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Titans Hope to Learn From Florida Trip

Cal State Fullerton’s baseball series with No. 1-ranked Florida State last weekend in Tallahassee, Fla., did exactly what it was supposed to do for the Titans.

It provided an atmosphere comparable to what Fullerton likely will face in an NCAA Regional in May.

“And Florida State is the type of team we’d have to beat to get out of a regional,” Titan Coach George Horton said.

The Seminoles might be the best team in the nation this season, the type capable of winning the College World Series.

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This is a team that has been to Omaha three consecutive years, a program that has made it five times in the 1990s. Only Louisiana State can match that number of appearances in the last seven years, and Fullerton, Miami and Wichita State are the only other teams with as many as four appearances.

“It’s a great opportunity for our players,” Horton said. “We could stay at home and play against a team that we know we could beat. That might make us feel good for the time being, and might help our record, but it wouldn’t teach us nearly as much. It costs us more than $10,000 to make a trip like this, but that’s why we do it.”

If the three-game series showed one thing, it was that Fullerton can beat anyone if the Titans get an adequate performance from their starting pitcher.

Fullerton won the first game, 2-1, in 11 innings because Matt Wise pitched superbly through 7 2/3 innings and closer Brandon Duckworth held the Seminoles hitless through the final 3 1/3 innings.

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“They were tough,” said Florida’s State’s J.D. Drew, an outstanding hitter who is regarded as the No. 1 pro prospect this season. “Wise got me three times on strikes with good pitches. He throws it hard.”

But the Titans didn’t get that kind of effort from their starters again in the series. Tim Baron pitched well in relief in the second game and John Alkire did in the third.

The damage was done in the other two games early, and the Titans weren’t able to recover.

Offensively, the Titans got the big hit when they needed it from outfielder Scott Seal in the 11th inning to win the first game, but didn’t the rest of the series.

Fullerton left nine runners on base in the second game and 12 in Sunday’s finale.

Sunday’s game also was difficult for the two freshmen in the lineup, second baseman Ryan Owens and catcher Craig Patterson. Owens hit into a double play with the bases loaded in one inning and grounded into a forceout with three men on in another.

Patterson, who is well regarded for his defense, struggled with his fielding. He twice dropped the ball on Florida State steals, and another throw sailed high over second and would have rolled into center field had not shortstop Nakia Hill made the backup catch.

“Playing against a team like Florida State magnifies certain weaknesses, but that’s why we do it,” Horton said. “We know more about things we need to work on now. But I have a lot of faith in these kids, and I know they’ll come back from this.”

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One of the high points for Fullerton was the hitting of Hill, a sophomore who had nine hits in 14 at-bats in the series. Two of them were bases-empty home runs.

Hill, who was a backup at second base last year as a freshman, appears to have benefited from work in the weight room in the off-season.

“I feel I’m a lot stronger in my upper body now than I was last season,” Hill said. “But I’ve also made some changes in my swing. It’s a little longer, with a little more windup.”

Hill has 22 hits in 41 at-bats (.536) in 11 games.

“Hill reminded me a lot of Pat Burrell of Miami the way he hit the ball against us,” Florida State Coach Mike Martin said. “It seemed like every time you looked up, he was on base. He’s a great looking athlete.”

Burrell won the national batting title last year as a freshman.

Martin said he expects to see the Titans “in the thick of it” when regional play begins in May.

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Martin noted Fullerton was without two regulars, shortstop Jerome Alviso and outfielder Steve Chatham. Both missed the series because of injuries.

“That team still gave us all we wanted, and we were 100% healthy and pitching very well for this early in the season,” Martin said.

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Titan women’s volleyball Coach Mary Ellen Murchison has recruited one of the top players in the Southern Section for two years in a row.

Outside hitter Rochelle Esparza, the 1995 player of the year at Manhattan Beach Mira Costa High, enrolled last fall, and Murchison has a commitment from setter Carolyn Kittell of Laguna Beach for next season. Kittell was co-player of the year last season when she led the Artists to the Southern Section title.

Esparza was sidelined her first year at Fullerton under Proposition 48 guidelines.

Murchison’s top player for the last two seasons, Heather Bassett, has signed to play for the San Bernardino Jazz in the Women’s Professional Volleyball League. Bassett plans to be back with the Titans next season as an undergraduate coach.

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Coming Attractions

Here’s a look at key games this week for Cal State Fullerton:

* Baseball against Pepperdine, 2 p.m. Friday at Pepperdine. This is the first game of a three-game series. The series will shift to Fullerton for the final two games beginning Saturday.

* Men’s basketball against Long Beach State, 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Long Beach. The teams are fighting for seeding in the Big West Conference tournament, beginning March 7 in Reno. Fullerton defeated Long Beach, 78-75, Jan. 13 at Fullerton.


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