April 5, 2008

Around the Bases

CBI Live
A Titanic Homecoming Win for Serrano

By Abbey Mastracco



IRVINE, Calif. – It was the match-up of the season.

With the sense of betrayal still fresh in the minds of the No. 5-ranked UC Irvine Anteaters (2-2 Big West, 19-4 overall), the feeling sunk in even more as Dave Serrano, the Anteaters’ former head coach who led them to the College World Series less than a year ago, led Irvine’s Big West foe, Cal State Fullerton (3-1 Big West, 17-9 overall) to a 12-5 victory Friday night in front of 3,176 at Anteater Ballpark.

Returning to his former home turf, Serrano’s Titans silenced Anteater Ballpark’s largest crowd ever recorded in what proved to be a very happy homecoming.

“It was emotional,” Serrano said. “It’s like playing checkers against your son.”

Serrano’s ace, Jeff Kaplan (4-1), who entered Friday night’s Big West contest with a somewhat inflated 5.97 ERA, the lowest of the CS Fullerton staff, pitched a strong 7.2 innings, surrendering just four earned runs on seven hits, walking two and striking out five.

“I knew he was going to go out and pitch a spectacular game,” Serrano said.

Erik Komatsu sparked the Titan offense, going 4 for 4 with three runs, two RBI, a walk and a solo homer. Josh Fellhauer also gave the Titans a boost, with a three-run shot to highlight a 3-for-5 performance. Fellhauer also scored three times in the win.

Ryan Fisher led the Anteaters, finishing 3 for 4 with a triple, a run and two RBI.

Prior to taking the hill Friday night, Serrano told Kaplan, “There isn’t many people in the country think you’re going to beat Scott Gorgen.” Kaplan proved them wrong.

“I think he had great command of his fastball,” said Anteater head coach Mike Gillespie. “He threw both sides of the plate to both right and left-handed hitters.”

Gorgen (5-2) promptly gave up the lead in the first inning and was then hammered in the third, giving up two home runs for a 4-0 Titan lead. Gorgen lasted just six innings, only the second time this season he has failed to throw more than seven.

“He wasn’t himself,” Gillespie said. “He got behind in the count and missed in the zone and we saw what happened.”

“He might have been trying to throw the perfect pitch at times,” Serrano said.

The Anteaters managed to chip away at the Titans’ lead in the sixth, putting them within one run of tying. Kaplan’s control began to waver, as Ollie Linton led off with a walk and Ben Orloff was beaned. A Casey Stevenson fly ball advanced Linton to third and with two outs and runners on the corners, Ryan Fisher slammed a triple deep into the right field corner to drive in Linton and Orloff. Francis Larson continued the two-out rally with a seeing-eye single through the left, easily sending home Fisher.

But as quickly as it happened, the Anteaters’ hope was taken away as the Titans got deep into Irvine’s bullpen taking five runs off three relievers in the seventh. With Kyle Necke and Noel Avison each giving up two singles apiece and Avison walking one, Matt Dufour then came on the hill and struck out Jared Clark, but Corey Jones capped the five-run rally with a bases-clearing, three-RBI triple.

The win was no doubt a big one for the Serrano, who played to fans with signs that read “Dave Serrano = Benedict Arnold”, but it was an even bigger win for his team. The Titans have struggled somewhat without the aid of several players lost to the draft or exhausted eligibility from last season.

“We’re trying to grow up together,” Serrano said. “We still have some hurdles that we need to overcome, and I think now 26 games into it some guys are starting to feel more comfortable in their roles.”

The series continues Saturday at Anteater Ballpark. Bryce Stowell (4-1, 2.36) is slated to face off on the mound against Daniel Renken (3-1, 3.27). Sunday’s match will feature Danny Bibona (4-1, 2.70) squaring off against Cory Arbiso (4-2, 3.96).