With the Rams' 5-4 win over the host team Oklahoma State Cowboys in the series finale, the Titans "won" the tournament with a record of 3-1. (I wonder if the team dogpiled on the plane when the pilot announced the final score of the OSU/URI game?)
The ushers had barely seated the 72 fans when Gary Brown laced a triple into the gap in left-center field to start off the game. His incredible speed and quickness was in evidence when the URI catcher muffed a pitch, which rolled barely to the edge of the home plate circle - Brown was off like lightning and simply beat Smith to the plate. I've seen a couple hundred thousand baseball games and I don't think I've ever seen a runner score on a passed ball or wild pitch so close to the plate.
Smith allowed a double by Fellhauer after Brown put the Titans up 1-0, but Smith was tough and struck out Christian Colon and Nick Ramirez and retired Jared Clark on a groundball.
Noe Ramirez seemed snakebitten in the first inning when leadoff man Zoe Angolo hit a routine grounder to third and reached when Clark could not scoop Brown's low errant throw out of the dirt. Oliver Palmer followed with a double and both runners scored on a base hit by Rob DeVeney. Noe's control was off in the first inning, as he hit Jeff Cammans with a pitch, which was followed by an RBI single by Mike LeBel. The damage was minimized to a 3-1 deficit when the Titans executed correctly on defense when the Rams attempted to steal a fourth run by getting LeBel caught in a rundown between first and second: Cammans was thrown out at the plate to end the first inning.
For the next five innings, Smith pitched masterfully and the Titans hit like a team in a hurry to catch a plane. Smith was overpowering at times and had Titans hitters swinging at "pitcher's pitches" much of the day. He scattered his hits and didn't walk anybody or hit any batters. Two of the few Titans to reach base were removed on unsuccessful steal attempts (in one case, a foiled hit and run when Smith threw high heat up and in to Joe Scott.)
Fortunately for the Titans, Noe settled down and pitched a great game after the shaky first inning. After allowing three hits in the first, he permitted just one harmless hit over the next six innings. It is a remarkable luxury to have a pitcher of this caliber as the fourth starter.
The Titans finally got something going in the seventh inning. Khris Davis hit a one-out double into the left-field corner and advanced to third base when Jeff Newman beat out a beautiful drag bunt to the right side. The always-alert Newman saw second base uncovered and he sped towards the bag when the Rams' first-baseman tossed the ball back to the pitcher without calling time-out.
With runners at second and third and one out, Billy Marcoe lifted a fly ball towards short center field. Rhody CF DeVeney came in quickly and made a nice catch while tumbling to the ground. Unfortunately, Davis was not in position to tag up on the play and he had to remain at third base, bringing Joe Scott to the plate with the tying runs on base.
In the immortal words of the late, great Joe Besser, "Not so fast!" Tyler Pill came up to the plate to bat for Scott. Just as he had done in the season opener against TCU, Pill came through with a clutch double to tie the score, 3-3. He hit a rocket between the first-baseman and the first-base line: he never had a chance. Rhody coach Jim Foster came out with the hook for his ace and brought in his closer, Luke Lemko, a 6-6 289 pound pitcher from Gilford, NH. Lemko retired Brown on a groundout to end the inning.
After Noe pitched a perfect seventh (and final) inning - including two strikeouts - Colon led off the eighth inning with a sharp single up the middle and advanced into scoring position on a two-strike surprise sacrifice bunt by Felly. Clark was semi-intentionally walked before Nick Ramirez dumped a short fly ball into no-man's land in right-center. Both runners had to hold up to see if the ball would be caught, so the bases were loaded with Davis coming to the plate with one out. Khris did his job perfectly, launching a sacrifice fly to give the Titans a 4-3 advantage. Lemko escaped further damage by striking out Newman.
Ryan Ackland entered the game in the bottom of the eighth and had his best stuff, easily retiring the three batters he faced. After Lemko threw a scoreless ninth inning against the Titans, Michael Morrison came in attempt to nail down the save.
Good thing I took an extra Lisinopril (blood pressure pill) this morning. DeVeney led off the inning with a five-hopper into the shortstop hole. Colon appeared to have no play, but with his cannon arm, we've thought wrong about that before. Unfortunately, Jared Clark could not scoop Colon's errantly low throw out of the dirt and the Rams had the tieing run at second base with no outs.
With Cammans attempting to bunt DeVeney to third base, Morrison threw some filthy pitches and struck him out. Morrison seemed to have matters in hand when he struck out Pete Mastors following a frightening play in which Khris Davis' gave us his best Spiderman impersonation - he was hustling all out to catch a foul ball when he struck the wall and flipped completely over it.
The game got more interesting than Titans fans wanted: with the strike zone tightening, Morrison walked LeBel and Adams to load the bases. Michael then induced a game ending dribbler to second base by Dan Haverstick. Whew!
So what did we learn this morning/afternoon?
Did you see some of the stats listed in the article at the school website: some incredible stuff! The team batted .392 on the trip, with 23 doubles, 4 triples and 17 home runs. Felly left home hitting .289 and arrived back at John Wayne Airport with a .459 batting average.
Jared Clark's twelve-game hitting streak ended today, but he, Nick Ramirez and Khris Davis were a force in the 4-5-6 spots in the batting order: pick your poison. We also saw some hitting spark off the bench, especially towards the end of the trip. Tony Harkey and Billy Marcoe are each hitting .556 (5 for 9) and Tyler Pill is at .500.
We saw the trio of freshmen - Nick Ramirez, Tyler Pill and Noe Ramirez - continue to grow and develop into top flight contributors. It has to be tempting to try to find more playing time for Pill in between starts. Notwithstanding his costly dropped fly ball at SDSU, it may be time to give him another shot in left-field. Jeff Newman has been a major contributor defensively and does a lot of "small ball" things very well - like taking second base today when Rhody didn't call time-out - but his bat is a deficiency and we need a stick in the seventh spot to back up Davis. Harkey could be that stick against lefthanded pitchers, but so far he looks like a first-baseman-trying-to-play-left-field.
I found it curious that the official scorer gave Newman a double on his heads-up play. It seems to me last year that Christian Colon was credited with a stolen base when he did essentially the same thing last year against U.C. Davis; I've also seen it scored as advancing on the throw (back to the pitcher), which is how I think I would have scored it.
I still think it was Mickey Mouse that the host team, Oklahoma State, was designated as home team in all four of their games. That makes no sense in a three-team round robin format where you play each opponent twice. I was very glad to see my home-state Rhode Island team beat them on their own field.
I think Rhody coach Jim Foster played it perfectly the way he lined up his pitching. His team was clearly overmatched and it would have been suicidal for them to try to win three or four games this weekend. By saving good pitchers for today's games against Fullerton's and Oklahoma State's #4 guys, he very nearly came away with a 2-2 record: had URI beaten CSUF today, all four teams would have gone 2-2, which would have been a major victory for the Rams. They could be a very live #4 seed later this spring.
Now the Titans get to sleep in their own beds and enjoy a home-cooked meal before starting a three-game series Thursday night against Oral Roberts University. I hope they get rousing support from the home fans for the awesome success they had on this road trip. Our expectations are so high at Goodwin Field that I sometimes think they get more love from the fans at road games. We are spoiled by seeing this caliber of team all the time, while fans at places like Southern Miss gave them the respect of the best team they have seen in the last thirty years. Let's really make some noise on this homestand!