Category archive: Cal State Fullerton Titans
Are you ready for some baseball? Division I college baseball gets under way at 10 a.m. ET on Friday with the first two games of the Big East-Big Ten Baseball Challenge. If everything goes according to plan, one of the final games of opening weekend will feature Florida International's Garrett Wittels attempting to break Robin Ventura's 58-game hitting streak on ESPNU/ESPN3.com (Sunday, 7:30 p.m. ET).
While the first pitch of the season has yet to be thrown, it's never too early to start looking forward to June and the first College World Series at TD Ameritrade Park. Defending champion South Carolina lost its top two starting pitchers from last year's squad but returns a talented offensive core and has one of the best bullpens in the country. Last year's CWS field included several programs on the upswing. Arizona State was the only team from the 2009 field to return to Omaha in 2010; this year, the Sun Devils could be the only team not to earn a return trip to Nebraska. The talent level isn't down in Tempe, but unless the NCAA sanctions are reversed, ASU is barred from the postseason.
AP Photo/Nati HarnikESPN Preseason All-American Trevor Bauer leads a talented Bruins staff.
The 2011 season will see another change that could have an even bigger effect than the CWS' move three miles up 13th Street. College baseball is changing the specifications for aluminum bats from measuring the ball exit speed (BESR) to the coefficient of restitution (BBCOR). Early indications from fall practices are that power numbers will be down -- a lot. Small ball could become an even bigger part of the college game, which would favor several West Coast teams in a year when that region already appears to be extremely strong. Combined with the flipped orientation from Rosenblatt Stadium to TD Ameritrade Park -- where the wind is more likely to blow in than out -- pitching and clutch hitting could share the spotlight in late June.
Predicting the field, and especially the teams with the best chances at reaching Omaha, is tricky in mid-February. Using the 2010 preseason coaches' poll, only three of the top eight teams earned national seeds, and just two finished their season at Rosenblatt. Eventual national champion South Carolina and runner-up UCLA both started just outside the Top 25. High early-season expectations are usually enough to get into the tournament, as only East Carolina and Ohio State failed to make the field after appearing in the preseason Top 25.
This is the first time I've attempted to pick the field before the season started. My results at the end of last season were good but not great, but in some cases I favor my bracket to the official NCAA field. I was within one seed on six of the eight national seeds, overseeding Virginia by three spots and picking South Carolina over Georgia Tech for the final top-eight spot (with the way things played out, that looks like a good decision). Of the 34 at-large bids, I had 32 in my final bracket, and the two I omitted topped my "first nine out" section. California was my first team out (and most egregious miss, since it was the No. 2 seed in Norman) but went 0-2; Louisiana-Lafayette was my second team out and went 1-2 in the Austin Regional. The two teams from my bracket that missed regional play were Kentucky and Florida Gulf Coast; Kentucky had a solid RPI but missed the SEC tournament, while FGCU won the Atlantic Sun regular-season title in its first year of tournament eligibility behind ace Chris Sale but fell in the conference tournament. Of the 16 regional sites, I got two exactly right (Atlanta and Norwich) and three of four teams for three more (Auburn, Gainesville, Louisville).
Now that I've dispensed with the caveats, here's my initial projection:
Los Angeles Regional
Last five in: Florida International, Nebraska, Western Carolina, San Diego State, Liberty
First nine out: Kentucky, Elon, NC State, Pittsburgh, Tulane, Oklahoma State, Cal Poly, Southeastern Louisiana, USC
With the exception of Arizona State, which is banned from the postseason, all the teams that played in the final CWS in Rosenblatt earn regional hosting assignments and No. 1 seeds, with the top four national seeds all gunning for a return to Omaha. The other four national seeds all fell 2-1 in super regionals last year, so this bracket is biased toward last year's elite teams. The road from opening day to Selection Monday is bumpy enough that the final field probably won't look like this, but there's a lot of returning talent from last year, and the top squads have reloaded quickly.
