After winning its first Big West Conference Championship in 10 years and advancing to the first round of regionals in postseason play last year, the Cal State Fullerton softball team hopes to reach even higher in 2017.
“Last year, everyone was so upset about the loss and don’t get me wrong, I didn’t sleep for about week. But here’s the reality: You don’t know how to win at that level until you get there,” said pitching coach Tori Tyson. “They’ve been there now. So now they know the things it’s going to take to win there.”
Outside of the team many people didn’t have high expectations for Fullerton leading into the 2016 season, players said. But following their 45-16 outing last year, the Titans now have a target on their back. However, the Titans have always felt like the rest of the conference was chasing them.
“I feel like they’re always after us. They got to be,” Tyson said. “When they see us working here and people walk by, I want our presence to be felt.”
Senior catcher Lexi Gonzalez, a transfer from Oregon State in her third season with Cal State Fullerton, led the team with 45 RBIs, ranking second in the conference. Gonzalez was also one of five Titans to be named to the Big West All-Conference First Team.
“Our focus is still one pitch at a time; one game at a time,” Gonzalez said. “But it’s definitely Oklahoma City, which sounds so cliche, but our main goal is to bypass regionals and go to supers.”
While Gonzalez had an impressive season for the Titans, she isn’t satisfied with what she accomplished last season.
“A big goal I’ve set for myself is try to be an All-American this year. So I think by upping my numbers will definitely help,” Gonzalez said.
CSUF was picked by the conference’s coaches to defend its title as Big West Champions in the Preseason Coaches Poll. Fullerton finished with a total of 57 points including four first-place votes. Long Beach State trailed close behind with 55 total points and three first-place votes.
“Obviously, with the preseason rankings coming out, we’re just not going to come as a surprise to anybody and we should have never been a surprise,” Tyson said. “But this year, we’re not and I think it’s an opportunity; it’s an opportunity for us to get better.”
Part of the reason for the Titans’ ability to sneak under the radar last season was due to some of their younger, unknown players’ success. As a freshman, right-handed pitcher Sydney Golden was named to the Big West All-American First Team. Golden had the third-lowest ERA in the Big West at 1.97. She had a record of 18-6 while throwing nine complete games and 138.2 innings (second most on the team).
However, Golden will now be the focal point on opposing teams’ scouting reports this season following her stellar freshman year and with the absence of 2016 pitcher of the year, Desiree Ybarra, who graduated after last season.
“She’s not going to come as a surprise to anyone this year,” Tyson said. “So we’ve (spent) this fall just mainly getting her healthy, getting her mentally prepared that on everybody’s scouting report, it’s going to say ‘Sydney Golden,’ and it’s going to be starred and they’re going to train a whole week for her.”
Opening weekend for the Titans begins with a doubleheader Friday at Anderson Family Field against Pacific at 4 p.m. and Ole Miss at 6:30 p.m. on the first day of the Easton Invitational.