Thursday Thoughts: UNLV Scrimmage

Welcome back to Thursday Thoughts after a summer that saw long time Head Coach Rick Vanderhook retire and ushered in a new era of Titan Baseball under Jason Dietrich. With the Dietrich era comes three new coaches in Josh Belovsky, Neil Walton and Danny Benedetti along with a crop of Junior College transfers and true Freshmen.

Gone are those players from the 2021 team that have either graduated, transferred or were selected in the MLB Draft. Tanner Bibee was drafted by the Cleveland Indians in the 5th round and signed his professional contract. Seniors Ryan Hare, Mathew Sanchez and Isaiah Garcia among others either graduated or exhausted their NCAA eligibility. Kyle Luckham (Arizona State), Michael Knorr (Coastal Carolina) and Kameron Guangorena (Coastal Carolina) chose to transfer. All in all, the 2022 Titans will look very different than the 2021 Titans. Many Titan fans will breathe a sigh of relief after reading that because the 2021 season was the worst in Titan Baseball Division 1 history.

The Dietrich regime comes with mixed emotions. Many of those emotions were on display at Goodwin Field this past Saturday during the double header (7-inning each) scrimmage vs. UNLV. Mixed emotions for the end of the Vanderhook era that saw numerous conference championships, Regionals and Super Regionals and two trips to Omaha. One overriding emotion felt last Saturday was optimism. Optimism for a new dawn of Titan Baseball that under Jason Dietrich could bring a return to the postseason soon and competing for a spot in Omaha once again.

The first step towards those lofty goals started months ago when Dietrich compiled his coaching staff and then started fall workouts. The scrimmage vs. UNLV was another cog in the wheel that is hopefully turning towards a Omaha return. Although it was only a scrimmage that meant nothing and didn’t count towards overall win-loss records, it told a story of what Titan Baseball fans can expect from a team trying to regain its identity. We examine what happened this past Saturday vs. UNLV that included some good, some bad and some ugly aspects to it too.

The Results

Saturday, November 6, 2021 vs.UNLV: WIN – 6-0 (7 innings)
Saturday, November 6, 2021 vs.UNLV: TIE – 6-6 (7 innings)

The Good

Timmy Josten
Timmy Josten
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

Timmy Josten

Not everyone from the 2021 team either transferred, graduated or were drafted. There are quite a few players returning that will be an integral part of the Titan Baseball program moving forward.

It started on the mound with Left-Handed Pitcher Tim Josten starting the first game vs. UNLV. Josten has been in the program through thick and thin. He was a freshman on the the 2018 team that advanced to extra innings of Game 3 the Super Regionals but was also on last year’s team that finished below .500 for the first time in program history. All the while Josten has had to work through injuries including a back injury that kept his sidelined for the entirety of the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season.

But there was Josten, starting on the mound and pitching his way out of some jams while showing poise and good stuff. Josten was originally a Jason Dietrich recruit but before he came to campus, Dietrich had already left for Eugene, Oregon to coach under George Horton. As luck or fate would have it, Josten now gets a second lease on life from the pitching coach who originally recruited him and will gain personal instruction from him.

Of course, starting the first game of the first scrimmage in November is not a harbinger that he has already earned the Friday night starter role. That is typically reserved for the pitcher who starts against the alumni team in January. No matter how much fans read into the Josten start, it was good to see him out there healthy and throwing strikes and getting batters out.

Smiles Everywhere

From the players on the field to the fans in the stands, everywhere you looked, there were smiles.

Maybe everyone was smiling because the Jason Dietrich era has begun and there is optimism again. Maybe it was a gorgeous, sunny day in Southern California that had everyone smiling. Maybe it was college baseball is being played in November. Maybe it was the first time fans were really allowed back at Goodwin and we could all forget about Covid for a few hours.

Whatever the reason, it was fantastic to see all the smiles.

UNLV Scrimmage Crowd
The crowd at Goodwin Field was larger than expected for a meaningless scrimmage.
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

Fans in the Stands… and Lots of Them

Mrs. Cal State Omaha and I arrived in Goodwin Field just a bit after first pitch and to our surprise, Goodwin was filled with more fans than we had expected. Given this scrimmage was meaningless and the lack of fans at previous fall ball games, the stands looked fuller than expected. Add to it, the crowd did not look as sparse as you might expect for a team that has not made the postseason in three calendar years.

The best comparison of Saturday’s crowd was on the level of the 2018 Alumni game. That game featured a team coming off a trip to Omaha and Titan fans got to see former Titan Baseball stars now playing in the MLB like Michael Lorenzen, Chris Devenski and Matt Chapman. Fan support was high heading into that 2018 season and the attendance at the alumni game reflected it.

But this past Saturday was different; different in a good way. Different because after more than a year of COVID protocols, mask wearing, forehead temperature scans and general malaise, it felt normal again. Hand shakes and hugs and back slaps were back and with it, felt like old times. It felt as though the past three mediocre seasons were forgotten, like a bad dream that Titan fans were all too happy to awaken from and look towards the future.

