Titans Go International for Puerto Vallarta Challenge

Credit to Matt Brown
Credit to Matt Brown

Game Notes (PDF) | Puerto Vallarta Challenge Hub Page | Schedule (PDF)

FULLERTON, Calif. -- The Cal State Fullerton softball teams makes its first road trip of the season this week as the Titans head to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for the Puerto Vallarta Challenge. The field at the tournament features Texas Tech, Mississippi State, FGCU and Fresno State with all games being played at Nancy Almaraz Field.   

After a tough 1-3 start at Anderson Family Field this past weekend, the Titans look to bounce back in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for the Puerto Vallarta Challenge on Feb. 16-18. Fullerton will play Texas Tech on Thursday at 2 p.m. PT, followed by a doubleheader on Friday vs. Mississippi State and FGCU at 8/11 a.m. PT. To close out the trip, the Titans take part in another two-game day on Saturday with games against Texas Tech and Fresno State at 7/9:45 a.m. PT.

Thursday, February 16
Cal State Fullerton vs. Texas Tech | 2 p.m. 

Friday, February 17
Cal State Fullerton vs. Mississippi State | 8 a.m. PT
Cal State Fullerton vs. FGCU | 11 a.m. PT 

Saturday, February 18
Cal State Fullerton vs. Texas Tech | 7 a.m. PT
Cal State Fullerton vs. Fresno State | 9:45 a.m. PT 

Live stats: fullertontitans.com


-The Titans collected their first victory of the season on Sunday with a 4-2 win over North Dakota State. Senior Lexi Gonzalez belted a two-run homer in the first and crushed an RBI double in the sixth to knock in the game-winning run. In the circle, Trisha Parks came in and pitched a flawless five innings of relief.

-This week's trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, will be the Titans' first international road trip in program history.  

The 2017 Titan pitching staff got off to a slow start in the first four games of the season as they allowed two runs or more in the first inning in three of their first four games. However, the bright spot thus far has been the impressive relief from Trisha Parks and Kelsey Kessler who both pitched five innings or more in relief this past weekend. Kessler relieved Parks in the first game of the year for Fullerton and pitched well in her first appearance as a Titan, shutting down Utah State for three-straight innings. Parks returned the favor on Sunday against North Dakota State as she came in for Sydney Golden after two innings and pitched marvelously for five-scoreless innings. The Arizona transfer struck out nine in the five shutout frames while collecting her first win as a Titan as well.

Titan RHP Sydney Golden couldn't have asked for a better freshman season in 2016 as the Riverside, Calif., native was named Big West Pitcher of the Year after posting an 18-6 record  with a 1.97 ERA in 138.2 innings pitched. Golden also earned All-Big West First Team, Big West All-Freshman team honors, Big West Player of the Week (4/25), NFCA All-West Region Second Team honors and being named a top 25 finalist for the NFCA Freshman Player of the Year. With Desiree Ybarra graduating last year, Golden takes over as the ace of the pitching staff. In her first two starts so far, Golden has a 7.20 ERA in five innings with two strikeouts. The sophomore's first decision of the year was an unfortunate one as she only got to throw three innings against Pacific on Friday before the game was postponed to Sunday due to rain. 

Fullerton has two speedsters returning in 2017 as Titans Ariana Williams and Delynn Rippy look to continue to wreck havoc on the base paths. Williams was the stolen base leader for CSUF last season as she swiped 22 bags in 27 attempts for a success rate of 81 percent. Rippy also had her share of stolen bases last season as the senior stole 14 bases and was only caught twice for a success rate of 88 percent. Make sure to keep an eye on Samantha Vandiver too as she stole seven bags in 2016.

Senior catcher Lexi Gonzalez has been nearly all of the offense for the Titans in the first four games of the year, batting .455 with five hits, two runs, two doubles, one homer, four RBIs and two walks. Gonzalez' timely hitting has provided a spark for Fullerton as she belted a two-run homer to left field vs. North Dakota State in the first inning to put the Titans back even with the Bison. The Covina, Calif., native also knocked in the winning run against NDSU with an RBI double to center in the sixth to put the Titans up 3-2. 

Senior Delynn Rippy and juniors Shianne Brannan and Samantha Vandiver are the only three Titans returning that played and started in 60 games last season. Two-time Big West Player of the Year, Missy Taukeiaho, was the only CSUF player last season to play and start in all 61 games.

