Better atmosphere helps Fullerton succeed
Follow Kendall Rogers on Twitter at @ysportsncaabb.
Sometimes it’s best to take a look in a mirror when times get tough.
In many instances, you’ll find out that you’re the one who needs to change or make the situation better.
That is exactly what happened to Cal State Fullerton coach Dave Serrano when the Titans were struggling to start the season.
The Titans entered the season ranked in the top five with high expectations. They reached the College World Series last season, and were foaming at the mouth to start the spring on a hot note. After all, the Titans had a pair of embarrassing performances in Omaha, Neb., last season. They wanted to avenge those losses.
In the first game of the season, Oregon punched the Titans in the mouth and wasted no time in handing them their first loss. But the Titans’ struggles didn’t let up.
The Titans proceeded to drop a home series to TCU the next weekend. Then they went on the road and dropped a road series against Arizona.
To say the least, the Titans were in a funk before the Hawaii series. They were 10-10. Even All-American shortstop Christian Colon was hitting below .300.
“Our team was putting a lot of pressure on ourselves. We knew we were good, but we were just putting way too much pressure on ourselves,” Colon said. “We starting freaking out and got caught up in the fact we were supposed to be really good. We weren’t playing the way we knew how to play.”
That only was the tip of the iceberg in terms of the Titans’ problems.
The biggest challenge went much deeper than anything on the field.
It was off the field that made the most difference.
Plenty of coaches around the country have strict rules. There are some coaches that refuse to let players wear their hats backward in locker rooms. During a trip to LSU earlier this season, the Tigers’ locker room was immaculate and clean. LSU coach Paul Mainieri said his Tigers took pride in the fact they had an exceptionally clean facility.
Serrano and his coaching staff also had rules. Some rules, though, went too far.
“We had rules for everything. We wanted to do things as perfect off the field as we were doing things on the field,” Serrano said. “We can have our own rules on the field, but we were controlling them too much off the field. Kids are going to make choices off the field and we can’t expect them to be us.
“With our strict rules and regulations, it almost was like I had a tranquilizer gun and shot a bunch of lions, and in turn, turned the lions into a bunch of kittens,” he added. “We were not letting our players be young men and make choices on their own. We were micromanaging them way too much. And as a coach, I take full responsibility.”
After realizing how strict his coaching staff was on the players, Serrano met with his team during the Hawaii series in late March and decided to lay off of some of the stricter rules off the field, such as issues pertaining to how the team wore hats, some press policies and even rules such as wearing earrings off the field.
That talk lifted a burden off the players’ shoulders.
“I want to say that before [the meeting with Serrano] we really were just a bunch of single nine guys going out there and doing what we could for ourselves,” Cal State Fullerton outfielder Carlos Lopez said. “After the meeting about the new rules, we came together and every guy seemed to be behind every other guy on the team. We never seemed to be happy with any lead, and we never were down about any deficit.”
Things have been quite different since the Hawaii series. Fullerton entered that series with a 10-10 record. But since that weekend, the Titans are 11-3 and now have an overall record of 21-13. Most importantly, they lead the Big West Conference, are once again ranked and are well on their way to earning an NCAA regional host.
Colon, coincidentally, is back to his old ways, hitting .329 with 11 homers and 26 RBIs.
Life is infinitely better for the Titans these days. But as with any baseball team, there always is a chance a slump will come back around.
Only this time the Titans won’t have any overboard rules to hold back some of the team.
When it doubt, though, it’s always safe to take a look in the mirror.
“Now that we’re having fun, it seems like everything is rolling and everyone is just playing together,” Colon said. “If things ever go back to a bad stretch, I think we’re going to be able to come out of it pretty quickly. I think the guys now understand what needs to be done to get us out of a funk.”
Serrano does, too.
Connecticut – The Huskies are legit. They have won 17 consucutive games and looked great in the process.
Coastal Carolina – Nothing says you want a national seed more than a 14-game winning streak.
Texas – The Longhorns are on cruise control with 13 wins in a row and three consecutive conference series wins over Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas A&M.
Arkansas – The Hogs have won 12 straight and four consecutive SEC series – over Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Georgia.
Arizona – One of the great surprises, the Wildcats have won six straight with UCLA coming to town.
Louisiana-Lafayette – The Ragin’ Cajuns still have plenty of work to do to make a regional, but nine wins in a row is a good place to start.
