Zach Lew at bat

Thursday Thoughts: Pepperdine Series & UCLA Mid-Week

The weekend series with Pepperdine started out with lots of questions from the Fullerton faithful. After the weekend, many of those questions were answered.

Question: Will the Titans get back to winning with a (perceived) lesser opponent in Pepperdine after playing Gonzaga and Stanford?
Answer: Nope. The Titans were swept 3-0.

Question: Will the Titans’ bats wake up and start scoring more than three runs per game?
Answer: Sort of. The Titans did put up eight runs on Sunday but scored a combined three runs on Friday and Saturday.

Question: Will the Titans arms get it going and fans finally get to see some “Dietrich Magic“?
Answer: Not yet. The team ERA entering the weekend stood at 4.50. Following the UCLA mid-week game, it has ballooned to 5.66.

Photo courtesy of Titan Baseball Twitter

Question: Why is Ryan Gil listed as the Friday night starter? And by the way, who is Ryan Gil? Why isn’t Cameron Repetti starting?!? Is Repetti benched because he had a poor outing vs. Gonzaga? Does this mean Repetti is in the transfer portal?!?
Answer: Whoa, whoa, whoa. One question at a time. And while we’re at it, back away from the panic button, everyone.

You should have seen and heard the hysteria in the parking lot and in the stands on Friday. Rumors were flying and people jumped to conclusions with no basis of facts and without any knowledge of the situation. Here is what we were able to gather:

Cameron Repetti is not in the transfer portal. As shown by starting on Saturday night, Repetti was not benched for his poor start against Gonzaga.

It appears as though Tyler Stultz, who entered the weekend vs. Pepperdine with a 0.00 ERA, was rewarded with the Friday start and Repetti moved to Saturday. This decision must have been made following the Gonzaga series and the pitchers prepared for their respective starts on that timetable.

On Friday, Stultz apparently came down with some sort of illness that prevented him from pitching. The predominant opinion was Stultz contracted some sort of stomach illness, food poisoning or just had some bad fast food that made him sick.

Question: So why not move Repetti back to Friday?
Answer: Normal starting pitcher preparation has that guy throw a bullpen a few days prior to his start. Safe to assume that Repetti had already thrown his bullpen that week in anticipation of starting Saturday. Same thing goes with Christian Rodriguez, and he could not be moved up from his normal Sunday start.

Hence, Ryan Gil gets the last-minute start on Friday. And to answer the “who is Ryan Gil?” question, he’s a lefty JC transfer from Sierra College. Titan fans did not see him in the fall scrimmages and in the spring intra-squads because he is still coming back from Tommy John surgery. He is healthy now and since he had not thrown a pitch in the early 2022 season, he was well rested and was the proverbial “next man up“.

Titan fans saw on Saturday that Repetti did in fact start and the first man out of the bullpen was indeed Tyler Stultz. Stultz apparently recovered enough from whatever ailed him to throw 2.2 innings in relief.

Cam Repetti Fullerton
Speculation regarding Cameron Repetti not starting on Friday ranged from curious inquiry to outright absurd conjecture.
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

Question: So, will Repetti be back to throwing on Fridays?
Answer: Only Dietrich and the team knows that. Repetti did not help his cause of regaining the Friday starter role with his performance on Saturday vs. Pepperdine. On Saturday, Repetti pitched 4.1 innings and gave up six hits, seven earned runs, walked two and struck out five. The two home runs given up did not make for a convincing argument to move back to Fridays.

If we were to guess the starting rotation for this weekend vs. Loyola Marymount, we’d guess Stultz on Friday, Repetti on Saturday and Christian Rodriguez on Sunday. Of course, by making that prediction, we’re probably completely off base and Freshman Izeah Muniz could throw on Friday.

Which leads us to our Thursday Thoughts coming out of the Pepperdine series and the UCLA mid-week game.

