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Thursday Thoughts: LMU Series & USD Mid-Week

After so many questions last week, the question, “Will the Titans get a series win?” was answered with a resounding, “yes”. It took 15 innings on Friday night to set the Titans up for a series win on Sunday.

Although the Titans record of 4-11 heading into Big West Conference play vs. UC Santa Barbara is not ideal, this team can still make the post-season. Yes Virginia, by winning the Big West Conference, the Titans can return to the Regionals. With an RPI of 224 out of 301 currently, the odds of getting an at-large bid are greater than the Titan Basketball team beating Duke in the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament opening game tomorrow. Not impossible for both, but a huge task regardless.

With the Gauchos looming on the horizon, let’s jump right into Thursday Thoughts coming out the LMU series and the San Diego mid-week game.

The Results

Friday, March 11, 2022 vs. LMU: WIN – 11-12 (15 innings)
Saturday, March 12, 2022 vs. LMU: LOSS – 8-2
Sunday, March 13, 2022 vs. LMU: WIN – 9-5
Tuesday, March 15, 2022 at San Diego: LOSS – 10-11

Season to date stats

Overall Record: 4-11
Conference Record: 0-0
Streak: LOST 1
Last 10: 3-7

Offense

Runs Scored: 72
Hits: 143
Doubles: 21
Triples: 5
Home Runs: 9
RBI: 60
Team Batting Avg: .268
On-Base %: .341
Slugging %: .377
Walks: 54
Extra base hits: 35
Total bases: 201
Hit by pitch: 7
Stolen Bases: 7
Strikeouts: 125

Defense

Errors: 21
Fielding %: .965
Double Plays turned: 9
Passed Balls: 4
Stolen Bases allowed: 12

Pitching

Team ERA: 5.93
Batting average against: .285
Hits allowed: 158
Total Runs Allowed: 102
Walks Issued: 91
Strikeouts: 134
Ks per 9 innings: 8.74
Home runs allowed: 9

Titans of the Week

Winners chosen via Twitter poll

Pitcher of the Week

Rodriguez_Christian
Christian Rodriguez: 6IP – 5H – 1ER – 0BB – 10K – 1.50 ERA

Also considered:
Fynn Chester: 5.2IP – 8H – 2ER – 2BB – 5K – 3.18 ERA
Peyton Jones: 2IP – 1H – 0ER – 0BB – 3K – 0.00 ERA (W)
Michael Weisberg: 5IP – 2H – 0ER – 2BB – 9K – 0.00 ERA

Batter of the Week

Jason Brandow
Jason Brandow: 8\17 – .471 – 7R – 4RBI – 6BB – 2K – 2HR

Also considered:
Brendan Bobo: 7\16 – .438 – 4R – 4RBI – 5BB – 5K – 1HR
Zach Lew: 6\18 – .333 – 2R – 6RBI – 1BB – 1K
Nate Nankil: 7\19 – .368 – 4R – 4RBI – 0BB – 1K – 1HR

The Good

Series win

We alluded to it in the open, the Titans got their first series win of the 2022 season. They say winning two out of three gets you to Omaha, but the Titans will need to start sweeping weekend series in order to take first place in the conference and get that NCAA post-season automatic bid.

It all started on Friday and lasted 15 innings, but the Titans got the walk off win via a wild pitch that brought Brendan Bobo home from third during JJ Cruz‘s pinch hit at-bat for Damone Hale. (See video from tweet above.) The win came as a welcomed surprise for the handful of fans still in attendance that stuck around for the entire game. The 5:15 game time and the high 40 degree temperatures did not make for a full house by the time Bobo touched home plate for the second time that night.

Unfortunately, the momentum did not carry over to Saturday night and the Titans lost that game 8-2. That set up the make-or-break Sunday game with the Titans winning it in Dolly Parton style, 9-5. That victory gave the Titans their first series win of the season and hopefully a bit more confidence heading into conference play.

Sure, the series victory came over an LMU team that held a 2-9-1 record heading into the series but it’s a series win, period. When your team is in the middle of a rebuilding process, you have to focus on the positives.

