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Sorenson: Big West’s Boffo Beginning

At The Ballpark

FULLERTON, Calif. — The first three games of the 2017 college baseball season are in the books and I was actually able to make it to two of them. Lucky me, right? In the two games I went to, the expected bullies of the Big West came out with blazing performances. The Gauchos win was based around the story their early-inning fence-busting and then the Titans victory being due to their rich tradition of pitching.

In the other game played out on the left coast today due to the NCAA exemption, San Diego beat No. 7 Vanderbilt 3-2. Yes, that wasn’t a typo… a Big West team with a lot of holes to fill took down an SEC team who appears to be primed to challenge for a national title. Ho-hum, typical west coast baseball.

Want an odd stat? All three winning teams tonight had a lesser number of combined hits and walks than their opponents did. Go figure.

Let’s get to the two games I saw today here in the Southland.

UCSB-LMU
I gotta tell ya’, the fireworks sure didn’t take long to burn down the wick on this college baseball season. No sooner had I taken my annual picture of the first pitch of the season that I see, this time of LMU’s Blake Redman, then the second pitch of the season was one of those towering no-doubters to left field by UC Santa Barbara’s leadoff man Clay Fisher. Boom! Touch ’em all Mr. Fisher.

And to add to the legend, this salvo even cleared the Blue Monster that is situated down the line at George Page Stadium. I actually didn’t see the swing as I was switching cameras at the time. I just heard the *ping* and then looked up to see the ball skying toward the eucalyptus trees. Oh, and I also heard the crowd start to gasp in unison.

Sure enough, Fisher’s first official swing of the season put the Gauchos ahead to stay in what would become a 6-3 win on the newly-okayed opening day of our sport.

The Gaucho bench goes nuts after witnessing Clay Fisher’s sonic shot clearing the Big Blue Monster at LMU on the second pitch of the season.

Clay Fisher completes his jog home as J.J. Muno welcomes him to the plate after two pitches into the 2017 college baseball season. (please excuse the fact that I took this pic with my phone… I wasn’t quite ready for a yard call after just two pitches into the game, so I took pics with what I had handy.)

The Gaucho bench welcomes Clay Fisher after his unlikely first inning home run on the game’s second pitch. (Again, another iPhone picture, sorry for the poor-ish quality)

That sonic shot by Fisher got me thinking, I was pretty fortunate to see a whole mess of “firsts” today as this Gauchos-Lions game was the first official game of the D1 season, since Stanford-Fullerton and Vanderbilt-San Diego would start later on in the evening.

So that means I got to see the following firsts of the season today…

– The first home run:
Clay Fisher, UCSB, second pitch of the game.

– The first out of the season:
J.J. Muno, UCSB, on a groundout to second.

– The first strikeout of the season:
Austin Bush, UCSB, by LMU pitcher Blake Redman.

– The first error of the season:
Austin Bush, UCSB 1st baseman, on a throw from catcher Dempsey Grover.

– The first caught stealing of the season:
Billy Wilson, LMU, after reaching first base on that error, Grover threw him out at second a few pitches later.

– The first injury of the season:
Dempsey Grover, UCSB catcher, who took warmups from Noah Davis in the bottom of the second inning, then mysteriously walked over to the dugout complaining of some kind of pain and took off his gear. Thomas Rowan took over the catching duties from there and went 1-for-2 with an RBI at the dish.

… okay, I’ll stop. You get the idea. It was kind of fun being at the only game in the country that was going on at the time. It probably won’t be until we get to the Super Regionals where there is going to be only one game going on at any given time this season, maybe even not till Omaha.

Oh wait, Hawaii home night games. Okay, never mind. But you get my point.

Anyway, the Gauchos jumped out to a 2-0 lead on Colton Burns’ solo home run to right field to lead off the fourth inning, then the ‘Chos added two more runs in the fifth inning to give them all the runs they would need in this one.

