A year ago when Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State got together for their no-holds-barred, in-your-face Big West college baseball series, the Titans were rolling along with a 14-1 conference record and were ranked second in the nation.
Long Beach State came in with a 9-3 record, two games behind the Titans, but proceeded to sweep the series by scores of 13-6, 4-1 and 4-3. It marked the 49ers' first sweep of the Titans and, in hindsight, had a pivotal impact on both teams.
Each team lost only one more conference game that season, and the sweep turned out to be decisive. Long Beach won the Big West title with a 17-4 record and Fullerton finished second at 16-5.
Long Beach then went on to win the NCAA Eastern Regional and advanced to the College World Series semifinals, where the 49ers lost to eventual champion Louisiana State. The 49ers ended the year ranked No. 3 in the nation. Fullerton finished the regular season 35-19 and but was eliminated from the NCAA Central Regional in Austin, Tex., by two losses to a USC team the Titans had beaten twice during the season.
"By the way it turned out, that series had a bigger impact on us the rest of the way than we hoped it would," Titan Coach Augie Garrido said. "It went from a setback to something that we didn't recover from. We just didn't play as well the rest of the way."
Fullerton associate head coach George Horton added: "We never regained our confidence after that sweep. When things didn't exactly go our way in the tough situations the rest of the season, we responded with panic sometimes, not confidence."
When Fullerton and Long Beach meet on the baseball field, there is always a lot of comparing of the teams because the rivalry is so intense and the eams have won or shared six of the nine Big West titles since 1985, each with three.
This year was no different, but the bottom line is that the recent series could have gone either way. In Sunday's decisive third game, Fullerton appeared ready to put the finishing touches on a 2-1 victory, but the defense committed two errors in the eighth inning that gave Long Beach three unearned runs and a 4-2 victory.
It was hardly a matter of one team dominating the other, although each team won one of the first two games decisively and, in each case, an ace pitcher was roughed up early.
On Friday, the Titans jumped on Long Beach's most consistent pitcher, right-hander Mike Fontana, who yielded eight runs, five of them earned, in 4 2/3 innings of a 9-4 Fullerton victory. It was the first loss of the season in eight outings for Fontana, who had a two-hitter against Kansas in the 1993 College World Series and was 9-3 for the season.
The 49ers were equally rough on the Titans' star, right-hander Mike Parisi, who gave up six runs, four of them earned, on nine hits in 3 1/3 innings. Long Beach went on to win, 10-2.
Garrido was surprised each of the first two games was as one-sided as it was.
"Those first two games are not what you expect when these two teams play," Garrido said. "You don't expect them to be as one-sided. The third game was more typical of what you expect, a close game decided by a break or two, and that's what happened."
Although Garrido was disappointed by Sunday's loss, he was encouraged by the performance of senior right-hander Dan Ricabal, who gave up only five hits and one run in seven innings. Relief specialist Ted Silva came on in the eighth. Ricabal had been struggling before Sunday's strong effort.
"The game pointed out that Ricabal can beat any team in the country and he just needs to continue thinking that way," Garrido said.
Sophomore right-hander Matt Wagner also continued to impress with his three-hit, complete-game pitching performance Friday that ran his record to 8-0 and dropped his earned-run average to 1.39.
Another positive aspect of the series for the Titans was outfielder Dante Powell, a preseason All-American, showed signs that he's returning to top form as a hitter. Powell was three for five with three runs scored and three RBIs in Friday's game. He hit his sixth homer of the season Sunday. His average is up to .288 and he leads the team in RBIs with 31.
More than anything, Garrido hopes losing the Long Beach series won't have the same detrimental effect on the Titans it had last year.
"I don't think it will because this group is older and more mature . . ." Garrido said.
Fullerton is fourth in the Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball national rankings this week. Long Beach State is ranked third by Collegiate Baseball and 11th by Baseball America. Georgia Tech is ranked No. 1 by both. . . . The three-game Fullerton-Long Beach series set an attendance record for college baseball at Blair Field in Long Beach. The series attracted 1,638 on Friday, 1,826 on Saturday and 1,448 on Sunday. The three-game series attendance of 4,912 topped the previous high of 3,895 for the Long Beach-Wichita State series earlier this year. . . . Three former Titan softball players have made the roster for the Colorado Silver Bullets women's professional baseball team. Missy Coombs and Charlotte Wiley are listed on the roster as pitchers, and K.C. Clark is listed as an outfielder.