Fullerton learning from embarrassing moment
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Embarrassment and Cal State Fullerton don’t go together.
It’s why the Titans enter the season with a chip on their shoulder.
This is a program with 16 College World Series appearances, four national championships and a host of elite former coaches such as Augie Garrido and George Horton.
But last season, this also was a program that performed more like Omaha rookies than seasoned veterans after storming to the CWS.
“Every person on our team still has a sour taste about last season,” Cal State Fullerton coach Dave Serrano said. “A lot of programs are happy to go home and put a CWS appearance banner on their stadium. That’s not us.”
The Titans entered last season with high hopes. They put together a solid conference record and finished second behind rival UC Irvine. Fullerton still earned a national seed and had home-field advantage throughout the NCAA postseason.
Fullerton hosted Gonzaga, Utah and Georgia Southern in its regional. No issues at all. The Titans handled the field with ease.
Then, power-hitting Louisville made the trip out to California for the Fullerton Super Regional. Once again, though, an opposing team was no match for the Titans. Fullerton didn’t have any trouble with UL ace pitcher Justin Marks, and the pitching staff handled everyone but third baseman Chris Dominguez.
The Titans notched another trip to Omaha. They made it look easy.
Everything changed a week later.
The Titans entered the CWS as arguably the most confident team and the favorite to win the national title. They swayed the bus on the way to practice and were confident in media gatherings. They appeared to be just fine and ready to win the program’s first national title since 2004.
That was until they played Arkansas in the opener.
The Razorbacks jumped on the Titans for a two-spot in the first inning. They dug the sword deeper in the fourth inning with another two-spot to go up 4-0. Fullerton lost the game, 10-6.
Virginia eliminated the Titans two days later.
The Titans were rattled and fragile in Omaha. They couldn’t handle the big stage.
“I was really mystified at the end of last season by the fact we were very talented but weren’t as tough as we needed to be,” Serrano said. “That starts with me because I’m the leader of the program.”
Following his team’s quick ouster in Omaha, Serrano proclaimed that the Titans would return to the CWS in 2010.
Not without some changes, though.
Everyone involved with the program entered fall workouts angry and embarrassed. The Titans were hungrier than ever, determined to never let something like their Omaha collapse happen again.
Serrano had a plan.
“I came up with some meetings to address the makeup of our team and how we wanted to be perceived as a club and program,” Serrano said. “It was kind of like having a mission statement. We wanted to figure out how we were going to respond in the future. We even let some of the players pick some topics to talk about.”
Serrano then took the meetings a step further. Recently, they met as a team and went down the roster, asking each player what they could bring to the table and what they could improve this season. The answers were documented and each player received a booklet listing their potential contributions to the team.
“We as coaches hope the players will look at the booklet throughout the year. We need to stick with the mission this season,” Serrano said. “The talks we had really broke some barriers and really brought a sense of togetherness. I think we’re on the same page.”
The Titans won’t know for sure if the meetings worked until the season commences next week, but early returns suggest Serrano’s plan is working.
“We’ve accepted the challenge that when we get punched in the face, we’ll punch back unlike we did in Omaha last season,” Fullerton outfielder Gary Brown said. “This team is prepared for everything, and if anyone deviates from the mission at hands, they will be called out. It isn’t an insult or anything, we just need to do anything to get it done.”
Also encouraging is the Titans also have become a closer team on and off the field. Last season, some players would do their own things outside of road trips. This spring, more veterans are making stronger efforts to hang out with the younger players on the roster.
Colon, an All-American shortstop, is leading the charge.
“If I could sum things up last season, not being mentally stable was the reason we failed,” Colon said. “Last season, we were good teammates but not really hanging out off the field. We now have a completely different mindset.”
That mindset will be put to the test next weekend when the Titans open the season against Oregon, Pepperdine and Long Beach State.
Chances are the Titans will pass their first test with ease.
But as the season progresses and the No. 4 Titans inch closer to the NCAA postseason, all eyes will be on how they handle the postseason.
Fullerton shined last season before falling apart at the seams in Omaha.
If given the opportunity again, the Titans insist this trip will be a different story.
Embarrassment is no longer an option.
“We have the right mentality and we’re pretty hungry,” Colon said. “We’re going to get even hungrier until we get to Omaha and compete for the national title.”