San Gabriel Valley’s best again helping Fullerton. Here’s a story I wrote for today about four former area players who are keying Cal State Fullerton’s run to the postseason – and beyond.
FULLERTON – Cal State Fullerton’s base is in the heart of Orange County.
But there have been instances in recent years where the Titans have added some San Gabriel Valley flavor. Fullerton’s run to the College World Series final four in 2001 and 2003, as well as its road to the 2004 national title was paved with players who once called the 626 area code home.
It’s the same this season for the Titans, whose quest for the school’s fourth CWS championship has been aided by four former area players – Gary Brown of Diamond Bar High School, Tyler Pill of Covina, Richie Pedroza of Northview and Noe Ramirez of Alhambra.
All will be key elements when the Titans open the Division I regional playoffs against Minnesota tonight at 8 p.m. at Fullerton’s Goodwin Field.
These four players haven’t forgotten where they came from.
“I think we all represent (the area) well,” said Pill, whose older brother Brett starred at Fullerton and was one of the heroes on the 2004 national title team. “This shows what type of talent that plays in the San Gabriel Valley.
“Since we’re up here competing and making a big impact in this program, it shows other teams, other coaches that a lot of talent comes from the San Gabriel Valley, and they will start looking for more who come from (here). I think as long as we keep performing well, there will be more San Gabriel Valley guys up here.”
Fullerton has certainly benefitted from the current
group. The Titans, who closed the regulars season by winning 23 of 25, are 41-15 and enter the playoffs ranked No. 7 by Baseball America. They are one of the favorites to make the CWS elite eight in two weeks.
Brown, who injured a finger in May and won’t play this weekend, has had one of the bigger impacts. He earned Big West Player of the Year honors after hitting .468 with 41 RBIs and 31 stolen bases. He has also scored 62 runs.
“We don’t get a lot of love, being from the Valley with all these Orange County guys (on this team),” said Brown, who still will exercise his leadership skills this weekend. “But it’s good for the area and good for those high schools for us to do as well as we have here at Fullerton. I hope it continues to happen.”
Brown’s enjoyed three solid years for the Titans, earning freshman All-America honors in 2008 and honorable mention All-Big West last season. The junior came to Fullerton after being drafted in the 12th round of the Major League Baseball First-Player Draft in 2007.
“I think everyone who gets drafted and doesn’t sign (is motivated),” said Brown, who hopes to return to action if Fullerton advances to next weekend’s Super Regionals. “But it goes away. It’s about maturing. You learn the game and you get better. That’s what I feel that I’m doing here.”
Pill’s impact has been on the mound and at the plate. He’s had to shift his attention to offense after complaining of soreness in his right elbow in April. He hasn’t pitched since April 25, but his offense hasn’t suffered. He brings a .371 average into this weekend. He’s also hit seven home runs and has 41 RBIs.
“It’s been really tough,” said Pill, who was 4-4 with a 3.36 ERA before the injury. “I always want to shag balls (during batting practice) and throw the ball, but I can’t. I need to lay low and take my time.
“I’ve just had to put all my focus on being a hitter. I can’t even play defense, so I have to take all my strength into my at-bats.”
Ramirez has picked up the slack on the hill, earning first-team All-Big West honors after going 10-1 with a 2.50 ERA. That followed up last season’s freshman campaign, when he went 9-2 with a 3.33 ERA.
Pedroza, whose older brothers Sergio and Jaime played at Fullerton and UC Riverside, respectively, has been the pleasant surprise of the group.
He earned a starting spot despite his freshman status. The former Northview star had a limited role to begin the season, but eventually Fullerton coach Dave Serrano couldn’t help but write his name on the lineup card.
“I just kept working hard every day, and I got my shot,” said Pedroza, who is hitting .367 with 17 RBIs, while playing a solid third base. “I just try to give my best to help my team win.”
And winning will be on the Titans’ mind this weekend, beginning with tonight’s game against the Gophers (30-28). The game is part of a four-team regional that also features traditional-power Stanford and New Mexico.
The winner of the regional faces the winner of the UCLA regional next weekend for a trip to Omaha, Neb., and the College World Series.
“We just have to keep playing the way we have been playing,” Pill said. “We have to stay within ourself and continue to have fun.”