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Expectations Are Running High for the Titans

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cal State Fullerton dominated college baseball last season in a way few teams have.

The Titans were 57-9. They went through four NCAA Regional playoff games and four in the College World Series unbeaten, only the sixth team since 1950 to do so. In Omaha, they scored 39 runs to only 11 for the opposition. For the season, they averaged almost eight earned runs and gave up an average of fewer than four.

After a first-game victory in the postseason Big West tournament, Coach Augie Garrido promised: “They’re going to have to rip these jerseys off us this season.” No team did, and Fullerton finished the season with an 18-game winning streak.

The Titans also had the college game’s most charismatic player in center fielder Mark Kotsay.

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Kotsay hit .422 with 90 runs batted in. Of his 21 home runs, two were inside the park, three were grand slams, and two came in Fullerton’s 11-5 victory over USC for the national championship. Kotsay also had an 0.31 earned-run average as a relief pitcher.

It’s with that backdrop that the Titans open a new season Friday in a three-game series at Stanford. The expectations again are high with Kotsay, now a junior, and five other regulars returning. Fullerton is ranked No. 1 nationally in one preseason poll, third in another.

More than anything else, however, Garrido doesn’t want this team to be burdened by last year’s success.

“This team has every right to be itself, to develop its own personality, without having to look back at last year’s team,” Garrido said.

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That’s also the main reason Garrido avoids any visions of consecutive national championships.

One thing can’t be overlooked. After each of the two seasons the Titans won titles, 1979 and 1984, they failed to make it back to the College World Series.

Garrido sounded an alarm even last June, only minutes after the Titans walked off the Rosenblatt Stadium playing field in Omaha with the championship trophy. He remembered the 1980 team, in particular. “That team spent the whole season admiring their Series rings,” Garrido said. The 1985 team, with seven players talented enough to make it to the major leagues, didn’t win the conference championship or even advance to the NCAA playoffs.

Garrido said he has seen none of those signs with this team, although the Titans still face a formidable challenge in trying to be the third consecutive Fullerton team and fourth in the past five years to make it to Omaha.

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But the potential clearly exists. In addition to Kotsay, the other regulars returning from the World Series team are:

* Junior catcher Brian Loyd, who was named to the College World Series all-star team and the NCAA South Regional tournament team. He also was most valuable player in the Big West postseason tournament. He hit .360 and was second behind Kotsay in RBIs with 73. He also is strong defensively. Loyd, however, has been troubled by an elbow injury on his throwing arm, and is not expected be at full strength for the opening series. But there are no indications that it will be a lingering problem.

* Senior third baseman Tony Martinez, who also was named to the World Series all-star team. He had a superb performance in Omaha with two homers, including a three-run shot against USC in the title game. He also had two other homers in the regional. Martinez hit .291 for the season with 42 RBIs and made only five errors.

* Junior right fielder Jeremy Giambi, who hit .349 with 37 RBIs batting fourth behind Kotsay. Giambi had two of his four home runs during the season in Omaha.

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* Junior shortstop Jack Jones, who was chosen as the top player in the NCAA South regional, where he went six for 13, drove in three runs and stood out defensively. He hit .280.

* Sophomore first baseman C.J. Ankrum was a designated hitter most of last season, batting .352 with 29 RBIs. Ankrum, picked to Collegiate Baseball’s freshman All-American team replaces team leader D.C. Olsen on the infield.

Sophomore Steve Chatham, a defensive specialist in 1995, has improved offensively and is set to start in left field. Junior transfer Jerome Alviso, invited to the Olympic team trials along with Kotsay and Loyd last fall, is expected to be the regular at second.

The pitching staff continues to be the major uncertainty, as it was this time last year. Six of 1995’s nine pitchers are gone, including starters Ted Silva (18-1), Tim Dixon (13-0) and Jon Ward (10-3).

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Associate head coach George Horton, who handles the pitching staff, is regrouping around several untested candidates. Reliever Mark Chavez (4-2, 2.45 ERA) is trying to make the move Silva did from bullpen to starter. The other top candidates are transfers Brent Billingsley (East Carolina), Matt Wise (Pepperdine) and Kirk Irvine (Rancho Santiago). Sophomore Scott Hild (2-0, 3.23 ERA) also returns.

The pitchers should benefit from strong hitting and solid defense, as last year’s did.

“We have a lot of good healthy competition right now,” Horton said, “and we think we’ll have a good staff, although it might take awhile for it to develop.”


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