South Carolina – The Gamecocks will be dangerous if their pitching staff continues to excel.
Duquesne – The Dukes aren’t having a final season to remember. They have lost nine in a row and have a record of 7-31.
Wake Forest – Coach Tommy Walter is ready for his second season to end with the team on a nine-game losing skid.
Nebraska – The Huskers still haven’t won a Big 12 series. Does that change this weekend against Baylor?
UAB – The Blazers appeared to be ready to make a move a couple of weeks ago, but now have lost six in a row to fall to 20-17.
Southern Mississippi – The Golden Eagles have gone from College World Series participant to the bottom of Conference USA.
Oregon State – The Beavers are out of the regional host conversation for now after losing back-to-back series to UCLA and Stanford.
Gonzaga – We expected the Bulldogs to be down this season, but not 13-24.
LSU’s Anthony Ranaudo and Mississippi’s Drew Pomeranz face off – When it comes to the top pitching prospects for the MLB draft, it doesn’t get much better than LSU right-hander Anthony Ranaudo and Ole Miss left-hander Drew Pomeranz. The two will face off in an ESPNU-televised matchup Friday night. Ranaudo has made five starts this season and has a 3.00 ERA in 21 innings. He also has struck out 22 and walked 10. Pomeranz has made nine starts and a 1.38 ERA in 58 2/3 innings of work. Pomeranz has struck out 90 and walked 24 while teams are hitting him at a .165 clip.
UCLA will be put to the test at Arizona – UCLA hitting coach Rick Vanderhook said a couple of weeks ago he wouldn’t be surprised if the Bruins went into a little slump. Vanderhook was right. The Bruins have lost three of their last four games and hit the road this weekend to face a powerful Arizona club. Taking care of the Wildcats on the road won’t be easy. The weekend series boils down to starting pitchers Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer getting back on track after poor starts against Oregon last weekend.
Arkansas hits the road to face Florida – In what is the national series of the week, No. 4 Arkansas visits No. 8 Florida. The Hogs have been red-hot lately, winning 12 in a row and sweeping back-to-back series. Arkansas has the edge because of some key injuries for the Gators, but Florida is a very tough team to beat at home. Arkansas could cement itself as a national seed with a road series win over the Gators. Florida aims to wow observers with series wins over Arkansas and LSU the next two weekends.
Rutgers and Connecticut … in a big series? – The Scarlet Knights and Huskies meet this weekend in a series that could determine an NCAA at-large berth. The Scarlet Knights have been a pleasant surprise with a 42 RPI and a record of 21-13. Rutgers is tied with Connecticut for the Big East lead at 10-2 in conference. Additionally, the Huskies are in fantastic shape to make a regional with an RPI of 32 and a 28-7 record. Few thought this would be a huge series before the season began.
Pittsburgh coach Joe Jordano always has dreamed of leading his program to an NCAA postseason berth.
That dream finally may become a reality this season.
The Panthers are 27-10 and near the top of the Big East, but Jordano and his team are not taking anything for granted.
The Panthers prefer to take things one game at a time.
Jordan took time out to discuss his club’s improvement and the new facility the Panthers are set to build.
Rogers: The team has a fantastic record so far this season. What are your thoughts on how the season has transpired?
Jordano: I really thought we were going to be very talented offensively and defensively going into the season. But I also thought we would be a little thin on the mound. That is pretty much the way it has played out this season. Each year we want to compete for the Big East title. We work extremely hard at trying to execute a clear and specific plan to get there. The kids that we have on this team have done a fabulous job of committing to the extra work and being committed to doing whatever it takes at any role they’re asked to take. That is making our goals closer to reality.
Rogers: The program has made some impressive strides the past couple of seasons. What has the program done to take a huge step forward?
Jordano: The main thing that has happened this season is that we have stayed healthy. We have some gotten some talented kids and are staying healthy. Again, with the way our scholarship situation is, if we lose one or two players, we can go downhill real quick. This year, we have had some solid starting pitching on the weekends. But when looking at the last three seasons, our approach each season has stayed the same. It has stayed the same since I’ve been here. Though, I am a much better coach right now than I was when I started 23 years ago. This is a solid group of players that have done a great job so far this season.
Rogers: Your baseball program is still not fully funded. When do you expect that to happen? Also, how much does that hamper the program?
