During a 36-game span over the last two seasons, Cal State Fullerton has won 34 baseball games. Titan Coach Augie Garrido, who has been a master of understatement lately, calls it "an unbelievable run."
Fullerton swept a three-game series from Texas last weekend for their 15th consecutive victory after a season-opening loss at Stanford. The Titans won 18 consecutive games at the end of last season on the way to their College World Series championship.
What makes Fullerton's recent success especially noteworthy is that so many of those victories have come against the nation's top teams.
The last eight victories last year came in the NCAA Regional at Baton Rouge, La., and in the College World Series in Omaha. The three victories before that were in the postseason Big West Tournament, including one in the title game against Long Beach State, which did well in the NCAA West Regional before losing.
Most of the Titans' victories during the streak this season also have come against teams that were ranked among the top 20 in at least one of the preseason polls, including USC, Oklahoma and Florida State. All three were in the College World Series last season, as was Stanford. The Titans beat Stanford in the second game of the series this year, but the third game was rained out.
"I guess it shows what can be accomplished when players play the game well without thinking about the results," Garrido said. "Our players have been able to stay focused on the fundamentals, without being distracted, and that shows their maturity. If the focus was just on winning, it might not have happened. And we've still got things to work on to improve this season."
Garrido says one of the keys to the success this year is the carry-over in leadership from last season. Garrido says it begins with Mark Kotsay, the 1995 college player of the year.
"It carries through all the others with the experience from last year," Garrido said. "We depend a lot on our older players to show the other players what our program is all about. We feel our system is passed down from player to player, so we rely a lot on that kind of leadership."
In addition to Kotsay, five other position players were regulars on last year's team that went 57-9: Brian Loyd, C. J. Ankrum, Jack Jones, Tony Martinez and Jeremy Giambi.
"I think this team has a lot of the same good qualities that last year's did," Kotsay said. "In fact, I think we may be a little bit ahead of where we were this time last year. We seemed to get going a little quicker."
After watching the Titans outscore his team, 33-10, over the weekend, Texas Coach Cliff Gustafson said he has no doubt this will be one of Garrido's best teams.
"The only question I had about this team coming in was the strength of the pitching," Gustafson said. He was especially impressed with the performances of Kirk Irvine and Brent Billingsley in the first two games.
Billingsley, a transfer from East Carolina, has shown the potential to be the type of pitcher another left-hander, Tim Dixon, was last year. Billingsley gave up only four hits in eight innings Saturday against Texas.
"There are a lot of similarities between him and Dixon," said associate head coach George Horton. "Dixon didn't have that good a record the year before he came to us [from Arkansas Little Rock], and Billingsley was in a similar situation at East Carolina."
Dixon finished 13-0 last season at Fullerton, and Billingsley already is 5-0.
"It's been a big difference here over what it was at East Carolina in just being able to work with Coach Horton," Billingsley said. "They didn't have a good pitching coach, and that's one of the reasons I wanted to leave. But I always wanted to play for Fullerton. I just didn't have a good enough record my senior year [at Chino High] for them to be interested in me then."
There's a lot of interest now.
Coach Augie Garrido said Fullerton won't return to Texas for a three-game series next year. The Longhorns, however, will come to Fullerton to play in the Anaheim Hilton & Towers Classic along with Miami and Tennessee. . . . Three wrestlers qualified for the NCAA championships in Minneapolis March 21-23 with their performances in the Pac-10 association meet last weekend. Carl Sharamitaro was third at 150 pounds and Darryl Christian was third at 142. Orlando deCastroverde was fourth at 118, but qualified in one of the at-large spots.