Bats woke up

The Titan batters as a whole put up 53 hits, scored 33 runs and raised their batting average 25 points in the course of four games. The number of home runs over that four game stretch vs. LMU and USD (5), more than doubled the four homers the Titans put over the fence in the previous 11 games. Something may have clicked for the Titans offensively and hopefully it carries over to conference play.

Speaking of home runs, Batter of the Week Jason Brandow dropped not one but two bombs this weekend vs. LMU. On the year, Brandow’s bat has connected at a .400 clip and has seven RBI. This is the Jason Brandow we have all been waiting for when he first arrived on campus in 2019 and introduced himself to Titan fans with a grand slam in his first college plate appearance. Brandow’s three home runs on the year lead the team with six others having a single home run.

Brendan Bobo had himself a nice four game stretch, going 7-for-16 (.438) at the plate and got his first home run of the season.

Bobo ranks second on the team with a .371 batting average and he and Zach Lew share the lead with four doubles on the year. Speaking of Lew, he leads the team with 18 hits on the season and is batting an even .300. Lew’s 6-for-18 (.333) the past four games showed why he is highly regarded and respected. His six RBI on Sunday vs. LMU was outright impressive.

Nate Nankil showed up vs. LMU and showed out in his hometown of San Diego vs. USD on Tuesday. Nankil went 7-for-19 (.368) over four games and hit his first home run of his young career on Tuesday. Nankil is now batting .283 and could creep into the .300 club this weekend if he does well vs. UCSB.

Could the bats be heating up just in time for Big West Conference play? We shall see this weekend up in Santa Barbara.

Brendan Bobo

Bobo intentionally walked

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery but in baseball, the sincerest form of respect is an intentional walk. Coming into the weekend, Brendan Bobo walked just three times but got five free passes after it was finished.

In the 10th inning on Friday, with Caden Connor on second base and first base open, Mike Nunez intentionally walked Bobo. Bobo walked again leading off the 13th inning on Friday and proved to be the winning run in the 15th inning.

On Sunday, after Jason Brandow singled and then stole second, first base again remained open. Bobo got the intentional walk and the Lion’s chose to pitch to Zach Lew instead of Bobo. That proved a poor decision with Lew dropping an RBI single into left field to score Brandow from second.

In the bottom of the sixth on Sunday, Bobo would walk again, this time on a 3-2 count and then again in the bottom of the 8th on a 3-0 count. No matter how you slice it, two intentional walks in a series shows the amount of respect for Bobo’s bat and his ability to strike fear in an opponent.

We’re Going Streakin’

Three Titans have moderate on-base or hit streaks going currently.

Zach Lew currently enjoys an 11 game on-base streak, reaching base safely 10 out of 11 games with a hit. Lew’s streak was in jeopardy on Saturday vs. LMU going 0-for-3 but did draw a walk. The last time Lew did not reach first base safely came on Friday, February 25th vs. Gonzaga. In that game, Lew went 0-for-5 with three strikeouts.

Nate Nankil is on a six game on-base streak with five of six games coming via a base hit. Nankil drew a walk vs. UCLA to keep the on-base streak alive heading into the series with LMU and Tuesday’s game vs. USD. Nankil’s small streak started Sunday, March 6th vs. Pepperdine after going 0-for-4 with a strikeout the day prior.

Brendan Bobo currently sits on a five game hit streak. Bobo did not play at all during the Pepperdine series and his first hit of the streak came at UCLA, going 3-for-4. Bobo did not get a hit in one at-bat vs. Kansas State, striking out in the first inning. Zach Lew replaced Bobo at third base in that game, thus possibly explaining his absence in the Pepperdine series. Had he injured himself vs. Kansas State, he showed no lingering ill effects of it this past weekend.

Is Bobo threatening the Robin Ventura NCAA 58-game hit streak record from 1987? Not even close. Lew and Nankil coming close to Mark Payton‘s 101 game on-base streak seems a bit out of reach as well. But with the way these guys are swinging the bat and seeing pitches and the Titans not afraid to wear an inside pitch or two, these streaks could extend through the weekend.

