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Daniel G. Habib
July 05, 2004
Scrappy Cal State-Fullerton beat the odds, and its coach beat his friend and mentor, in a stunning finals sweep of Texas
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July 05, 2004

Remember The Titans

Scrappy Cal State-Fullerton beat the odds, and its coach beat his friend and mentor, in a stunning finals sweep of Texas

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George Horton, an amiable, robust man with a push-broom mustache, smiled as he recalled the story. It was 1974, his first day of practice at Cal State-Fullerton, and Horton, a first baseman who had transferred from Hawaii, sat stretching in centerfield. "I had the puka-shell necklace, the tan, the big hair, the open shirt, the Fu Manchu—it was the '70s," he said. A voice boomed at him from behind home plate: "This ain't Waikiki, brother."

The voice belonged to second-year head coach Augie Garrido, who would lead the Titans for 21 seasons, during which they would win three national championships. As his first baseman for two years and an assistant coach for six more, Horton learned from Garrido before taking over as his successor in 1996 when Garrido left for Texas. On Sunday at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha the pupil schooled the teacher, as Cal State-Fullerton came from behind for the second day in a row and beat Garrido's Longhorns 3-2 to sweep the best-of-three championship series and seize the school's fourth College World Series tide, from the man who put Fullerton on the map. As his players dogpiled in celebration on the field, Horton found Garrido in the Texas dugout. "I kind of tiptoed over there with a tear in my eye and said, 'Thanks for the opportunity,' " Horton said afterward, "because who knows where I'd be without him."

That Fullerton was celebrating was due in large part to the efforts of senior Jason Windsor. The 6'2", 220-pound righthander with a mouthful of braces stifled the Long-horns with a complete-game five-hitter on Sunday. He threw 129 pitches, boosting his total to 322 over nine days in Omaha, where he went 2-0 with a save, a 0.86 ERA and 29 strikeouts in 21 innings to earn the tournament's Most Outstanding Player honor. Without command of his curveball in the clincher, Windsor relied on his fastball and his changeup to keep Texas off-balance. "Awesome," said Titans pitching coach Dave Serrano. "What Jason did—throwing off-speed pitches behind in the count—was remarkable."

Fullerton prevailed by getting to the Longhorns' vaunted bullpen twice in consecutive days. When leading after six innings this season, Texas had been 50-0, but the Titans chewed through go-to relievers Buck Cody, J. Brent Cox and Huston Street, saddling them with a 6.35 ERA, two losses and two blown saves. The Longhorns' pen coughed up seventh-inning leads in both games. On Sunday the damage was done by junior catcher Kurt Suzuki—2 for 20 in the College World Series to that point—who knocked in the go-ahead run with a single off Cox. The day before, sophomore leftfielder Danny Dorn had been the hero, blasting a two-run double off Street to give Fuller-ton the lead for good in a 6-4 victory.

Sunday's win capped a stunning turnaround for Fullerton, which lurched out of the gate with five losses in its first eight games and had a 15-16 record at midseason. "We were at rock bottom," says senior first baseman P.J. Pilittere. "We lacked consistency, and we were struggling to find a team personality."

It took the Titans a while to coalesce because their starting lineup included four sophomores and a freshman. The bullpen also proved to be a problem, as Fullerton dearly missed All-America reliever Chad Cordero, who skipped his senior year to become the closer for the Montreal Expos, the team that took him in the first round of the 2003 draft.

After a pair of listless road losses to the Longhorns in March, things began to improve, thanks in part to a 45-minute team meeting Horton convened in the Titans' locker room in Austin. "He reminded us about how past [ Fullerton] teams had played," says Dorn. "Scrappy. That's Titan baseball." With only one power hitter-Suzuki—in its lineup, Fullerton had to subsist on infield hits, bunts and stolen bases. Horton, who loves mantras, reiterated two: Wiffle Ball, and Choke and Poke, reminding his hitters to shorten their strokes and simply put balls in play. Indeed, of the eight teams in Omaha, Texas and Fullerton ranked first and second, respectively, in sacrifice bunts but seventh and eighth in home runs, bucking the trend of power-hitting success at the College World Series. Another maxim, BUNT AND ATTACK, was featured on a sign in the Titans' dugout, and sure enough, Fullerton ignited a three-run first inning last Saturday with a bunt and two steals.

The championship, Horton's first, left him with a bittersweet feeling. Though they have similar styles on the field, he and Garrido are different off it. Horton, a pencil always stuck behind his right ear, is comfortable eating at McDonald's, and his tastes are more blue-collar than Garrido's. The urbane and stylish Garrido has a running joke with his first baseman Curtis Thigpen about whose designer jeans are more fashionable. The title was powerful validation of Horton's coaching ability, especially since it came against his mentor. "There's a mutual respect," Horton said before the championship series began. "It's like competing against your dad in Ping-Pong or basketball in the front yard: You want to beat him, but you feel bad about it."

After Fullerton completed the sweep, Horton was true to his word. His uniform still drenched from the drum of cold water his players had gleefully poured over him, Horton shivered as he spoke. "I think of Augie," he said, "and I hope his heart mends quickly."