The Results

Friday, March 4, 2022 vs. Pepperdine: LOSS – 4-1
Saturday, March 5, 2022 vs. Pepperdine: LOSS – 12-2
Sunday, March 6, 2022 vs. Pepperdine: LOSS – 12-8 (10 innings)
Tuesday, March 8, 2022 at UCLA: LOSS – 4-5

Season to date stats

Overall Record: 2-9
Conference Record: 0-0
Streak: LOST 4
Last 10: 2-8

Offense

Runs Scored: 39
Hits: 90
Doubles: 15
Triples: 4
Home Runs: 4
RBI: 32
Team Batting Avg: .243
On-Base %: .311
Slugging %: .338
Walks: 33
Extra base hits: 23
Total bases: 125
Hit by pitch: 4
Stolen Bases: 3
Strikeouts: 98

Defense

Errors: 12
Fielding %: .971
Double Plays turned: 6
Passed Balls: 3
Stolen Bases allowed: 11

Pitching

Team ERA: 5.66
Batting average against: .279
Hits allowed: 107
Total Runs Allowed: 67
Walks Issued: 40
Strikeouts: 87
Ks per 9 innings: 8.07
Home runs allowed: 7

Titans of the Week

Winners chosen via Twitter poll

Pitcher of the Week


Gavin Meyer: 2.2IP – 3H – 0ER – 2BB – 6K – 0.00 ERA

Also considered:
Izeah Muniz: 1IP – 0H – 0ER – 1BB – 1K – 0.00 ERA
Jake Vargas: 2IP – 2H – 1ER – 1BB – 3K – 4.50 ERA
Evan Yates: 2IP – 2H – 1ER – 3BB – 4K – 4.50 ERA

Batter of the Week


Zach Lew: 5/17 – .294 – 4R – 1RBI – 1BB – 4K

Also considered:
Brendan Bobo: 3/4 – .750 – 1R – 0 RBI – 0BB – 0K
Damone Hale: 4/14 – .286 – 1R – 1RBI – 1BB – 5K
JT Navyac: 2/5 – .400 – 1R – 0RBI – 0BB – 2K

The Good

Brandow Homer tap with Cruz
Jason Brandow (L) is congratulated by JJ Cruz after blasting a three-run home run in the bottom of the fifth inning vs. Pepperdine.
Photo courtesy of Hank Tran

Conference starts next week

Not to overlook this week’s opponent in LMU, but in order to be guaranteed a spot in the NCAA postseason, you have to win your conference. Every team in the Big West Conference is tied for first place having not played any games yet.

We’re not trying to sound pollyannish but until the Titans get into Big West games, they have just as good as a chance as any other team. Jason Dietrich could be using these non-conference games to really get a bead on the team he was handed.

Hopefully the guys can gain some confidence vs. LMU this weekend that can carry them into their first conference series vs. UC Santa Barbara.

Evan Yates
Evan Yates
Photo courtesy of Don Hudson

Frosh Arms looked better

Did you notice that in the pitcher of the week poll that three of the four nominees happen to be true freshmen? Although the season is still young and none of the aforementioned freshmen arms have pitched a ton of innings, the small sample size does give reason for optimism.

Gavin Meyer has impressed in his six appearances and 6.2 combined innings pitched. His ERA sits at 1.35 with nine strikeouts on the season: six coming against Pepperdine on Friday night. At 6′ 4″ and 212 lbs. and being a true freshman, Meyer’s ceiling is quite high and he could be leaned on more in middle relief this season.

Izeah Muniz came to campus highly regarding and with big expectations placed on him. Muniz made his college debut vs. UCLA relieving Wyatt Johnson to start the seventh inning. Muniz faced four Bruin batters and induced a fly out, issued a walk and got Malakhi Knight to strike out swinging. Muniz made Tommy Beres pop out with the ball not even leaving the infield. It was just one inning, but Muniz got his first taste of pitching in college and on the road vs. a formidable line-up.

