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NCAA CENTRAL REGIONAL NOTEBOOK : Titans Play Underdog to Perfection

TIMES STAFF WRITER

With facilities that would make some high schools blush, a bare-bones budget and minimal fan support, the Cal State Fullerton athletic department sometimes suffers from an inferiority complex.

Especially when compared to the University of Texas, where Titan baseball players have seen the opulence of the Longhorns’ 83,000-seat football stadium, 16,000-seat basketball arena and 7,000-seat baseball stadium, which was filled with more than 6,000 fans for every Texas game during the NCAA Central Regional.

The Titans don’t draw half that many fans for their football games.

When Fullerton comes to a school such as this one in Texas, it plays the role of the little guy, the one who has to fight insurmountable odds to overcome the collegiate heavyweight.

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But it’s a role the Titan players have come to relish.

“We’re not USC or UCLA--when we come to a school like Texas, we’re always going to be the underdog,” Fullerton third baseman Phil Nevin said. “We’re just little Cal State Fullerton, the school that Mickey Mouse plays at. People don’t understand how good our program is.”

People in Texas do now. The Titans beat the Longhorns twice to win the regional and advance to the College World Series.

This is a rarity in Texas, which has hosted a regional for the past 12 years and seen its beloved Longhorns win eight times. While so many others have wilted in the hostile Disch-Falk Field environment, where fans pride themselves on rattling the opponent, Fullerton thrived in it.

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“Coming here pumped me up, especially when the fans started to get on me,” Nevin said. “I love that, when you go up to hit and people are screaming at you and booing you. It makes you feel like they recognize you. It’s awesome.”

Added second baseman Mate Borgogno: “We wanted to play Texas--the crowd makes it a lot more exciting, and that gets everyone going. If you’re going to come here, you might as well play the best and beat them on their own field.”

Texas shortstop Kyle Moody was impressed with how the Titans reacted to the pressure.

“They handled it as well as you can handle it,” he said. “They’re a great team, and they’ll do well in Omaha if they keep it up.”

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Worn out: Fullerton didn’t win the regional championship until Monday, but Texas Coach Cliff Gustafson thought the difference in the tournament was Sunday’s game, when the Titans beat the Longhorns, 5-2, to drop Texas into the losers’ bracket.

While most Fullerton players were resting in their air-conditioned hotel rooms Sunday evening, Longhorn players were sweating out an 11-9 victory over Creighton, which earned them a berth in Monday’s final.

Although Texas right-hander Chris Gaskill threw a complete-game, nine-hitter Monday to ease the burden on a depleted Longhorn pitching staff, Texas’ offense didn’t seem the same against the Titans.

“We weren’t as active and alert as we usually are, and that’s the price you pay when you lose that third game in the regional,” Gustafson said.

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Breakout: Fullerton left fielder Rich Gonzales, who struck out three times against Creighton Saturday and twice against Texas Sunday, broke out of his batting slump with an RBI double and a single in the Titans’ victory over Texas Monday.

The senior regained his team batting lead, raising his average to .381. Borgogno had temporarily taken over the top spot while Gonzales’ average dipped.

“I had been struggling the past two games, but I just sat on fastballs today and hit the ball pretty well,” Gonzales said.

All tournament team: Fullerton placed four players in the Central Regional all-tournament team: pitcher James Popoff, catcher Matt Hattabaugh, second baseman Borgogno and shortstop Kevin Farlow.

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