The Bad

Zach Lew defense
Zach Lew has not been immune to committing errors in 2022.
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

Infield defense is hot & cold

Entering the LMU series, the Titans had committed 12 errors on the season. In four games, they now have 21. Nine errors in four games? That’s 2.25 errors per game. That’s bad.

On Friday, the Titans committed two errors. Saturday, two more. Sunday? Yup, two more. Tuesday vs. San Diego… the Titans committed three errors.

Despite committing errors in all four games, the Titans managed to win two of them. Care to take a guess as to how many errors the opponents committed in the Titan loses?

Zero.

In a game where a single run can make the difference between a win and a loss, let’s examine the first inning of the USD game for example.

The first USD batter reached on an error by shortstop, JT Navyac, his fifth of the season. After a single to advance Chase Meidroth who reached on the error to second, the following two USD batters fouled out and lined out. Caleb Rickets singled and Meidroth scored.

Had Meidroth not reached by way of the error, Rickets would have had to wait until the next inning to take his plate appearance and the Titans would escape the inning without allowing a run. By the way, that unearned run turned out to be the difference in an 11-10 game.

Yes, we understand that if “ifs” and “buts” were candy and nuts it would be Christmas everyday. At some point you have to understand the importance of error free baseball. We’re not saying the Titans will win every game when they do not commit an error, but it will improve their chances greatly.

Christian Rodriguez delivery vs. Pepperdine
Could Christian Rodriguez make his first Friday night start vs. UCSB this weekend? 
Photo courtesy of Hank Tran

Weekend rotation is still up in the air

Opening the season at Stanford, we predicted the weekend rotation would be Cameron Repetti on Fridays, Tyler Stultz on Saturday and Christian Rodriguez on Sunday. Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Now that that the Titans are on the precipice of conference play, that weekend rotation no longer holds true.

Repetti has gone to the bullpen as of late, his most recent appearance vs. USD in the seventh inning replacing Josh Howitt. Stultz was moved to Friday vs. Gonzaga but due to illness did not start. Stultz did start on Friday vs. LMU but only lasted 2.1 innings and gave up eight earned runs.

Christian Rodriguez got bumped to Saturday and performed well, giving up five hits, one earned run, no walks and 10 strikeouts in six innings. C-Rod ended the top of the sixth in a position for the win with a 3-2 lead on the scoreboard. Repetti replaced C-Rod to start the seventh and a five run scoring barrage in the eighth proved to be the difference in the game.

Veteran Timmy Josten got his first weekend start of the year on Sunday and lasted three innings, allowing one earned run. Sunday ended up looking like a Tuesday mid-week game with the Titans employing Evan Yates, Peyton Jones, Michael Weisberg and Izeah Muniz out of the bullpen to secure the win.

Entering this weekend, the weekend starting rotation appears as blurry as driving through a Canadian blizzard with cataracts. Based on his performance on Saturday vs. LMU, look for Christian Rodriguez to get the start on Friday. Stultz could see the Saturday start and based on the fact that eight Titans pitched at some point on Tuesday vs. USD, that leaves a few other arms available to get the nod on Sunday. (Weekend starters rarely throw in mid-week games because of the throwing regime implemented during the week leading up to a start.)

Josten did not throw on Tuesday making him a practical choice to get another Sunday start. Peyton Jones could also get the Sunday nod based on getting the win in relief on Sunday.

The Ugly

Jackson Lyon & Khadim Diaw Collision

In the bottom of the 6th inning on Friday night tied 8-8, Brendan Bobo drilled a double to the right center to give the Titans the lead. That lead did not come without a price because Jackson Lyon collided with LMU catcher Khadim Diaw on his way to score. After a teeth jarring (literally) collision, Lyon had the wherewithal to get his hand on home plate to score the run.

Jackson stayed on his hands and knees for a few moments while 1st Base Coach Danny Benedetti rushed in to check on him. Trainers immediately came out and Lyon was able to get back to the dugout under his own power with a thick towel over his mouth. In the ensuing moments, the home plate umpire Frank Pflugradt along with athletics staff members appeared to be looking closely for lost teeth along the base paths and near the batters box.