Evan Yates, another true freshman, has seen limited time in relief but his overall 3.38 ERA is respectable after only appearing in three games and pitching 2.2 innings. Yates has very good stuff and with more time and experience, could be a valuable and dependable arm down the stretch. Assuredly with more time under Dietrich, Yates will be a name Titans fans will be chanting in the future.

Two other freshmen that have not pitched this season include Anthony Joya and Grant Kelly. The jury is still out on if they will redshirt or if they will make their debut at some time this weekend.

Comeback vs. UCLA

They say there are no moral victories resulting from a loss. That said, the fight that the Titans showed vs. a highly ranked and regarded UCLA team on the road should be noted.

Down 4-1 heading into the top of the 7th inning, the Titans could have phoned it in and started looking for the warmth of the bus ride home to Orange County. Instead, aided by three UCLA errors, the Titans evened the score 4-4. Doubles from the Killer B’s, Brendan Bobo and Jason Brandow, brought in those unearned runs.

Unfortunately, in the bottom of the eighth, Michael Curialle doubled down the right field line to score Kenny Oyama from second. That proved the difference and the Bruins handed the Titans their ninth loss of the season and fourth straight.

The good that came out of the UCLA game continues to prove the Titans refusal to give up. Tuesday was a cold night up at Jackie Robinson Stadium as evidenced by the number of jackets in the dugout and the lack of fans in the stands. The Titans could have easily given up once the score got to be 4-1, but they didn’t.

Damone Hale running
Damone Hale sprints to third base in Sunday’s game vs. Pepperdine.
Photo courtsey of Hank Tran

Outfielders performing well

Coming into the season, Jason Dietrich pointed out that the depth and talent in the outfield was going to be a strength. He was not wrong.

Junior Damone Hale leads not just the outfielders but the entire team with a .370/.452/.556 slash line. Hale’s .556 slugging percentage is tied with another outfielder, Jason Brandow who is batting .333 on the season.

When not at the plate, the outfielders have shown their gloves are just as valuable. Only Jackson Lyon has an error to his credit this season but that is misleading. Lyon’s error came while playing second base in the Saturday game vs. Stanford, a game the Titans won 11-0.

In the field or at the plate, the outfielders have been performing for the Titans in the early going.

The Bad

Jack Haley throwing
Jack Haley throws to first base during Sunday’s game vs. Pepperdine.
Photo courtesy of hank Tran

Infield defense

Last week we hit on the number of errors committed by the Titans in the early going. Entering the weekend, the Titans had nine errors after seven games. After 11 games, the Titans error total stands at 12. For those not that great at math, that’s an average of over one error per game.

Starting on Friday, the shortstop woes continued with Jack Haley, the Oregon transfer, committing an error in the ninth inning, allowing Connor Bradshaw to reach first safely. Although the following three batters flied out, struck out and grounded out and Bradshaw never scored, the error bug continued to rear its ugly head.

On Saturday vs. Pepperdine, Zach Lew’s error didn’t help the Titans get out of the seventh inning sooner. At the time of the error, the Titans were down 9-1 but still unable to escape the day without an error. Sunday, both teams played error-free baseball, a game the Titans would lose 12-8.

In the first inning and with two outs in the UCLA game, JJ Cruz committed an error that allowed Cody Schrier to reach base safely. Schrier later stole second to get into scoring position and later scored on a Michael Curialle double. Although the error came in the first inning, that unearned run proved the difference in a game that ended 5-4.

In both wins this season, the Titans did commit errors. We’re confident that is an anomaly and playing without errors is more of a recipe for success. Here’s hoping the Titans can come out of the weekend series vs. LMU with zero errors all three games.

Christian Rodriguez delivery vs. Pepperdine
Christian Rodriguez delivers to the plate vs. Pepperdine on Sunday.
Photo courtesy of Hank Tran

Weekend starter ERAs

The weekend trio of Cameron Repetti, Tyler Stultz and Christian Rodriguez entered the Pepperdine series with a joint ERA of 1.69. Factoring in Stultz’s performance on Saturday in relief, the big three now have a combined ERA of 5.15… Ouch!

