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A Renaissance for Fullerton Softball

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cal State Fullerton’s softball team has not appeared in the Women’s College World Series since 1995 and its only national championship came in 1986. That doesn’t sit well with noted alumna Michelle Gromacki.

“It does seem like it’s too long,” said the third-year coach who was a catcher on the 1986 team.

Gromacki has the Titans on a path to return to Oklahoma City for the World Series. Fullerton has ridden a 29-game winning streak--the nation’s longest this season--to a No. 7 national ranking. The Titans (33-9) can add to it Thursday with a nonconference doubleheader at Loyola Marymount after sweeping a three-game Big West Conference series against Long Beach State last weekend.

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Junior catcher Jenny Topping, who played in the World Series for Washington as a freshman, is Fullerton’s most visible player. Topping was the Big West player of the year as a sophomore and has been just as impressive this season. Despite missing the first 11 games of the season because of a separated right shoulder, the left-handed catcher is batting .479 with eight homers and 26 runs batted in.

“She’s had an impact offensively, defensively, wherever, you name it,” Gromacki said. “She’s allowed us to take the program to another level.”

Much of the Titans’ success revolves around three pitchers: Gina Oaks, Jodie Cox and Christy Robitaille. Oaks is 16-2 with a 0.70 earned-run average; Cox is 13-4 with a 1.60 ERA, and Robitaille is 9-3 with a 1.56 ERA. The three have combined for 347 strikeouts in 310 innings. Oaks, a junior, was invited to upcoming tryouts for the U.S. national team at its Chula Vista camp.

Gromacki said her pitchers are versatile.

“The thing that’s great about them is that they care more about each other than themselves,” she said. “It doesn’t matter who starts a game. One may start a game and another may finish.”

Fullerton started its streak after splitting a Feb. 27 doubleheader with UCLA. The Titans dropped the second game that day but in the opener defeated the top-ranked Bruins, 3-1, behind Oaks’ four-hitter.

“Beating them helped us believe we can do it,” Gromacki said.

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Bobby Braswell isn’t heading to Oregon State and it is good news for the Cal State Northridge men’s basketball program. Braswell interviewed for the job in the higher-profile Pacific 10--he was a finalist for the same job two years ago--but reportedly pulled out of consideration on Sunday.

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On Tuesday, Oregon State hired Arizona assistant Jay John after looking at Braswell, South Florida Coach Seth Greenberg and Pacific Coach Bob Thomason. Braswell is 97-79 with one NCAA tournament appearance in six seasons at Northridge. The Matadors were rebuilding in their first season in the Big West Conference and finished 12-16. However, they lose only two seniors--all-conference point guard Markus Carr and center Jermar Welch.

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Senior Stacey Nuveman helped UCLA end two impressive streaks. Nuveman hit two home runs Sunday to help the top-ranked Bruins defeat second-ranked Arizona, 6-5, before a record crowd of 3,161 at Tucson.

The victory was the first by a visiting team against the Wildcats (35-5, 4-1 in Pacific 10) in 70 games. Arizona hadn’t lost at home since April 9, 2000. The Bruins (34-6, 2-3) also dealt pitcher Jennie Finch her first loss in 60 games. Finch went an NCAA-record 32-0 last season and had won 20 in a row.

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Jamie Dantzscher led UCLA into the NCAA women’s gymnastics championships with a dominant performance Saturday at the South Central Regional in Tempe, Ariz. Dantzscher placed first in the uneven bars (9.95), floor exercise (9.95) and vault (9.90). The sophomore also won the all-around title.

UCLA will begin its quest for a third consecutive NCAA title on April 18 at Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Cal State Fullerton junior Kelly Mathiasen qualified as an individual by recording the third-highest all-around score at the regional in Tempe.

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