I ended up leaving the game after the bottom of the fourth inning due to the fact that I had to put on my helmet and shoulder pads on and start bashing my way through L.A. gridlock traffic to get out to Fullerton for the Titans’ game with Stanford. Luckily, I didn’t miss a great comeback or any miraculous finish.

The LMU Lions do the Soul Train-type of intros going into their game with UC Santa Barbara. (BTW, bonus points to those of you out there who know what ‘Soul Train’ is referring to.)

Here are the particulars of the first game:

LINESCORE:
UCSB – 100 120 101 – 6  8  2
L.M.U – 000 010 200 – 3  7  2

PITCHING
WP: Noah Davis, 1-0
LP: Blake Redman, 0-1
Save: Alex Garcia, 1

TOP HITTERS.
Gauchos:
– Clay Fisher, 2-for-4, HR, 3RBI
– Landon Silver, 2-for-3

Lions:
– Phil Caulfield, 1-for-4, RBI
– Brandon Shearer, 1-for-4, RBI, Double

Gaucho ace Noah Davis got the win in the first game of the college baseball season, going 6.0 innings and giving up just four hits.

After staying for four innings of that game at LMU, I then bravely (or foolishly) put on my shoulder pads and helmet and pounded my way through Los Angeles gridlock traffic to get out to game one of the only matchup of ranked teams this weekend.

STANFORD-CAL STATE FULLERTON
Pshaw, I’ll state the obvious here. This was just your typical Cardinal-Titan game.

1-0 Fullerton? That’s not so surprising. Immediately after the game when I was talking with Fullerton S.I.D. Derrick Fazendin and he turned to me and said, “These two teams… it’s like all they play are close games. Seven of the last 11 games between these two have been decided by a run or two. It’s crazy.”

With runs at a premium again, this one turned out to be a battle of the All American pitchers against the relative unknown pitchers.

Connor Seabold lived up to billing, going 7.0 innings and sprawling out five hits and five Ks. And besides, his thinly-stretched stirrups are pretty damned impressive. Strong work Connor.

Cal State Fullerton’s Connor Seabold is the known commodity for the Titans. Every professional scout has a radar gun pointed at his pitches and he is being closely critiqued with every pitch, every walk, every throw to first, every time he spits on the mound.

“I’d say of his 94 pitches, I’d say 80 to 85 were fastballs,” coach Rick Vanderhook said. “That’s what he does. He doesn’t throw 95 miles an hour, but it moves around really well.”

Meanwhile, Kris Bubic of Stanford came in completely under the radar, and I mean literally. When Seabold was done with his half of the inning, the scouts behind home plate would put their radar guns away and sit on their hands as Bubic took the mound. To his credit, Bubic was inching toward 90-91, even touching 93-94 on his ole speedball and effectively working all sides of the plate with his off-speed stuff, particularly his changeup.

See all those zeroes on the board? Unheralded Stanford starter Kris Bubic was impressive tonight, no matter where he threw the ball to.

Guess you can’t blame the scouts for not showing a ton of interest, Bubic came into this season with a history as a weekday starter a year ago and also did a lot of mop-up duty out of the bullpen. In all he made 21 appearances with six starts and ended his freshman year 0-3, 3.26 and held opponents to a .260 average.

But Bubic had the mojo going early on, collecting nine strikeouts through the first five innings while holding the Titans to el-zippo in the hits department. Then, in the bottom of the sixth, after getting a groundout and his 10th strikeout of the game, Titan leadoff hitter Hank LoForte sliced a screaming double down the right side. That was followed by Dillon Persinger’s RBI single, which had to be the most unlikely hit of the night considering how badly the JC transfer looked in striking out the first two at-bats.

Titan 2nd baseman Dillon Persinger, a JC transfer, made “a great adjustment” according to his coach Rick Vanderhook and provided the game-winning RBI, despite his awful first two at-bats vs. Stanford tonight.

That lone run would prove to be enough as Seabold kept the Cardinal off the scoreboard, despite giving up a few hits here and there. Erstwhile weekend starter Colton Eastman came on in relief and did an admirable job, giving up just one hit in 2.0 innings, while matching Seabold’s seven-inning total of five strikeouts. Yikes.