Stultz entered the weekend with a 0.00 ERA and left with a 1.32 ERA. Repetti entered the Pepperdine series with a 2.70 ERA and now sits at 8.79. C-Rod, coming off a tremendous performance vs. Gonzaga, entered the weekend with a 2.45 ERA. Giving up six earned runs in just 4.2 innings of work vs. Pepperdine, his ERA comes in at 5.17.

Clearly the weekend guys need to be better this weekend and heading into the all-important conference series upcoming. Since the bullpen has been shaky in the early going, the weekend starters need to give up less runs thus allowing them to go deeper into games.

Batting average still low

Following the win over Kansas State, the Titans batters carried a .230 batting average headed into the weekend vs. Pepperdine. The good news is that the Titan team batting average raised but unfortunately, not by much. The bats raised the average up to .243 but that is still well below where it needs to be to start winning games consistently.

Only three players have batting averages over .300; Damone Hale (.370), Jason Brandow (.333) and Brendan Bobo (.316). Brandow and Bobo only have 18 and 19 at-bats and 21 and 22 plate appearances respectively.

Unfortunately, major contributors like Nate Nankil (.235), Caden Connor (.179) and Cole Urman (.160) have not performed up to their potential yet this season. Connor who led the team in batting last season, had a three-game hitless streak and has gone oh-fer six times this season. He has multiple hit games on Tuesdays vs. UCLA and Kansas State.

Urman is coming off a wrist injury suffered up at Stanford and missed the entire Gonzaga series and the mid-week game vs. K-State. He made his return on Friday vs. Pepperdine and got a hit in all three games. Urman has yet to record a multiple hit game this season in the limited games he has played.

Nankil’s batting average hovers a little bit above the Mendoza Line and has two multi-hit games in 2022. He has recorded at least one at-bat in all 11 games this year but the most concerning stat? In games when he has recorded three or more at-bats, he has struck out at least once. He does have two extra-base hits on the season, a triple vs. Kansas State and a double vs. Pepperdine on Sunday.

For the Titans to start winning more games and fast, the bats need to come around and raise that batting average to a more respectable number.

The Ugly

Pepperdine double off the wall
Jackson Lyon (4) takes the ball off the outfield wall to relay it into JJ Cruz (L) as right fielder Nate Nankil (18) looks on.
Photo courtesy of Hank Tran

Rebuilding is ugly

If you look at long time winning programs in college or professional sports, you hear the cliche, “This team doesn’t rebuild, they reload“. That cliche was not a cliche for Titan Baseball for many years. It was real life.

Never in the 46 years of Titan Baseball has the program undergone a “rebuilding year“. Not until the 2019 season, the Titans had always won 30+ games in a season. Not until 2021, the Titans had never had a losing season. Suffice to say, Titan Baseball fans have never experienced “rebuilding” like they are seeing now.

To be frank, rebuilding sucks. Especially after going to Omaha 18 times and winning four national championships, a rebuild is something Titan fans have never dealt with before. Even the vaunted USC Baseball program with its 12 national championships has been in the midst of a rebuild. The Trojans have not won a regular season Pac-12 Conference championship in 20 years. One could say that the Trojans are still in a rebuild phase since the George W. Bush administration.

We say this not to scare Titan fans into thinking they will have to endure 20 years of rebuilding but to prepare them for a bumpy road. Unfortunately, along with all the pomp and circumstance and optimism surrounding Jason Dietrich’s return to the Titan Baseball program came unfair expectations. The man is a baseball coach and his track record as an assistant coach has shown he is a tremendous coach and recruiter. But to expect him to come into a program that went 20-35 the previous season and make them an Omaha contender is simply not fair to Dietrich nor is it fair to the players.