Here’s hoping that Sunday’s scrimmage with Grand Canyon University is even more full than last Saturday.

Cole Urman Home run celebration
Cole Urman (R) is congratulated by Jackson Lyon (4) and JT Navyac after Urman blasted a 2-RBI home run to take the early lead in the UNLV Scrimmage Game 1.
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

Cole Urman

When Cole Urman arrived on campus in 2020, he did not appear in any games that season. Urman as a recruit was thought to be a defense-first catcher who could receive the ball well and had a rocket of an arm that keeps potential base stealers awake at night. Urman looked destined to redshirt that year because he was behind Austin Schell and Kameron Guangorena, both veteran catchers. The season was cut short by the COVID-19 Pandemic and 2021 would be Urman’s coming out party.

Last season, Urman started the majority of the 2021 games behind the plate and earned Big West Honorable Mention honors. He batted .275 last year but was missing that home run power you would like from a right handed hitting catcher. Urman launched a 2-run shot in the bottom of the third inning of the first game vs. UNLV to open up the scoring and opened everyone’s eyes. Urman is not just a defensive catcher but can hit and demonstrated power.

Speaking of his defense, Urman back-picked a UNLV runner on first base and caught pitchers Josten, Jake Vargas, Peyton Jones and James Wambold. With Austin Schell, Omar Veloz and newly converted catcher Jake Gentry in the mix, the Titans look to be well rounded behind the plate.

Chris Prescott
Titan alumnus Chris Prescott roamed the outfield for the Titans in 2017 & 18 and returned to Goodwin Field as the Volunteer Assistant Coach for the UNLV rebels.
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

Cal State Las Vegas?

Although Cal State Fullerton’s Homecoming traditionally happens during basketball season, the UNLV scrimmage had a definite Fullerton feel to it. Three coaches on the UNLV staff all came from Cal State Fullerton.

Assistant Coach and Recruiting Coordinator Cory Vanderhook‘s name probably sounds familiar because it is. He is the nephew of now retired Rick Vanderhook and served as Cal State Fullerton’s Director of Operations from 2015-17. Cory earned his undergraduate degree in communication studies from Cal State Fullerton in 2014 and joined the staff at UNLV in 2019.

Jason Eary spent time as a student manager for the Titan Baseball program and is now the Volunteer Assistant Coach for the Rebels. Early is joined by former Titan Outfielder Chris Prescott who serves as the UNLV Director of Baseball Operations. You probably remember Prescott from his playing days at Fullerton, playing Right Field mostly during the 2017 and 2018 seasons.

Pitching is back!

With the return of Jason Dietrch to Cal State Fullerton, you knew the pitching staff would benefit the most. Dietrich’s coaching pedigree with pitchers speaks for itself and you know the Titan pitchers were chomping at the bit to work with him. After Saturday’s performance vs. UNLV, it looks as though Dietrich’s impact is already paying dividends.

Cameron Repetti
Cameron Repetti held down the closer role in 2021 leading the team in Saves. Cam entered Game 2 of the UNLV scrimmage in the final inning and kept the Rebels scoreless.
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

Although there is no official box score due to the fact it was a scrimmage, the Titan pitchers shutout the Rebels 6-0 in the first seven inning game and allowed one earned run in the second game. Not bad for a pitching staff that ended 2021 with a 6.01 ERA, a 4.78 ERA in the COVID-19 shortened 2020 season and a 4.81 ERA in 2019.

Yes, it is a small sample size consisting of 14 innings of scrimmage baseball in November but you have to admit that a 0.64 ERA is quite good. Consider the fact that UNLV can swing the bats and had a team batting average of .333 in 2021. Also consider that the .333 average from 2021 was not only compiled by guys who graduated or were drafted off the 2021 Rebels roster. Big hitters like Austin Kryszczuk (.361), Edarian Williams (.360) and Eric Bigani (.317) all returned to Las Vegas and played in the scrimmage Saturday.

To further cement the expectation that Titan fans should see the team ERA come down significantly under Jason Dietrich, consider this. In his four seasons at Cal State Fullerton, Dietrich’s pitching staff never finished with a team ERA higher than 2.89 or ranked lower than 11th in the country. In addition to the Titans’ Division I leading 2.22 ERA in 2016, Dietrich’s pitching staffs posted ERAs that ranked fourth in the country in 2013 (2.47), third in 2014 (2.24) and 11th in 2015 (2.89).

Keith Franklin
Keith “Super Fan” Franklin was spotted and most notably, heard, at the UNLV Scrimmage.
(Photo courtesy of Hank Tran)

Super Fan Returns

Not since the Hawaii series in 2018 had Keith “Super Fan” Franklin been in Section A at Goodwin Field bellowing his support for Titan Baseball. No matter your opinion on him, it was good to see Franklin back shouting loads of encouragement to the Titans on the field.

