Titans Trounce Southern Cal at Edison Field

It took Justin Smyres an inning to shake the jitters of playing in a major league ballpark, because as he looked around the home of the World Champion Anaheim Angels, he said he felt goose bumps.

On this night, he and everyone on the Cal State Fullerton baseball team could put the loss of No.1 rankings and three-game losing streaks behind them and pretend to be a major leaguer, even though if it was only for a second.

"Every body was in awe at first," Smyres said. "But once the game started we did what we had to do to win."

And the No. 4 Titans did so by running harder on the base paths, pitching better, and taking one for the team more often in an 8-2 win over the USC Trojans at Edison Field in front of 3, 105 fans Monday night.

The win snapped a three-game losing streak handed to them by UC Riverside over the weekend, but also taught the Titans a lesson about swinging like a pro with major league equipment.

Titan head coach George Horton and USC coach Mike Gillespie decided to use wood bats as a tribute to the Majors, but what resulted for the Titans was a quiet offense that spread out seven base hits, with only one for extra bases. (Kurt Suzuki doubled in the second inning.)

"These guys aren't use to swinging wood. They're not as strong at this point of their careers," Horton said. "It's just a different ball game with wood in their hands as opposed to metal."

Kyle Boyer and Justin Smyres didn't seem to mind, as Boyer drove in three runs and Smyres led off and went 3-for-4 scoring three runs.

"It was different," Smyres said about the wood bats. "You got to keep your swing shorter. I personally liked it.  It's more natural."

Horton said he was surprised with all the runs the Titans scored, since he thought the game was going to be low scoring affair. He was pleased with how his team swung the bat.

"Some of us got into some balls that would have carried farther with aluminum" Smyres said. "But it takes a little bit of time to adjust your swing to a wood bat."

Horton also pointed out how the Titans' overall team speed would give them an advantage over the power-hitting Trojans. However, both teams were stuck in a 1-1 tie going into the fifth inning, until Trojan starter John Olson's accuracy and team defense left his side.

After Olson started the inning by walking Ronnie Prettyman, Joe Turgeon advanced the runner on a sacrifice bunt and Olson loaded the bases by hitting the next two batters. This set up Kyle Boyer's hard grounder that bounced off Joey Metropoulos' glove at first base and allowed a run to score to break the tie. Olson then hit Richie Burgos to score another run and was done for the night. The Titans scored five runs in the inning, doing it only with one hit.

"We got back to playing aggressive type baseball on the bases," Horton said. "Capitalizing on their inability to play catch was the reason we we're productive offensively."

The Titan pitching staff was aggressive as well, showing signs of the dominance they have displayed earlier in the season. Two of the reasons lay in a couple of resurrections.

Freshman Ryan Schreppel took the mound for the first time since a knee injury sidelined him back on March 14. He faced seven batters allowing only one hit. His welcome-back party lasted a short two innings, as Horton wants to ease him back into a starting role slowly.

"It's just a matter of getting his arm and body in physical shape," Horton said. "Maybe by next weekend we can get four or five innings."

Quietly making a comeback as well is Derric Merrell. He's beginning to show signs of his early success a freshman, proving again what he can do when he's healthy and not slumping. 

"It's definitely a relief to come out here and throw well, to prove to myself and to everyone else that I can still do it," Merrell said. "Things didn't go my way (last year) and I took that as a negative instead of a positive. I knew coming into this year I had to turn that around. Last year was a tough year but you got to look passed it, there's nothing you can do it about it, just move on and get better."

Merrell is now 4-0 and looking to solidify the bullpen for the Titans down the stretch run.

"Obviously some of our starting pitching hasn't been as solid as it's been early," Horton said. "Certainly Derrick coming back like that makes our bullpen that much deeper. That's good for us.

After being named the No. 1 team in the country, the Titans came out a dud against UC Riverside over the weekend, but Horton put off any talk about that series until later in the week, hoping not to affect his team's mindset, since they were playing at Edison field and should try to enjoy themselves.

"I didn't want to dwell on the negative weekend tonight," Horton said. "I tried to tell them to go out and play with some confidence and we'll get into the problems over the weekend on Wednesday."

Horton said the team that deserved to win the series over the weekend did, and the pressures of playing their first series after being named No. 1 had no bearing on the outcome.

"We got knocked on our rear end on Friday, and I don't think it had anything to do with the No. 1 status," Horton said. "The team was confident and we just got our butt kicked that first game. And we were in shock the entire weekend after that, and lost a little bit of the arrogance and confidence and couldn't get it back."

The Titans regained some of that confidence Monday night and they will need it down the stretch against UC Irvine and Long Beach State. They're hoping the UC Riverside series was just a fluke.

"Baseball is baseball and underdogs are known to drop the top dog," Smyres said. "Unfortunately, that's what happened last weekend."