesy of Titan Athletics via Twitter)

Orange vs. Navy World Series

Although Cal State Fullerton, despite a few off years recently, is considered college baseball royalty, it seems as though other programs have taken a more professional approach to their fall ball preparation. That appears to be changing with the introduction of the Dietrich way of doing things.

Starting on Friday, the Titans will participate in the Navy Blue/Orange World Series that will split the team evenly and will play a three game series. Much like a three game weekend series in the regular season, the blue and orange squads will try and win two out of three or possibly sweep the other team.

We don’t know what the winning team will get as a reward or more importantly, what the losing squad will have to do. (We’d suggest the losing team paints the new clubhouse being built in left field while the winners are served refreshments and supervise.)

No matter what the outcome, the three game series between the two will undoubtedly ignite the competitive juices in all of these players who are already highly competitive to start. Ending the fall ball season on a competitive note demonstrates how Dietrich is bringing that big time college baseball feel back to the program.

Many SEC baseball programs have an intra-squad series to close out the fall practice schedule. Texas A&M has the Maroon vs. White World Series and the University of Tennessee, the Orange vs. White Game. Tennessee even hosts their game at Smokies Stadium, home to the Tennessee Smokies, the Double-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs and the stadium seats nearly 6,500 people.

Whether it was stops in Eugene, Oregon or Greenville, North Carolina that gave Dietrich the idea to end fall camp with an intra-squad series, Fullerton is no longer behaving like a Mid-Major program. That attitude has to rub off on the players who are now just joining the program or have been in it a while and are experiencing the culture change.

Tristan Gomes home run
Tristan Gomes (19) is greeted at the plate by Jack Haley (24) and Anthony Pomilia (9) after Gomes deposited a home run ball into the Fullerton Arboretum.
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

Gomez Goner

When was the last time Titan Baseball fans were treated to a 100% no doubt home run that cleared the wall and catch fence and landed in the Fullerton Arboretum? It’s been a while.

Tristan Gomes changed all of that late in the game with a pinch hit, absolute nuke to right field that brought the Goodwin Field faithful to their feet. Although in the box score it was recorded as a home run as if it just barely cleared the wall, it was nowhere near that close.

Grand Canyon’s Right Fielder Cade Verdusco took maybe two steps towards the wall after the ball left Gomes’ bat and then chose to save his energy. Nobody was catching that ball with the exception of some poor, unsuspecting squirrel in a pine tree.

It was great to see the power surge from the left side of the plate. If this keeps up, CSUF may need to start posting warning signs inside the Arboretum warning visitors to look out for batted balls.

Deylan Pigford Triple
Switch hitter Deylan Pigford moments before drilling an RBI triple to break open the scoring for the Titans.
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

Competition for Outfield Spots

The Titans Fall 2021 roster lists nine outfielders competing for one of three starting spots. Competition brings out the best in players and through competition, the cream rises to the top.

Although Caden Connor is listed as an outfielder, he started both the UNLV and GCU scrimmages at first base and looks to have that position on lock. Should Connor get some time in the grass, the competition for playing time just got tighter.

Jake Gentry also has OF next to his name but the past two weekends have demonstrated that Gentry is transitioning to playing catcher. Gentry has shown he can play the outfield as he did in 25 games in 2021.

That leaves seven Titans fighting for the three outfield spots. As far as we can tell, with the exception of true freshman Jakob Schardt and his lack of college baseball experience, the competition is down to six guys. Who the three starters could be a mystery all the way up until opening weekend.

Both Jackson Lyon and Jason Brandow have started in the Titans outfield since they were freshmen in 2019. Man child Nate Nankil played in 40 games last season and appears to have gotten bigger and stronger over the summer. Carter White played in 21 games in 2021 and batted .288. He got the start in Center Field vs. GCU and made some nice defensive plays in the middle.

We all know that speed kills and the Titans have two outfielders that have speed for days. Returner Deylan Pigford runs like a deer and is back to switch hitting at the plate. (Last year Pigford played in 45 games but was relegated to batting left even if he was facing a left hander.) Pigford laced a triple, scoring Jack Haley, in the eighth inning much to the delight of his teammates and fans.

Yavapai College transfer Damone Hale is also in the mix for an outfield spot in 2022. With speed to burn as well, Hale started one of the 7-inning games vs. UNLV and was inserted later in the GCU scrimmage. Expect to see a lot of Hale in the spring even if he does not win a starting outfield spot outright. He will definitely be inserted later in games as a pinch hitter or as a runner to create havoc on the bases.

No matter who gets the starts in the outfield, the competition between all of them is sure to bring out the best in them.

The Bad

Titans Bench vs GCU
A few bench players did not see any scrimmage action in both the UNLV and the GCU scrimmages.
(Photo courtesy of Hank Tran)

Still Waiting to See the Whole Roster

Whether the reason is due to injury or just the need for more seasoning, a number of Titans have yet to be seen in the 25 innings of scrimmage play.

Michael Weisberg, the flame throwing right-hander from the San Fernando Valley did not pitch vs. UNLV nor GCU. Same goes for lefty Sam Gomez who made 11 appearances for the Titans in 2021.

Sierra College transfer Ryan Gill was not expected to throw in the fall in order to rest his arm but should be good to go by Spring. Right-handed pitcher from Bishop Amat Izeah Muniz battled some bronchitis in the fall and may have been held out to ensure he is completely over it. Grant Kelly, another freshman right hander, has not been placed on mound in the two scrimmages.

Of the position player group, everyone got some action between the two srimmages in some form. Maybe the pitchers that were missing innings the past two weekends will get on the mound starting Friday when the team plays the Navy/Orange World Series and inning opportunities may come easier.

The Ugly

Long Beach Dirtbags
Photo courtesy of Long Beach State Athletics

Nothing… Absolutely Nothing

We struggled to find something that was ugly about the GCU scrimmage and came up empty. No errors to speak of and the defense played quite well.

Maybe complain about the lack of hitting early in the game? The Titans rectified that by breaking up the combined no-hitter when Caden Connor singled in the bottom of the seventh. The Titans would then score Jack Haley from first base on Pigford’s triple in the eighth inning. Had the scrimmage been a regular nine inning game, the Titans would have won it 1-0 and no need to bat in the ninth.

After a few years of publishing Thursday Thoughts and struggling to not fill up the ugly section, it was refreshing to really toil to find something and come up empty.

We also struggled to come up with an accompanying photo that could compliment the “ugly” section. We scoured the internet looking for some of the ugliest images we could find. We eventually settled on the one above. Sorry.

Cam Repetti Fullerton
Cameron Repetti’s fastball was clocked at 94 MPH vs. UNLV and looks poised to compete for a weekend starting role in the spring. Repetti will be on the Blue team this weekend.
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

Looking Ahead

The Fall Ball schedule comes to a close this weekend with the Titans participating in the Blue/Orange Series. Admission is free just like it was for the UNLV and GCU scrimmages.

These intra-squad games are a double edged sword for the Titan fans that come out to watch. On one hand, you can cheer when a pitcher on the orange team strikes out a batter. The bitter pill will be the batter who struck out is also a Titan. It can be very confusing and conflicting but still fun to watch.

We suggest picking a color and sticking with it for the weekend and rooting for that team. Personally, we’re rooting for the blue squad because it came down to a coin flip.  Heads it was blue and tails it was orange. It came up heads so, go Blue!

November 19, 2021 (Friday) Blue vs. Orange – 3:00 PM
November 20, 2021 (Saturday) Blue vs. Orange – 12:00 PM
November 21, 2021 (Saturday) Blue vs. Orange – 11:00 AM

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