Jordano: We’ve never been at the maximum when it comes to scholarships. We’re just under nine scholarships. But there are two ways I can approach the situation. I could focus on it and use it as an obstacle, or I could just say it is what it is and just accept the fact that we’re going to get the best players possible with what we have. It’s kind of the same situation without current facility. We have the worst facility in the Big East. We really could’ve focused on that a long time ago, but we just had the attitude that you had to be a little tougher to play at Pittsburgh. We have a very blue-collar attitude. But with the new stadium that is coming, we will have some new opportunities. We have several administrators here that have created a great environment as of late.
Rogers: Third baseman Joe Leonard has increased his batting average over 100 point this season. What are the biggest reasons for his improvement?
Jordano: He is just a true professional. Everything he does is a very calculated and thoughtful process. He just has a professional approach. What Joe is doing this year has done wonders for his confidence. A lot of credit goes to my assistant coaches for his development. Joe is now much more selective and doesn’t swing at too many pitches outside the zone. He can take a slider down and away and put it in play. Being a more selective hitter has made him dramatically better this spring.
Rogers: Besides Leonard, which players on the team have been the biggest surprises?
Jordano: I think it starts with Cory Brownsten. Cory hit around .200 last season but is hitting .400 so far this season. He did a lot of great work in the offseason to become a better player and simply has been outstanding. Danny Lopez also has done a great job at the plate. I feel very good about what we’re doing at the plate halfway through our Big East schedule.
Rogers: When you look at the rest of the season, what needs to improve and what looks good?
Jordano: I think an NCAA postseason berth is in our crosshairs. The emphasis the rest of the way has to be on improving on the mound. We need some guys to step up on the mound. We have to continue to minimize our opponents’ opportunities. We also need to keep playing great defense. We’re going to play hard each game and only will stop playing hard when our last game is completed.
Rogers: What would make an NCAA regional do for your program?
Jordano: I think it is the next and most important step for this program. Our future is extremely bright because we signed a really solid class in the fall. A lot of that had to do with the fact we are building a new facility. The majority of this current team will be back next season, too. I think for us to gain NCAA regional experience this season would be a great benefit for all the players in our program. It raises the bar even higher than before, too. Pittsburgh hasn’t been to an NCAA regional in 80-plus years of existence, so it certainly would be a great thing for the program. Conversely, though, we don’t talk about the postseason too much. It’s more about what we’re doing today.”
Rogers: The plans are in place to build a new ballpark. When are the wheels going in motion that project?
Jordano: The completion date will be sometime in the fall. We will have an indoor hitting facility, almost 1,000 seats, two great plazas for spectator viewing and the potential to increase the size of the stadium as time moves on. We also will have heated dugouts, a full synethic field similar to what Louisville has. The ballpark will be very identical to what Louisville has right now, too. Building this facility will put us in the top three or four in the Big East. When you look down the third-base line, you have the skyline of downtown Pittsburgh in the distance. It will be a fantastic venue.
Why exactly is Virginia still highly ranked at No. 2?
The Cavaliers deserve to be No. 2 and likely would’ve been No. 1 had they taken care of business against Virginia Military last week. The Cavaliers have one of the nation’s most productive offenses with a .336 batting average. The pitching staff isn’t flawless, but Danny Hultzen, Robert Morey, Branden Kline, Kevin Arico and Tyler Wilson are fantastic arms. The Cavaliers have earned series wins over Florida State, Virginia Tech, Georgia Tech and Clemson. It is difficult to find a resume that impressive.
Why exactly is Arkansas still ranked ahead of LSU?
The Hogs are one of the nation’s hottest teams. Arkansas has won four straight SEC series. It also has swept its last two series against bottom feeders Mississippi State and Georgia. Arkansas has a slightly better offensive lineup and a better pitching staff at this point in the season. LSU, though, played a very nice brand of baseball at home against Alabama last weekend. Arkansas simply is just better as of today. Could that change? You bet.
Who is the hottest team in college baseball?
There are plenty of teams out there that are red-hot, but few teams are more impressive right now than Texas. The Longhorns put on an impressive display against rival Texas A&M last weekend. The Longhorns outscored the Aggies 26-3 for the weekend, and also outscored their rivals 22-0 in the two games played in College Station, Texas. In addition to a trio of great pitching performances from Taylor Jungmann, Cole Green and Brandon Workman, the offense also rose to the occasion with Cohl Walla, Kevin Keyes and Tant Shepherd leading the charge. UT will be incredibly difficult to beat the rest of the season if its offense consistently shows up.
