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California's Orange County, where housing tracts long ago replaced most of the citrus groves, is best known for Disneyland, far-right politics and the good sailing on Balboa Bay. But last Friday night baseball was king. The California Angels beat Detroit 6-4 at Anaheim Stadium to go 1� games up in the American League West. And 1,600 miles away in Omaha, another home product, the heretofore little-known Cal State Fullerton Titans, won the College World Series, edging Arkansas in the championship game 2-1.
Fullerton High produced Hall of Famers Walter Johnson and Arky Vaughan, but it was the first NCAA Division I title in any sport for the 19-year-old university, a victory made all the sweeter because the team had had several brushes with elimination. In the West Regional, the Titans lost their first game, then came roaring out of the losers' bracket to twice beat powerful UCLA. At Omaha, they were whipped 6-1 by Mississippi State in their opener and then rattled off five straight wins. In six of their nine tournament victories, they had to fight from behind, swinging their aluminum bats with wicked effect.
Everyone knows that California is as rich in major league baseball prospects as it is in avocados. Cal State Fullerton has a lineup full of the former, many of them already sporting all-star mustaches, spitting professional-quality streams of tobacco juice and dreaming of multiyear contracts. First Baseman Tim Wallach, a slugging senior who was twice the MVP in the Southern California Baseball Association, was the 10th player picked in last week's major league draft (by Montreal). Outfielder Salvatore (Sam) Favata breezed into Omaha batting a gaudy .432 and was racing Pepperdine's Tim Gloyd for the national lead in stolen bases. The four starting pitchers had a collective 45-8 won-lost record before the series got under way.
Coach Augie Garrido knew he had a deeper, more talented squad than the one he had in 1975, the only other year the Titans had made it to Omaha (where they were eliminated early). But he felt that the team would need some unexpected heroes to survive the double-elimination competition.
Those heroes emerged, especially in Thursday night's penultimate-game victory over a California baseball power, Pepperdine. Both teams had won three straight after dropping their openers and were playing for the right to meet Arkansas in the final. The Razorbacks were also once beaten (by Fullerton) but had gotten a bye into the final because they had remained undefeated longer than the other two teams.
Mickey Palmer, banished to the bench because of a batting slump late in the season, started against Pepperdine because the regular rightfielder was injured. He went 5 for 6, scored a run and knocked in a pair in an 8-5 victory. Catcher Kurt Kingsolver, whose father played for Oklahoma State in the 1954 College World Series, threw out three base runners and picked another off first. Kingsolver was batting .264 before Omaha but hit .476 in the series. Unfortunately, his father wasn't there to enjoy it. He is a geothermal engineer and was in China studying geysers.
Sophomore Tony Hudson, once a highly recruited high school veer quarterback, pitched the last 2? innings against Pepperdine, allowed only a walk and a ground-ball single and recorded his third save of the series.
Arkansas was a much less likely finalist than Fullerton. At least Fullerton had won its league championship and was ranked third in the final college baseball poll. The Hogs had finished second to perennially strong Texas in the Southwest Conference and had been shunted off to fill a slot in the East Regional, qualifying for the series by virtue of a 4-3 victory over Delaware in the eastern final.
Razorback Coach Norm DeBriyn originally had been hired by the school to teach driver education, and he was the second choice when the baseball job opened up in 1970. Nevertheless, he has built Arkansas into a perennial challenger of Texas.
"They used to say we couldn't have a serious baseball program...because of the weather," DeBriyn told the newspaper Collegiate Baseball. "That's a rationalization. If that were true, there wouldn't be any baseball north of Missouri. We've played earlier every year and people come out and watch us in March, when the weather is certainly not too comfortable. I grew up in northern Wisconsin. To me, Fayetteville, Arkansas has great baseball weather."