The calm before the storm, Wednesday was a typical scene in preparation for an upcoming game. However, this practice marked the Titans’ last home game before they went away for the first time Stanford Regionalthe program’s first playoff appearance since 2018.
“It’s pretty surreal,” junior infielder Caden Connor called. “I mean, we worked here all the time. It feels really good for the guys who came back and trusted the coaching staff.”
Added senior infielder Zach Lev: “Fullerton holds a special place in my heart and it’s definitely been a long time coming for me to compete in the postseason.”
The Stanford Regional begins Friday with the Titans game Texas A&M (36-25) of the Southeastern Conference at 7 p.m
The Titans (31-22, 20-10 Big West) came second in the conference at UC San Diego (21-9). However, the Tritons are in the midst of a four-year Division I reclassification period and as a result are not qualified for NCAA playoff competition until the 2025 season.
Fullerton redeemed his ticket to the postseason by defeating Cal Poly in his penultimate game of the regular season, earning the Big West’s automatic NCAA bid. The Titans were led by sophomore coach Jason Dietrich and players who identify as blue collar.
“Play the game right and give it hard,” Connor said. “We will do anything to win a baseball game. I mean, the three-hole hitter will get a Bunt Down if necessary.”
Connor and pitcher Tyler Stultz said it was the team’s first game this season, no less a win over Stanford, which helped set the tone for the kind of team it is. During that game on February 17, the Titans achieved an 8-1 win over the Pac-12 school after a 1-1 draw after four innings.
“The atmosphere on the field during this series was really crazy,” Stultz said. “It almost felt like playoffs to open our season.”
The Titans lost the three-game streak with Stanford and missed their next multigame match against Michigan before playing two of three games against Texas in March, boosting Fullerton’s confidence.
“We said, ‘Okay, yeah. “We can play with anyone,” Stultz said.
Looking back on the season, however, Dietrich said it wasn’t a single moment or series of games that made Fullerton’s 2023 playoff push.
“I think it’s just the overall work that they did,” Dietrich said. “I knew and the coaches knew we had a group of guys who were pretty hungry.”
There are nine active Fullerton players who are eligible for an extra year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cut short the 2020 season after 16 games. Lew and Stultz are two of four players using that extra year this season. Lew’s first season was 2019. Connor and four others were able to use the extra year to return for the next season.
The 2022-23 squad also included 17 returning and 22 new players.
“We felt that our job was simply to build the chemistry and bring them closer together,” Dietrich said. “And teach titanium baseball and the tradition of titanium baseball. So it was exciting to start the season and see where we are.
“And then, after the first weekend against Stanford, to make it clear to these guys that they can play with anyone. But that’s difficult when the program has a little trouble.”
The five-year NCAA tournament dry spell at Fullerton Baseball was the longest in the program’s history since its first postseason trip in 1975. Since the 1975 season, the Titans have made 41 appearances in an NCAA regional league, made 18 appearances in the College World Series and were runners-up in 1992 and overall in 1979, 1984, 1995 and 2004.
The Titans’ alumni base, which includes several Major League Baseball players, coaches and managers, continues to boast in this tradition. Fullerton’s Big League alumni working just a few minutes’ drive off the 57 Freeway in Anaheim include: Angels manager Phil NevinPitching coach Matt Wise, catcher Chad Wallach and reliever Chris Devenski.
“It’s exciting to see them again in the postseason,” Nevin said.
Nevin was the No. 1 overall pick in the 1992 amateur draft, a year in which he was also named Most Outstanding Player of the 1992 College World Series. “Jason Dietrich has done a great job of putting Fullerton back in prominence, which is nice. where we should be I look forward to following the regional event,” said Nevin.
As for the future, the Titans, aware of the rich history of their program and the skills of this year’s team, will make the playoffs one step at a time.
“We’ve been to Omaha as many times as all these big SEC schools,” Connor said, referring to the CWS’ website. “In the regular season, we’ve played all these big teams and we’re ready to play anyone.
“Now everyone is 0-0, so the records don’t really matter.”