Titans, Miami Have Talent in Common : Baseball: College World Series matchup features illustrious coaches, along with players who’ll probably be drafted in the first round.
One coach has a building and a street on campus named after him, works for one of the nation’s most prominent and profitable athletic departments and has been described as “the most recognized man in college baseball.”
The other hopes his school scrapes together enough money to build a press box for a new stadium, works for a financially strapped athletic department and has a funny sounding name that knowledgeable college baseball fans--but few people outside his own campus--would recognize.
In college athletics, no two schools could be further apart than Miami and Cal State Fullerton, whose football teams in recent years have given us national championships and national punch lines.
But in college baseball, the two will share common ground today when Ron Fraser’s top-ranked Hurricanes (54-8) meet Augie Garrido’s seventh-ranked Titans (43-15) in a College World Series game in Rosenblatt Stadium.
Fullerton has built its “Gutty Little Titan” image in games such as these--going against the college powers-that-be and competing or beating them--and the Titans hope to embellish the role at 4:36 p.m. (PDT) today.
Both teams will use their best pitchers, Fullerton senior right-hander James Popoff (12-2, 2.94 earned-run average) and Miami senior left-hander Jeff Alkire (13-2, 2.37 ERA, 118 strikeouts).
“Any time you play the No. 1 team in the nation, you’re going to be fired up and ready, but we’re not going to be intimidated, that’s for sure,” Fullerton catcher Jason Moler said. “We know we can beat anyone in the country. We just can’t get caught up in playing Miami--if we play our game and play hard, we won’t have any problems.”
The Hurricanes could cause a few problems, though, because they have certain players--notably Alkire and catcher Charles Johnson--who can make it difficult for the Titans to play their game.
Fullerton’s offense is built for speed, but Alkire and Johnson, one of the best defensive catchers in college, tend to put a crimp in opponents’ running games.
It will be difficult for potential Titan base-stealers to get a good jump off Alkire, and even if they do, they’ll have Johnson’s arm to contend with.
“He’s got a cannon--that’s why he’s going to be in the big leagues,” said Fullerton third baseman Phil Nevin, who played with Johnson on Team USA last summer. “I’ve seen him throw out guys from Cuba, and they’re supposed to be the fastest guys in the world. Running is a big part of our game, but we’re not going to steal many bases off him.”
Johnson and Nevin are expected to be among the top 10 picks in Monday’s free agent amateur baseball draft, and both showed why in Friday’s first-round games.
Nevin had a grand slam and six runs batted in in Fullerton’s 7-2 victory over Florida State, and Johnson, after hitting three balls to the warning track, had the game-winning sacrifice fly in the 13th inning as Miami defeated California, 4-3.
But Johnson’s most impressive moment might have been in the ninth inning when Cal’s Chris Clapinski tried to steal and, after seeing Johnson unleash a bullet of a throw to second, ran back to first, where he was tagged out in a rundown.
Fraser said he has seen players do that seven or eight times in Johnson’s three years as a Hurricane.
“Obviously he makes it tougher to run, but if we can’t steal bases, we’ll go to plan B,” said George Horton, Fullerton’s associate head coach. “We’ll have to find other ways to advance runners, with the bunt or hit-and-run. We’ll take whatever they give us.”
Fraser, who is retiring this year after 30 seasons at Miami, can’t count the number of awards he has won, but he hopes to add a final one to his collection this summer--an Olympic gold medal--as coach of the U.S. team in Barcelona.
But when it comes to College World Series championships, he and Garrido are tied, 2-2. The teams have met only twice in Omaha, with Fullerton winning both games, 13-5, in 1984 and, 9-3, in 1988.
“Like we did against Louisiana State (in the South I Region), we’re going to focus on our game and let other teams play us,” Horton said. “If we play to our capabilities, it doesn’t matter who we play--we’re going to be in the game.”