Titans Look to Clinch Big West Title Against CSUN

Titans Look to Clinch Big West Title Against CSUN

Game Notes

FULLERTON, Calif.- The Titans will host CSUN on Friday and Saturday for their sixth Big West Conference series at the Anderson Family Field. The game on Friday starts at 6 p.m. and the doubleheader on Saturday starts at 2 p.m. with the second game at 4 p.m. The games on Saturday will be featured on ESPN3.

The series gives the Titans a chance to clinch the 2017 Big West Conference Championship. If Cal State Fullerton wins two out of the three games against CSUN this weekend, the Titans will punch their ticket to the NCAA Regionals with an automatic bid, unless UC Santa Barbara sweeps UC Davis.

The Titans will continue Big West Conference action and host the CSUN Matadors for an evening game on Friday and a doubleheader on Saturday. All the senior Titans will be celebrated on Saturday with Senior Day and ESPN3 will stream the doubleheader. Last year, the Titans traveled CSUN and came home with a 2-1 series win. In the final game of the series, The Titans secured their Big West Championship for the first time since 2006 with a 2-0 shutout.

Friday, May 5
CSUN at Cal State Fullerton, 6 p.m.

Sunday, May 6
CSUN at Cal State Fullerton, 2 p.m.
CSUN at Cal State Fullerton, 4 p.m. 

Last week, Fullerton traveled to Long Beach State for their fifth Big West Conference series. The Titans (12-3) defeated the Beach (8-5) with a sweep to hold on to first place in the Big West. Shianne Brannan hit two home runs during the series and pitcher Kelsey Kessler earned her second straight Pitcher of the Week award for pitching two shutouts against the Beach. 

The series against CSUN gives the Titans a chance to secure their tenth Big West Conference title for a back-to-back Championship win. If Cal State Fullerton wins two out of the three games against CSUN this weekend, the Titans will go to NCAA Regionals with an automatic bid, unless UC Santa Barbara sweeps UC Davis. Last year, the Titans captured their ninth Big West title at CSUN and secured a spot in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2009. The Cal State Fullerton softball program has made 26 NCAA postseason appearances and reached the peak of the sport six times- winning the NCAA National Championship in 1986.

This week, Kelsey Kessler won her second straight Big West Pitcher of the Week award after pitching a pair of shutouts against conference rival Long Beach State. This is her third Pitcher of the Week honor on the season. Last week against the Rainbow Warriors, Kessler completed two shutouts and had three wins in the series to earn her second Big West Pitcher of the Week honors. Ariana Williams had an input with seven out of 10 of the weekend runs, including a two RBI triple to assist the walk-off in game two, which landed her first Big West Player of the Week win. 

Lexi Gonzalez continues to be the power hitter of the team and has proved to be the catalyst for rallying the Titans. She tops the Big West list with 36 RBIs and sits fifth with 8 home runs. In Big West games only, she is third on the list with 18 hits and is sixth with a slugging percentage of .608. In the series against Long Beach State, Gonzalez crushed a home run over the left field fence in game one, which was followed by a base hit from Zoe Richard and then a home run from Shianne Brannan. In game two, she hit her first triple of the season followed by another home run from Brannan.

During the Long Beach State series, Shianne Brannan hit two home runs with five RBIs. Lexi Gonzalez hit another home run during game one against the Beach. Gonzalez leads the team and is currently fifth in the Big West with eight home runs. In the Hawai'i series, Gonzalez homered to bring in Ariana Williams for two RBI. During the fourth inning in the second game of the series, Williams slammed her third home run of the season to tie the score. Gonzalez was next at-bat with another home run to lead the Titans.

Over the weekend against conference rival Long Beach State, Kelsey Kessler (17-6) was unstoppable against the Beach. Kessler pitched a three-hitter to earn the 6-0 victory for the Titans in game one and a two-hitter in a 1-0 finish in game two with 14 innings pitched and a 0.00 ERA. She hasn't allowed a run for 30.2 consecutive innings, which has led her to win back-to-back Big West Pitcher of the Week awards. Kessler is second in the Big West with 1.43 ERA and is third with 138 batter struck out.

The Titans finished their fifth Big West series with a 3-0 series sweep over rival Long Beach State, keeping the Titans in first place in the conference. With the wins, Cal State Fullerton improves to 29-19 and 12-3, while the Beach drop to 20-25 overall and 8-7 in league play. The Titans are fresh off a five-game winning streak and look forward to compete with CSUN (29-18, 9-6) in the next Big West series at the Anderson Family Field this weekend. The Titans lead the conference in pitching with 212 strikeouts and are second in the league with 350 hits.

Associate Head Coach Jorge Araujo was named a finalist for the Rising Star Award from One Dream Zero Distraction Management. The 2017 One Dream Awards will be held in Las Vegas, Nev. on Saturday, December 9, 2017. Jorge Araujo is in his fifth season with the Titans and his first as the associate head coach on the Cal State Fullerton softball staff in 2016-17, where he continues to be the recruiting coordinator and defensive specialist for the team.  

Titans Kelsey Kessler, Trish Parks and Delynn Rippy all earned All-Tournament team honors at the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge. Kessler had two marvelous starts at the tournament as she only surrendered one earned run and had 13 strikeouts. Parks threw six scoreless frames against Florida Gulf Coast while also doing same damage with the bat as she tripled (vs. Texas Tech) and hit a two-RBI double (vs. Fresno State). Rippy was the spark plug the Titans needed in Mexico as she moved to the top of the lineup after the loss to Texas Tech and finished the tourney with six hits, four runs, two RBIs and .333 batting average. 

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. 

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.). 

Entering the fifth inning, Fullerton trailed No. 21 Fresno State 9-1 and was in danger of getting run-ruled by the Bulldogs, but the Titans had other ideas. Senior Lexi Gonzalez scored Delynn Rippy on a sacrifice fly to cut the lead to 9-2, giving the Titans life for another half-inning. However, with two outs Fullerton kept the momentum going with an RBI single and RBI double from freshmen Zoe Richard and Irieanna Siofele. Next, freshman Emily Randall drew a walk and the Titans reeled off another RBI double and three-straight RBI singles to cut the lead to 9-8 with runners on the corners. Trish Parks stepped up to the plate and laced a double down the left field line that plated Samantha Vandiver and Rippy and put the Titans on top of the Bulldogs, 10-9. The improbable nine-run fifth last 30 minutes and the Titans scored eight of the nine runs with two outs in the innings. 

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.

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.

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 with nine conference titles in program history. The Titans will have a chance to enter double digits with another Big West title this season. 

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 knew this year's freshman class was something special and they've lived up to expectations so far. First basemen Zoe Richard has played 37 games this season and started in 21 and already has 15 RBIs. Pitcher Sophie Frost has stepped into a relief role for the Titans and collected her first save of the season vs. Texas Tech on Feb. 18. Kelsie Whitmore and Arianna Burns have also made some impact in the outfield. Whitmore has provided the outfield with a cannon arm in both center and right while Burns has proven herself with the bat as she had her second two-hit game of the year against Louisville.

Since taking the helm in 2013, coach Kelly Ford has finished .500 or better in each of her four seasons with the Titans. Ford bypassed 150 during the Long Beach State/Cal State Fullerton Tournament with 152 career victories.  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.

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