Since taking the helm of the CSUF softball program in 2013, coach Kelly Ford has finished .500 or better in each of her four seasons with the Titans. The Portland, Oregon, native currently sits nine wins away from reaching 150 victories at Fullerton with 141. Last season, Ford led the Titans to 45 wins, which is the most since former Titan head coach Michelle Gromacki led her 2002 squad to 53 victories.

After finishing 17-4 in conference play last season, the Titans earned their first Big West title since 2006. The 2016 crown put Fullerton softball back atop the Big West in most regular season conference titles with nine. Prior to the start of last season, Long Beach State and CSUF were tied for first in conference history with eight. The Titans will have a chance to enter double digits with another Big West title this season.

Former Titan softball star Missy Taukeiaho signed with the Texas Charge of National Pro Fastpitch back in mid-October. The two-time All-American becomes the 16th Fullerton softball player to sign a contract to play professional softball. Taukeiaho signed and played her rookie season with the USSSA Pride back in June. The former Titan is one of the best players to ever step foot on Anderson Family Field as she was named Big West Player of the Year (twice), All-Big West First Team (three times) and holds a spot in many program records as well. To keep up with Taukeiaho and her new squad, visit texascharge.net.

Titans Alexis Gonzalez, Delynn Rippy and Ariana Williams made the most of clutch at-bats last season with each of them finishing 2016 with an batting average of .390 or higher w/RISP. Gonzalez hit an impressive .400 w/RISP and collected 17 two-out RBIs while hitting .333 with two-outs. Rippy showed even more poise with two outs as the outfielder hit .393 w/RISP, .472 with two-outs and drove in 19 with two-outs. Lastly, as a freshman Williams made quite an impression with runners on as the outfielder hit .571 w/RISP, .385 with two-outs and finished the year with 6 two-out RBIs. So when the Titans find themselves in need of a big hit and any of these ladies are at the plate. Look for the big hit to come more than not.

In 2016, Fullerton softball proclaimed its dominance in the Big West and the stats showed it. When it came to hitting, the Titans led the conference in at-bats, runs, hits, doubles, RBIs, walks, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, total bases and extra base hits. In the circle, Fullerton found themselves at the top of the Big West in innings pitched, ERA and second in strikeouts, runs and earned runs. Overall, the Titans clearly showed from top-to-bottom that they were the best team in the Big West in 2016. 

Since 2013, the Titans have put up a fielding percentage of .970 percent or higher in three of the past four seasons, including setting a program record in 2015 when they finished the year with a fielding percentage of .975. The main reason for the rise defensively over the past four seasons has been the strategy of associate head coach Jorge Araujo. The Cal Poly Pomona graduate serves as the defensive specialist for the Titans and has helped make Fullerton one of the best fielding teams in the country.

Fullerton softball will make its first trip to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, in February for the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge, hosted by Triple Crown Sports.  The Titans are appearing in the second session of the tournament on Feb. 16-18. The field features Florida Gulf Coast, Fresno State, Mississippi State and Texas Tech. CSUF will play each team at the event.

The Titans will play host of the Judi Garman Classic for the 36th year in 2017. The prestigious tournament will take place on March 2-5 and feature some of the top talent across the country. This year's field includes Iowa, Florida, Arizona State, Michigan, CSUF, UCLA, Fresno State, Long Beach State, Florida, Washington, California, Northwestern, Baylor, Indiana and South Carolina. The tournament will continue its round-robin format with at least seven games being played each day of the event. Tickets for the Judi Garman Classic can be purchased at fullertontitans.com.

Coach Ford and the Titan coaching staff like to take care of business in their home recruiting state of California as 24-of-26 players on this year's squad call the Golden State home. The only Fullerton players from outside the state of California are senior Kelsey Kessler (Blue Springs, Mo.) & freshman Sophie Frost (Mill Creek, Wash.). 

Coach Ford promoted assistant coach Jorge Araujo to associate head coach and former director of operations Caitlin Grimes to volunteer assistant coach in August 2016. Araujo will continue his role as the recruiting coordinator and defensive specialist for the program, while helping on offense, pitching and catching duties as well. Grimes joins the coaching staff after serving as the director of operations last season for the Titan softball program and will work primarily with catchers. Grimes played collegiate softball at North Texas prior to joining the Fullerton softball program.

