Two of the West's long-standing powers will have a showdown for a place in the College World Series this weekend, as four-time national champion and #5 national seed Cal State Fullerton will host two-time national champion Stanford. The Titans and Cardinal have both made 15 trips each to college baseball's promised land, and they will both be looking for the two wins in this weekend's Super Regional that will earn them a 16th trip. Both teams had to battle from the brink in the regional round, but neither team will want to fall behind this weekend, as an early deficit could mean a season-ending exit.
STANFORD AT CAL STATE FULLERTON
Cal State Fullerton and Stanford both went through the loser's bracket and were forced to win on Monday in order to win their respective regionals. The Titans won their opening game of the Fullerton Regional against Rider but fell to UCLA 11-4 on Saturday. However, the Titans bounced back to beat Virginia and then knocked off the BRuins twice to advance to the supers. Meanwhile, the Cardinal were facing elimination from early on in the Palo Alto Regional, as they lost their opener to #4 seed UC Davis. But, they rallied, beating Arkansas in a Saturday elimination game, then used a 5-run 9th to beat UC Davis and advance to the championship round against Pepperdine, who they beat twice to win in Palo Alto.
The Titans have hosted a Super Regional at Goodwin Field each of the last five seasons and six times overall, with their only defeat coming at the hands of Arizona State in a three-game thriller in 2005.
BREAKING IT DOWN
ERA wise, Cal State Fullerton's starters might not have the best numbers, but Jeff Kaplan (11-2) and Cory Arbiso (12-3) have been consistent winners throughout the season. However, a new star emerged in the Fullerton Regional, in Brian Wilson, who made his first two starts of the season and won them both, against Rider in the opener and against UCLA in the clinching game. For Stanford, Erik Davis and Jeffery Inman have made the most starts and are tied for the team lead in wins with seven, but Austin Yount and Danny Sandbrink both won starts in the regional.
Stanford have four hitters with at least 10 homers and 50 RBI, led by outfielder Sean Ratliff, who has 20 homers and 65 RBI. Fullerton can't match them in the power department, though they do have some hitters with some pop in Jared Clark (9 homers), Erik Komatsu (8 homers), and Josh Fellhauer (7 homers).
Advantage: Stanford, based on their power ability
Out of the Pen
Both teams have arms that could be used either in a starting role or out of the bullpen. If Wilson doesn't draw a start for Fullerton, he'll likely log some innings out of the pen, along with Michael Morrison, Jason Doyel, and closer Adam Jorgensen, who has a 5.18 ERA but has 11 saves this season. If Renken doesn't start, he'll see some pen time as well. As for Stanford, Yount, Jeremy Bleich, or Sandbrink could come out of the pen at some point, if they're needed before a game three. When it comes to a bona fide bullpen stud for the Cardinal, it's Drew Storen (4-3, 2.90 ERA, 6 saves). It's hard to give an edge here, but once again, it goes to Stanford.
Mark Marquess has enjoyed a fine three-decade run at Stanford, winning national championships in 1987 and 1988 and leading 13 teams to Omaha. Cal State Fullerton's Dave Serrano is building a nice resume of accomplishments, as he led UC Irvine to the CWS last season and has Fullerton two wins away from a berth in his first season after taking over for mentor George Horton.
For Fullerton, it's basically new coach, same result. There are several players from last year's CWS team and a couple who were a part of the 2006 team that went to Omaha. They know what it takes to get there, and Serrano knows as well, having taken his Anteaters there last season. For Stanford, Marquess can channel all of his previous experiences, but it won't be necessary, as this Cardinal team will come into Fullerton hungry to make a return to Omaha, which would be the school's first trip there since the 2003 team finished runner-up to Rice. Will the series the two teams played earlier this year be a factor at all? The Cardinal swept a three-game set in Palo Alto, but Fullerton's best ball has been in the last few months, as they're 32-12 after a 9-8 start. The Titans are also 27-8 at home this season, for what it's worth.
This has the potential to be an exciting series, and it could (and should) go to three games. Starting pitching for both teams will be key, and it could come down to a Brian Wilson or Danny Sandbrink to produce a stellar performance or deliver some key innings in a third game. If the offenses have a say in it, you certainly can't look past Stanford's power, which could come in handy if they fall behind early, especially considering that CSF pitching has allowed 51 homers this season. However, not allowing many free passes is something their pitching has done this season (only 176 walks in 61 games), and that'll be key to avoiding troublesome situations. The Titans can certainly put some runs on the board, and if they're to do it, it'll come through getting on base anyway they can (640 hits, 336 free passes in 61 games) and making use of their speed (119 stolen bases in 168 attempts) once they do it.
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