The Titan faithful have to understand that just like winning, losing and the attitude that comes with it, can be contagious. Not only is Dietrich coaching these players on the fundamentals and mechanics of the game of baseball, he and his staff needs to help the current players believe they can win again. Let’s not forget, the only, you read that right, the only player currently on this year’s squad that experienced going to the NCAA postseason as a Titan, is Timothy Josten. 38 out of 39 players on the roster have never seen what a Titan postseason looks like much less been in the thick of it as a player.

Considering the past three seasons, the Titans record sits at 51-73. Yes, you have to take into account the COVID-19 shortened season when the Titans went 4-12. Although the season and players’ NCAA eligibility was disregarded, that does not erase the mental drain and damage losing does to a player’s psyche.

Post game talk from Head Coach Rick Vanderhook following the 9-7 loss to CBU on Sunday, April 11, 2021.

The game of baseball along with golf, is considered to be the most mentally challenging and demanding sport on the planet. What other sport can you fail 70% of the time and still be considered tops in your sport? Ty Cobb, regarded to be the greatest baseball player in history, batted .366 lifetime. That means he failed to hit the ball 63.4% of the time. As an NFL quarterback, if you completed only 36% of your passes, your career would be very short-lived.

Dealing with failure, not just personally whether a player is in a slump or just gave up a grand slam, but as a team, is inherent to baseball. Dietrich knew the task of getting these Titan players to believe in themselves and to perform to the best of the abilities was going to a rough road. As a Ken Ravizza pupil, Dietrich understands the mental game is just as important if not more important to a baseball player than any other athlete.

Not to belabor the point, but the current situation with the Titans reminds us of a similar situation that happened with the Oklahoma Sooners football program in the late 1990’s. This might fall into the comparing apples to oranges category of comparing two different sports, but the end message is the same.

Coming out of the Barry Switzer era and the Sooners football program placed on NCAA probation, Oklahoma hired Gary Gibbs who had a squeaky-clean image and vowed to clean up the program. Gibbs lasted six years at the helm of the Sooners and after going 6-6 in 1994, was relieved of his duties. Sooner fans displeased with .500 seasons were antsy to get back to winning again and six mediocre seasons were not cutting it.

In comes Howard Schnellenberger who lasted one year and was let go after going 5-5-1. Next was John Blake, who was the defensive line coach for the Dallas Cowboys but had Sooners bloodlines as a former player. Blake lasted three seasons in Norman, going 3-8 in 1996, 4-8 in 1997 and 5-6 in 1998. Going 12-22 in three years will not cut it at Oklahoma and Sooner family loyalty be damned, Blake was unceremoniously shown the door.

From 1995 – 1998, Oklahoma failed to qualify for a bowl game. Add to it, Oklahoma registered a 1-3-1 record against their hated rival, the University of Texas, in the Red River Rivalry game. (If there is one thing Sooner fans hate more than a losing season, it’s losing to Texas.)

Suffice to say, a losing attitude had permeated the Sooners locker room with many questioning if they can play at this level. In comes Bob Stoops, a young, hot shot defensive coordinator from the University of Florida who had learned under the likes of Steve Spurrier, Hayden Fry and Bill Snyder. Stoops was tasked with taking a storied program that had recently fallen on hard times and turn it around. The expectations were high and the pressure was even higher. Oklahoma fans wanted to win and win now. (Much like Titan Baseball fans today.)

Bob Stoops OU Championship 2000
Bob Stoops won the 2000 National Championship in his second year as the Oklahoma Football Head Coach.
Photo Courtesy Tulsa World

In his first year at Oklahoma in 1999, Stoops made the Sooners bowl eligible with a record of 7-4 and tied with Texas A&M for second in the Big-12 South division. In his second year, Stoops led the Sooners to an undefeated season in 2000 culminating with a national championship.

In an interview that appeared on “The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap” podcast that aired September 20, 2019, Schaap asked Stoops, “How did you turn around the Oklahoma program so quickly?”.