Arizona State announced its self-imposed infractions earlier today. The Sun Devils will skip phone calls to prospects in June and July, reduce prospects visits from 25 to nine in the next two years, vacate 44 of its 49 wins from the 2007 season and reduce scholarships by two no later than the 2011-2012 academic year. The NCAA, of course, may accept the self-imposed penalties and also add to them … Speaking of Arizona State, senior left-handed pitcher Josh Spence still hasn’t pitched. At least one source close to the program said the Sun Devils really don’t expect him to throw this season. Another source, however, said Spence would be back sooner rather than later. The Devils certainly could use Spence, but there comes a point where there is no use in him coming back to pitch … Rutgers coach Fred Hill reached a milestone last weekend when he earned win No. 1,000 against South Florida. Hill has coached a total of 34 seasons at the collegiate level and is the 16th active Division I head coach to earn 1,000 victories … Cal State Fullerton pitcher Noe Ramirez may throw this weekend against Cal Poly, but the chances are good he will not throw until the Pacific series in two weekends. Ramirez recently fractured his wrist after falling down following a line drive that hit his face … USC pitcher Alex Sherrod will miss the entire Oregon series this weekend because of a suspension. Sherrod was ejected from Sunday’s game against Arizona State for throwing at a better. NCAA rules state that a pitcher is suspended four games if he intentionally throws at a batter. USC certainly could use Sherrod against the red-hot Ducks later this week … Louisville continued a rotation change last weekend against West Virginia when Gabriel Shaw got the starting nod. Shaw didn’t disappoint in his start, striking out six batters and allowing just a run and five hits in seven innings. Shaw could very well start again this weekend when the Cardinals face Seton Hall for a three-game set … Alabama has been one of the biggest disappointments the past couple of weeks. There are plenty of reasons why it has struggled. The starting rotation has failed to take care of business. At the plate, meanwhile, Jake Smith and Ross Wilson continue to struggle. Smith is hitting .244 and Wilson is hitting .239. Both sluggers must rise to the occasion if the Crimson Tide plans to make an NCAA regional.
Oregon – The Ducks entered the season just hoping to compete in the middle of the Pac-10. Now the Ducks are aiming for an NCAA regional host. After taking a huge road series over previously top-ranked UCLA last weekend, the Ducks climbed all the way to 22 in the latest RPI. UO must improve its .500 conference record and 7-6 mark against Top 50 RPI teams to host a regional, but at least its in the mix.
Texas Tech – After making waves at Oregon State a few seasons ago, coach Dan Spencer decided to try his hand at Texas Tech. Well, Spencer is making his presence felt in a big way this season. The Red Raiders still only are three games above .500 at 22-19, but have a solid RPI of 39 and a winning record in the Big 12. Tech still has work to do to make a regional, but at least it is making progress.
Arizona – Speaking of potential hosts, keep a close eye on the Wildcats. Arizona entered the season expected to finish in the middle of the Pac-10. However, it has risen to the occasion in a big way. The Wildcats have a 27-9 overall record and are two games over .500 in conference. UA still could improve its 7-5 mark against Top 50 RPI teams, but it is squarely in the mix for a host spot.
Tulane and East Carolina – The Green Wave and Pirates are Conference USA’s best hopes for NCAA postseason bids outside of Rice. The Green Wave might have a slight edge right now, too. Tulane has a 24-14 record and an RPI of 66. ECU, meanwhile, has a 24-13 record and an RPI of 68. Also worth noting, Tulane won two of three at East Carolina a few weeks ago and is just 4-5 against RPI Top 50 teams. ECU, though, is 4-3 against RPI Top 50 teams.
Alabama – The Crimson Tide is one of the most unique teams in the mix for an NCAA postseason bid. The Crimson Tide has a 22-15 record and an RPI of 17. In most cases, Alabama’s RPI would mean an easy choice for an at-large bid. That’s not the case this season. Though the Crimson Tide looks good in the RPI department, it wouldn’t make a regional with a 5-10 conference record. Alabama must improve its conference mark to earn a regional berth.