Ask Dave: Championship or Bust?

It's been a long time since our last Ask Dave but we were finally able to get together... well, not exactly together. This one was done via e-mail. Busy schedules have prevented us from getting together earlier but it's better late than never. Without further ado, we present one our our most popular features: Ask Dave. This features a Q&A with Titans assistant coach Dave Serrano.

TitanCentral.com: Lots of talk on the message boards about goals. Obviously the ultimate goal is an NCAA championship but there are a few of us who believe the team can have other goals and still have a successful season. Can you talk about this and give some examples of the goals you set before the season starts?
Coach Dave Serrano: I don't think any year has gone by where this coaching staff and our players have worked for anything less that a National Championship. I realize there are fans out there that want more championships brought back to Fullerton. But nobody wants it more than this staff and the players involved. Just look around the country and check and see how many teams have NOT won a National Title and then realize that this school has three with the likes of a Stanford -- A school that gets almost every good student athlete they recruit.
TitanCentral.com: Thanks for clarifying. I think we can now put this to rest and I'm sure TitanCzar will be quite pleased with your response... We (TitanCentral.com) believe this team is performing much better than originally thought, especially considering players such as Jason Corapci and Chris Stringfellow are not hitting well. And throw in the fact Darric Merrell has an ERA over six you have to feel pretty good about the most important stat which is wins and losses. Obviously Shane Costa has been amazing and Ritchie Burgos is now coming on strong but what else has been special this year?
Dave Serrano: The coaching staff felt early on that we had a special group of young men to work with. We also realized with how we were devastated by graduation and the draft last year it probably wasn't going to be as talented of a group. But this group has made itself a TEAM and sometimes TEAM will take you farther then talent. This group is special in its own way and we have been pleased with the results to this point, knowing that we need to continue to improve in areas.
TitanCentral.com: Tell us more about Costa. What's his work ethic like? Is he a vocal leader or one by example? I don't know how you guys do it but there always seems to be one or two players each year step up and become the "go to" guy and Costa appears to be that kind of player.
Dave Serrano: Shane is a very dedicated and talented athlete and his best years are still out in front of him. We felt going into the season that Shane would be, by seasons end, one of this years elite players. I would say Shane is more of a leader by example then being a vocal guy. Maybe by next year, his junior year, he may become more of a vocal leader.
TitanCentral.com: Why is Merrell struggling? Is he experiencing arm problems? We saw him Saturday at UCSB and he appears to have lost some zip on his fastball. I realize he is more of an off-speed, location guy but is there something different this year?
Dave Serrano: Yes, this does seem to be my most asked question. No, Darric is not experiencing ANY arm problems. He is working harder than ever and he would be the first to tell you at this point it hasn't been a great year. But lets judge him when it is all said and done. Baseball can be a very humbling game and too many of us jump to conclusions when someone isn't repeating something from the year before. We are winning games when he pitches and that is the most important thing for the team.
TitanCentral.com: Talk about the defense. You struggled early on but now it appears fairly solid. String gets better and better -- which is hard to imagine -- and Justin Smyres has range we haven't seen at SS in quite awhile. Did the coaching staff make a effort to focus in on this or is it just something which worked itself out?
Dave Serrano: Our staff has always focused on pitching and defense. Sometimes it takes some time to find the right combination. But, yes, String continues to play great defense and Smyres has really solidified our middle.
TitanCentral.com: Not a coaches favorite topic but let's talk about the injuries: What's the status of Martinez and Suzuki?
Dave Serrano: Mike continues to get better but still isn't 100% and Kurt is feeling better everyday and you'll start to see him in there more. We have a great situation behind the plate with PJ and Kurt. They both compliment each other very well.
TitanCentral.com: Any chance in seeing Dustin Miller this year and what's his status?
Dave Serrano: No, Dustin will be red-shirted this year. We anticipated him back by now, but he's had a little set back and was told by doctors to rest until the summer time. We still have very high hopes for Dustin in this program.
TitanCentral.com: Any other players coming out of the woodworks who should see more playing time? In other words, who on the bench is pushing for a starting role this late in the season or is the lineup pretty much solidified?
Dave Serrano: I would say that we have found a good combination right now. There will always be guys pushing for playing time. That's what we want, it will only make us a better team. I think if Mike Martinez can get back closer to being healthy he would have a good chance to help us down the stretch.
TitanCentral.com: Talk about the team chemistry of this team? Who are the leaders and how do they all seem to get along? Is this part of the reason you are winning all those close games (12-5 in 2-run games or less)?
Dave Serrano: Like I stated before this team has good chemistry about it. I think if you could point to one guy, Chris Stringfellow has emerged as the team leader. I think that team chemistry has helped win some close games. But I think some guy named "Chief" has also had a big affect on that too.
TitanCentral.com: Who? ... Just kidding... More rumors on Coach Horton. Comments?

Dave Serrano: With all of Coach Horton's success as an assistant and now as a head coach it shouldn't surprise anyone when programs are in search of a new leader when his name is mentioned. His consistency of winning seasons obviously is very attractive to schools out there. He's been part of one of our National Championships at Fullerton as a coach in 1995. He has been to Omaha six times. One as a player and five as a coach (three as an assistant and two as the head coach). He won 3 State Championships at Cerritos College in just 6 seasons. So, nobody should be shocked when his name surfaces.

TitanCentral.com: Okay, we've tried to cover a lot of ground since our last conversation so this is the last one: Wes Littleton. Easily the most improved over last year and quite possibly the biggest reason the Titans are doing so well. What's different this year as opposed to last?
Dave Serrano: I think Wes is pitching like we, as a staff, recruited him to do. We never doubted his ability but sometimes it takes guys a little longer to feel comfortable. Most of his success has come from the consistency of his pitches in the strike zone. I think Wes will keep getting better and really be special as he continues to grow and mature.