In September, the Cal State Fullerton softball program received its second Division I-AAA Athletics Directors Association All-Sports Trophy, which goes to the top Division I institutions that do no sponsor football. Fullerton becomes only the 11th softball program with multiple DI-AAA ADA All-Sports trophies after collecting its first back in 2009. The Titans had quite the year in 2016 as coach Ford led her squad to its first conference title in ten years, 26th NCAA appearance and 45 victories which is the most since 2002. For more information on the All-Sports Trophy, visit www.divlaaa-ada.com.

The Titans made a late roster addition on Feb. 8 as they added All-Big 12 Second Team RHP Kelsey Kessler to the pitching staff. Kessler joins the program as a graduate transfer after spending the past four years at Kansas and Arizona State. The Blue Springs, Mo., native posted a team-leading 12 wins and 2.90 ERA with the Sun Devils last season. At Kansas, Kessler posted a 34-23 overall record while helping the Jayhawks appear in two-straight NCAA Tournaments. The senior was named to the NFCA All-Region Third Team during her sophomore year as she looks to make an immediate impact with the Titans.

CSUF infielder Mikaela Francis received a prestigious honor from the BOLD Women's Leadership Network in early December as she was selected to serve as one of their BOLD Scholars. Those who were selected as scholars must be a junior/full-time student while having good academic standing, exceptional leadership abilities, strong critical thinking skills, demonstrated passion for social equality and have demonstrated ability to work well in groups. Francis is currently in her second term as the President of the Student Athlete Advisory Committee and has been highly involved in advocating for student-athletes within Titan Athletics, the Big West Conference and as the SAAC President to the NCAA. Her first action as a BOLD Scholar was to take part in a retreat to Middlebury College back in mid-January.

Fullerton softball welcomed four new Titans to the program during the early signing period in November. The first additions to the 2017 recruiting class include Jody Cova (3B/C), Taylor Dockins (P/1B), Hannah Johnson (P/1B/OF) and Samantha Kennedy (2B/SS). Cova provides a power-bat to next year's squad as she hails from up North in Orangevale, Calif., where she earned All-Capital Athletic League honors three times. Kennedy hails from Anaheim, Calif., where she received multiple accolades during her time at Savanna High School. Her brother, AJ Kennedy,  spent three seasons with Titan baseball before being drafted by the San Diego Padres in 2015. Dockins comes to Fullerton with quite a resume as she earned multiple league, region and state honors while also helping Norco High School win the CIF-SS Championship as a sophomore. The Norco, Calif., native also was named a Max Preps Junior All-American and provides a dual threat as she has a powerful bat and is one of the best pitchers in CIF. Lastly, Johnson provides versatility for the Titans as she played multiple positions at La Habra High School, but coach Ford sees her making the biggest impact in the circle.  She's earned numerous accolades during her high school career and has wanted to be a Titan since she was little.

Coach Ford added pitching coach Tori Tyson to the coaching staff in 2016 and she made quite the first impression. Her pitching staff put up video game-like numbers in 2016 by posting a 2.22 team ERA (best since 2007), 23 complete games and 13 shutouts (most since 2007) in 410 innings pitched. Titans pitchers Sydney Golden and Desiree Ybarra benefited mightily from having Tyson as their coach with Golden being named Big West Freshman Pitcher of the Year and Ybarra earning the Big West Pitcher of the Year award. Look for Tyson's impact on the pitching staff to continue to flourish this season.

Prior to committing to Cal State Fullerton, Kelsie Whitmore played with professional baseball club the Sonoma Stompers. Her game-used bat, helmet, along with a signed baseball by her and teammates Stacy Piagno and Anna Kimbreel will be included within the "Today's Game" exhibit case at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. The bat and ball will be on short-term display in early 2017 as the museum is installing a "Whole New Ballgame" exhibit, which will take a look back on the past 40 years of baseball and move all the way to present day. Her helmet will also be included in a traveling exhibit with the Hall of Fame as they plan to use the item in a mini-exhibit that will be at the 2017 All-Star Game Fan Fest in Miami, Florida. 

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Fans can keep up with the latest in Titan Athletics by following us on Facebook (Facebook/FullertonTitans), Twitter (@FullertonTitans) Instagram (FullertonTitans) and Snapchat (FullertonTitans). In addition, the softball team has established its own Twitter (@CSUFSoftball), Facebook (Cal State Fullerton Titan Softball) and Instagram accounts (@CSUFSoftball).


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