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Fullerton’s Tiner Has Finally Found Her Niche : College softball: After a year at Saddleback College and two years of inactivity, she is leading Titans with a .303 average.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Joy Tiner’s post-high-school softball career has gone much like a series of checked swings--just as she’s ready to get started, something comes up that brings her game to an abrupt halt.

First, it was homesickness, which prompted Tiner to leave Bakersfield City College after two weeks in the fall of 1986 and return to her native Bishop, where she worked as a checkout clerk for one year after high school.

Next, it was Tiner’s academic transcript, which contained a slight discrepancy that went undetected until Tiner’s first semester at Cal State Fullerton and eventually cost her a year of eligibility at the school.

But after sandwiching two years of frustration and inactivity around one season at Saddleback College, Tiner finally has found her groove at Fullerton, batting a team-leading .303 with 10 doubles and 15 RBIs for the fourth-ranked Titans (42-19).

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“You’re a top hitter if you can bat .300 in our conference, because there are some very good teams,” Fullerton Coach Judi Garman said. “With four Big West Conference teams in the nation’s top 10, there aren’t a lot of teams you can pad your statistics against.”

Tiner is just happy to have some college statistics to speak of, because she wasn’t sure she would ever make it to the college level.

Not because she wasn’t good enough. She was a four-year varsity starter at Bishop High School, leading her team to the Southern Section 1-A playoffs four times. She batted .561 in her senior season but received no scholarship offers.

“I wasn’t recruited out of high school because Bishop (located about 30 miles south of Mammoth Mountain) is in the boonies and no one hears about you,” Tiner said. “The competition there is nothing like it is here, and when you lose in the first or second round of the playoffs, no one notices you.”

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Tiner figured the best route to a softball scholarship would start at the community college level, so she enrolled at Bakersfield with the intention of playing basketball and softball.

She played neither sport.

“I was living with a coach’s mother and didn’t really feel comfortable there,” Tiner said. “I didn’t know anyone. When you’re 18 and you go away to school and don’t know anyone, it’s a shock. So I decided to go home.”

Tiner did checkout work that year, wavering on her plans for the future. She had a boyfriend, and they had discussed marriage. But there also was college and softball.

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To play or not to play? That was the question.

When Tiner’s relationship with her boyfriend began to dissolve, the answer became more apparent.

“A friend I was working with said I should go back to school and play ball,” Tiner said. “It turned out to be good advice.”

Next stop for Tiner was Saddleback College. Living with relatives in San Juan Capistrano helped ease the transition to a new environment, and Tiner made herself at home on the Gauchos’ softball team, where she played well enough to attract Garman’s attention.

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After one season at Saddleback, she earned a scholarship to Cal State Fullerton and transferred in the fall of 1988 to begin her sophomore year.

But instead of donning a blue and orange Titan jersey in 1989, Tiner ended up wearing a redshirt.

Because Tiner had enrolled at Bakersfield College, she was classified as a three-semester transfer, meaning she needed 36 transferable credits to gain athletic eligibility. Two-semester transfers need 24 units. Tiner’s grades were fine, but she had accumulated only 31 credits at Saddleback.

An academic counselor brought the matter to Garman’s attention but not until the fall of 1988. Garman, who said she didn’t know that Tiner had gone to Bakersfield, broke the bad news to her third baseman: She had to sit out the 1989 season.

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What made the news even more difficult was that had the discrepancy been discovered in the spring of 1988, Tiner could have attended summer school to make up the credits.

“It was very frustrating,” Tiner said. “I had been a competitor all my life and wasn’t used to sitting on the bench. All year, I had to watch, and there were times when I wanted to get out there and help the team.”

Tiner didn’t spend the season sulking, though. Three or four times a week, she would stay after practice with coaches to work on her hitting technique.

She played over the summer with the Whittier Raiders, an American Softball Assn. team that won the women’s open division national championship.

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Tiner, who was designated hitter on that team, had the game-winning RBI in the Raiders’ championship-game victory over the Connecticut Brackettes, who have won several national titles.

Now, the junior bats fourth or fifth--the heart of the order--for the Titans, who play at Nevada Las Vegas at 1 p.m. today. She also has the team’s top fielding percentage, .983, and has made only four errors in 231 chances.

“She has been the only one who is really hitting consistently for us this year,” Garman said. “Everyone else has been up and down.”

That only seems fair. Tiner has experienced enough ups and downs.

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