Coach Vanderhook said afterward that Mother Nature was the reason that All American starting pitcher Colton Eastman’s inclusion as a reliever was deliberate.

“Well it’s going to rain tomorrow, it’s s’posed to be 90-to-100% chance. So coach Hawk (Blake Hawksworth) and I sat around and we thought ‘If we’re close at the end of the game maybe we use him because we may only get one game in,’ so the plan worked out pretty good tonight.”

The thing about this matchup of traditional west coast powers is that both teams had their struggles offensively last season so this has to be a little disheartening to the coaching staffs of both squads as SU ended the night with six hits in 32 at-bats and Fullerton ended up with just three.

A familiar sight in college baseball: Stanford head coach Mark Marquess, who is retiring after this season, still does his constant pacing the sidelines of the Stanford baseball dugout.

Fullerton assistant coach Chad Baum told me afterward, “We still have to hit better than this. I mean, their starter (Bubic) was incredible. That guy was totally unexpected. But we still need to hit better.”

Coach Vanderhook didn’t seem too fazed by the lack of sticks, “We’ll hit better. We will. I am not worried about that. We just ran into a really good pitcher tonight. But he (Bubic) didn’t throw many heaters. He was living with that changeup. You don’t see that too often. He was good. Definitely better than I anticipated.”

When asked about it being another typical Stanford-Fullerton game, coach put it in his typical blunt style that I love.

“You only have to score one run more than the other guy and we were able to do that tonight.”

I also loved this very Vanderhook-ish moment after the game when he was asked about how this game could translate into post-season bonus points in the RPI, come the month of May. Coach ‘Hook had a typical coach ‘Hook-type answer, “This means absolutely nothing. Just nothing. The month of May and the RPI and all that, that’s for all the intelligent people to worry about. I just want a win.”

Here are the particulars for my second game today…

LINESCORE
Stanford – 000 000 000 – 0  6  0
C.S.U.F. – 000 001 00x – 1  3  0

PITCHING
WP: Connor Seabold, 1-0
LP: Kris Bubic, 0-1
Save: Colton Eastman, 1

HITTING
Cardinal:
– Mikey Diekroeger, 2-for-3

Titans:
– Dillon Persinger, 1-for-3, RBI
– Hank LoForte, 1-for-4

Mark Marquess of Stanford and Rick Vanderhook of Fullerton do the pregame handshake thing in front of home plate umpire Tony Norris. (A Matt Brown photo)

Now let’s move on to the understated event that took place before the game at Goodwin Field tonight.

A TRIBUTE TO THE MAN
Tonight was also a special one for Cal State Fullerton fans because the venerable Augie Garrido had his No. 16 jersey retired. Coach Garrido was honored with a placard on the outfield fence and given the chance to address the crowd before the game.

Augie Garrido, the former Fullerton head coach, gets some pre-game yucks from the current Titan players in their dugout. (A Matt Brown photo)

Instead of throwing out the first pitch his speech included talking about how baseball can be a metaphor for life and give added meaning to how you go about every day. At that point Garrido said to the fans in attendance, “I’m not going to throw out a first pitch tonight. Instead I’m going to give that opportunity to someone who lives their life  to the fullest every day because of baseball… Chris Moore, come out here and throw out the first pitch.”

With that, coach gave the ball to Chris and he let one fly to the plate.

LOVE this pic. Augie Garrido gives out a guttural yell as Chris Moore puts the ceremonial first pitch over the plate. Well done boys. (A Matt Brown photo)

Good stuff.

Okay, so the first 27 innings of the 2017 college baseball season are now in the books, and I’m proud to say that I was able to see most of the important innings. That was my day in college baseball. What, you telling me you DIND’T go to a baseball game today? Poor saps.

Two legends for sure. Mark Marquess of Stanford (1,579 wins) and Augie Garrido (1,975 wins) share a laugh before the Thursday night game in Fullerton. Those two coaches account for 3,554 combined wins. (A Matt Brown photo)

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