Unfortunately, the LMU catcher in trying to field the throw up the line, still had his helmet on his head. Lyon’s mouth contacted the mask squarely and undoubtedly jarred some of his teeth as shown by the umpire’s behavior.

Many of the Titan faithful called for Diaw’s ejection but he remained in the game. Although the collision appeared very painful and violent, there was no malicious contact or intent to injure Lyon, thus needing an ejection. The play was legal by all accounts and unfortunate to say the least. Diaw was clearly out of position and was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

An ejection was unnecessary because LMU Head Coach Nathan Choate removed Diaw from the game, and he did not play the rest of the series. Speculation as to if Choate feared Diaw would get beaned if he came to bat or benched him for making a bad play, he did not get a chance to play the rest of the weekend.

Jackson Lyon Titans
After suffering a teeth jarring collision on Friday, Jackson Lyon returned to the Titans starting line-up on Saturday, playing center field.
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

The Badass

Jackson Lyon Return on Saturday

After leaving the game down a few teeth and spending the rest of Friday’s game in the ER, Lyon returned to the line-up on Saturday playing center field. Sporting a mouth guard and swollen lips, Lyon batted second in the Titan’s line-up. Even more remarkable, Lyon showed no ill effects of the collision less than 24 hours prior and proceeded to go 2-for-4 on the night.

Just making it back to the dugout and suiting up would have been worthy of a Purple Heart but making four plate appearances shows the toughness of Jackson Lyon. Inspirational to say the least and hopefully the Titans can harness that down the road when facing adversity.

Looking Ahead

Caesar Uyesaka Stadium Lights Santa Barbara
The Titans will play under the lights for the first time in program history this Friday night at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium in Santa Barbara

The road to an automatic bid into the NCAA post-season goes through Santa Barbara this weekend. The Titans travel to UC Santa Barbara for a weekend series that starts at 5:30 pm on Friday. Despite the clocks moving forward last weekend and it staying brighter later, the Gauchos installed lights at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium prior to the 2020 season. Friday marks the first time the Titans will play under the lights since they installed them in 2020 at UCSB.

If the Titans can take the series or even steal a sweep up in Santa Barbara, it could drastically help their cause towards a post-season bid. Not only would it boost the Titans to the top of the Big West standings, but the Gauchos currently hold a 24 RPI ranking, the highest of all the Big West teams. A road series win or, dare we say sweep of a highly regarded conference foe, could really improve the Titans chances of returning to the post-season. That’s easier said than done.

Last season, UCSB enjoyed a 22-12 record at home, a season when they earned a 41-20 overall record. The Golden Spikes Award committee recently announced UCSB sophomore shortstop Jordan Sprinkle to their watch list and Friday night starter Cory Lewis was named Big West Pitcher of the Week following their home opening series against Nevada. Lewis sports a 1.25 ERA and is 2-0 on the season in four starts.

The Gauchos and Titans win-loss records could not be more polar opposite. The Titans enter with a 4-11 record while the Gauchos sport 10-4 record. UCSB enters conference play on a five game win streak. Their batting average is not all that intimidating at .259 but their 3.27 ERA could prove the major obstacle for the Titans. Opponents have only managed to hit .232 vs. the Gauchos over the course of their 14 games played.

Weekend Probables

Friday, March 18: RHP – Christian Rodriguez (0-2, 4.15 ERA) vs. RHP – Cory Lewis (2-0, 1.25 ERA)
Saturday, March 19: LHP – Tyler Stultz (1-0, 5.63 ERA) vs. LHP – Mike Gutierrez (2-0, 2.70 ERA)
Sunday, March 20: RHP – Timothy Josten (0-0, 7.36 ERA) vs. RHP – Ryan Gallagher (1-0, 3.24 ERA)

Times listed are Pacific time:

March 18, 2022 (Friday) at UC Santa Barbara – 5:30 PM
March 19, 2022 (Saturday) at UC Santa Barbara – 4:00 PM
March 20, 2022 (Sunday) at UC Santa Barbara – 1:00 PM

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