Stoops answered:

A lot of building up the players’ self-esteem initially. We had a bad self-image from all those down years. And it was just convincing them that we’re working hard enough to expect to win. Coming from Florida, I think I had some credibility of what it took to win championships. Look, we’re working that hard, we’re talented enough, we should expect to win. Little by little, it happened. Then we completely flipped it in our second year going undefeated and winning the national championship. Then there is the consistency of it too. No one has won more games over the next 20 years from 2000 to now, we’ve been the most consistent team and had the most wins. That isn’t easy either. Then after you win so much, you have to convince some players when you recruit them now instead of just a self-image… look, just because you show up here doesn’t mean you’re going to win. There’s a level of work and the way we do things that you’ve got to put in and push for if it’s going to happen for you.

Again, trying to compare football and baseball from 20 years apart might be a stretch but the basic message remains. The current Titans need to be reminded they are talented, and they can compete at a high level. Dietrich may not be that concerned with the wins and the losses this year but more about the development of these young men. Not all of them will go on and play professionally and Dietrich has stressed that he wants to head a program that not only develops good baseball players but good men, good future husbands and good future fathers.

After three years of losing and the mental toll that it can take, these players just need to believe they can win again. It may not turn around on a dime and in a single season. Remember, the Titans didn’t start losing overnight so getting back to those winning ways may not be as simple as “just add Dietrich“. But it is not impossible as proven by the turn around the Sooner football team made in the late 1990’s.

Rebuilding sucks. Rebuilding is ugly. rebuilding sucks even more when you’ve never done it before.

Looking Ahead

Diego Baqueiro
Photo courtesy of LMU Athletics

The Titans close out the final non-conference weekend with their third team from the West Coast Conference when the LMU Lions come to Goodwin Field. The Lions are struggling in the early going as much as the Titans have and hold a 2-9-1 record on the season. (The one tie came in the opening weekend vs. Utah on a Sunday. The visiting Utes had a hard travel deadline to get back to Salt Lake City and the game was declared a tie.)

LMU got its first win of 2022 in the sixth game of the season, an 11-7 win over Creighton. Their other win came last Sunday vs. the visiting Kansas State Wildcats. With the Lions scuffling as much as the Titans, could this finally be the weekend they take the series?

Offensively, the Lions are led by outfielder Sam Biller who is batting .343. Catcher Jared Thomas was just named to the Buster Posey Award watch list and is batting .326. Diego Baqueiro leads the Lions with 4 home runs on the season but also is tied for second on the team for strikeouts with 13. As a team, the Lions are batting .242 on the season.

The Titan batters should be salivating at the opportunity to hit against the Lions this weekend. As a staff, LMU arms have an 8.00 ERA. The expected starters for the weekend have an ERA north of the team ERA at 8.33. Not only is the ERA high, but opponents are also batting .328 vs. the Lions.

On paper, this series looks as if it could be a get right weekend for the Titans. Of course, many thought Pepperdine would be a push over this past weekend and the Titans ended up getting swept. Hopefully LMU limping into Goodwin Field can supply a spark for the Titans to springboard into conference play which starts after this weekend.

Weekend Probables

Friday, March 11: LHP – Tyler Stultz (1-0, 1.32 ERA) vs. RHP – Jimmy Galicia (0-2, 7.43 ERA)
Saturday, March 12: RHP – Cameron Repetti (0-3, 5.65 ERA) vs. RHP – Matt McClure (1-2, 10.50 ERA)
Sunday, March 13: RHP – Christian Rodriguez (0-1, 5.17 ERA) vs. LHP – Quinn Lavelle (0-2, 7.07 ERA)

Times listed are Pacific time:

March 11, 2022 (Friday) vs. LMU – 7:00 PM
March 12, 2022 (Saturday) vs. LMU – 6:00 PM
March 13, 2022 (Sunday) vs. LMU – 1:00 PM

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