Will Franklin become a regular again, donning creative costumes, conjuring up nicknames for the players and hanging Anarchy A’s on the fence line after a Titan hurler throws another strike out? Only Super Fan knows. If he shows up on Sunday vs. Grand Canyon University, it might be an indicator that the leader of Section Anarchy could return and anyone with ears within a mile radius will know the answer.

The Bad

Damone Hale
JC Transfer Damone Hale takes a mean cut at the ball while Izeah Muniz (47) is ready to deliver new baseballs to the umpire.
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

Not All Played

With over 40 players listed on the 2022 Fall Roster, not everyone got into either of the two seven-inning games. With optimism sky high and much anticipation to see some of the newcomers, fans will have to wait to see some of the new toys at Coach Dietrich’s disposal.

Most notably were some of the pitchers that did not throw vs. UNLV including Christian Rodriguez, Izeah Muniz, Anthony Joya and Michael Wesiberg. Titans fans are familiar with Ice Man (Weisberg) coming in and throwing straight gas at the back end of games. Ice Man didn’t throw on Saturday and neither did sophomore Christian Rodriguez.

C-Rod arrived at Fullerton last year as a freshman to much anticipation and expectation. He was a threat to get drafted by the MLB but because the the draft contracted down to just five rounds, Rodriguez made it to campus. He debuted in relief in the second game of the season vs. Utah and showed flashes of his potential. Against the Utes he went 3.0 IP with two hits and no runs with four Ks. In his first start in a mid-week non-conference game at UCLA, he had a rude welcome from the Bruins. The first batter, Kevin Kendall hit a triple and the following batter, Jack Filby, deposited a home run over the wall and the Titans were in a hole quickly. Rodriguez apparently suffered an injury in the UCLA game and although did travel to some away games at the end of the season, did not make another appearance in 2021. Hopefully fans will get to see C-Rod this Sunday vs. Grand Canyon and get a taste of what he can do.

Two freshman pitchers with high upside that did not throw vs. UNLV include Izeah Muniz and Anthony Joya. Muniz arrives via Bishop Amat High School and recorded a 1.47 ERA his senior season while striking out 85 of 285 batters faced and giving up only one home run. Muniz pitched well in his final high school game, a quarter final loss to Orange Lutheran, which resulted in an extra-innings loss on a walk off by the Lancers after Muniz was out of the game. With such a deep pitching staff and many needing live action in the first scrimmage, Muniz was relegated to ball and water boy on Saturday, frequently replenishing the umpire’s supply of baseballs. Possibly Muniz could see some mound action on Sunday vs. Grand Canyon.

Joya is an intriguing left-hander from Banning High in Wilmington, Calif. and arrives at Fullerton ranked the No. 3 Left-handed pitcher in California by Perfect Game. A big 6′ 1″ 220 lefty with a four pitch mix is a commodity Titan fans have been wanting to see since John Gavin wore a Titan uniform. Joya did not come in against UNLV and many fans are hopeful we can see what the big lefty can do on Sunday vs. Grand Canyon.

The Ugly

Harvey and Hale
Jake Harvey (8) and Jack Hale committed three costly combined errors that led to 5 unearned runs scoring for UNLV in Game 2.
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

3 Infield Errors in Game 2

Unfortunately in baseball, errors are part of the game. The Titans committed three of them in the same inning in Game Two that eventually led to five unearned runs scoring.

Oregon transfer Jack Haley started Game Two at shortstop while Jake Harvey played second base. Unfortunately the double-play combo of Haley and Harvey didn’t live up to its alliterative appeal. Haley had two errors while Harvey had one.

Dietz mound visit
Head Coach Jason Dietrich visits the mound in Game 2 of the UNLV scrimmage to talk to his pitcher Fynn Chester and infielders.
(Photo courtesy of Don Hudson)

UNLV would score six in that inning, only one of them earned pinned to pitcher Fynn Chester. Dietz smartly came out of the dugout for a mound visit to calm Chester and the whole infield down. It worked and the Titans stopped the errors and the bleeding.

The errors were not overly “ugly” outside of any garden variety fielding error being ugly. In the face of so much positivity on the day, we struggled to find much ugly at all and the errors were the most glaring.

Pigford Benedetti
Deylan Pigford (2) and Coach Danny Benedetti look into the Titans dugout during game 2 of the UNLV Scrimmage.
(Photo courtesy of Hank Tran)

Looking Ahead

The Titans take on Grand Canyon University on Sunday, November 14, 2021. First pitch scheduled for 12 PM at Goodwin Field.

The last time the Titans faced GCU was in a 2019 mid-week contest at home; a game they would win 11-3. This Sunday’s scrimmage should have the same format as the UNLV scrimmage of two, 7-inning games scheduled.

If the scrimmage resembles the UNLV games from Saturday, expect it not to be a glorified batting practice. In the UNLV scrimmages, strategy and gamesmanship was on display just had it been a game in Omaha. Look for both squads to treat these scrimmages in similar fashion.

November 14, 2021 (Sunday) vs. Grand Canyon University – 12:00 PM
November 14, 2021 (Sunday) vs. Grand Canyon University – 3:00 PM (Approximate)

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