Eleven of the 30 conferences with automatic bids send more than one team to a regional. The usual suspects lead the charge, with the SEC (eight), Pac-10 (seven), ACC (six) and Big 12 (six) each in the running to send at least a half-dozen teams to the postseason. The Big East and Sun Belt seem poised to send three teams to a regional for the second straight year, while Conference USA and the Big West should pick up a third bid after only nabbing two last season. For the three conferences slated for two bids, there's one clear leader and one bubble team: Coastal Carolina (Big South), TCU (Mountain West) and College of Charleston (Southern) should be locks to make the field, but Liberty, San Diego State and Western Carolina could be on the wrong side of the bubble if they don't secure automatic bids.
Darryl Dennis/Icon SMIDanny Hultzen and the Cavs are focused on getting to Omaha this season.
Connecticut has the talent to earn a national seed, but the Huskies are in uncharted territory. Last year's great northern hope was Ohio State, and the Buckeyes failed to qualify for the Big Ten tournament after starting the year in the Top 25. UConn needs to overcome a tough early-season trip to California and a bull's-eye on its back during Big East play; that will make the Huskies stronger for postseason play but could cost them some wins and a top spot.
The order of finish for the SEC is always tough to determine, especially considering how quickly a strong recruiting class can pay dividends. Odds are that the eight teams that reach the SEC tournament in Hoover, Ala., will still be playing in June, but at this point it's hard to count any of the 12 teams out. The top three teams coming into the season are all in the Eastern Division, and it's unlikely that three teams from the same division would all earn national seeds -- much like the early part of the season last year, South Carolina draws the short straw.
The top half of the ACC seems more clear-cut, with Virginia, Florida State and Clemson jockeying for a national seed. Danny Hultzen and six returning hitters give Virginia an early advantage, but the Seminoles and Tigers aren't far behind. At least one of those teams should earn a top-eight spot, with the other two battling for the final spot with the SEC third-place team, the Big 12 second-place team and Connecticut.
The biggest issues for the Pac-10 could be the depth of the conference and Arizona State's postseason ban. The Sun Devils should still pile up wins this year, and every conference win is a lost opportunity for the other Pac-10 schools. The conference won't match its eight bids from last season; seven bids seems most likely, but if ASU sweeps any of the middle-of-the-pack teams, six bids is a possibility.
Three and a half months of action on the field before the NCAA tournament field is announced. Let the games begin!
Jeremy Mills is a researcher for ESPN and is a contributor to ESPN.com's college baseball coverage.
We're two-thirds of the way through the college baseball regular season, and this year has been crazier than ever. Outside the top 10, the disparity between rankings and RPI is quite extreme, and several schools with solid rankings are struggling in conference play. There are still six weeks left to play out the season, which is good -- at this point I wouldn't want to make any final decisions.
After struggling last year and receiving only three postseason bids, the Pac-10 is back in top form this year. Nine of the 10 schools are in position to make a run at the NCAA tournament, including Oregon in the second year since the program was reintroduced. The SEC is as strong as ever -- it's likely that all eight teams that make it to Hoover will play into June, and nine or 10 bids for the league aren't outside the realm of possibility.
If these two conferences eat up a quarter of the slots in the tournament, it's likely to come at the expense of the Big West and Conference USA. Both perennial power conferences are having down years, to the extent that each could be a one-bid league.
Outside the "Big Six" baseball conferences, the Sun Belt and Big East are having great years. Louisville has put itself into the running for a national seed, but is in a dogfight for the top spot in the Big East with Connecticut, Rutgers and Pittsburgh. The Sun Belt has passed both C-USA and the Big West in RPI, and could get as many as four invitations to the postseason.
For this initial projection, there are 12 conferences with more than one bid:
9 teams: SEC
7 teams: ACC, Pac-10
6 teams: Big 12
3 teams: Big East
2 teams: Big South, Big West, Conference USA, Mountain West, Southern, Southland, Sun Belt
Shaking out the top 16 teams from a list of 20 candidates proved harder than normal at this point, as this is where the disparity between conference standing, polls and RPI reared its head. There are seven teams in the SEC that could lay claim to No. 1 regional seeds, but based on past history that number is more likely to settle at four. There are also more teams than slots in the ACC, where five teams are vying for top slots. At this point, conference standings rule the day -- that leaves Clemson on the wrong side of the divide in the ACC, with Vanderbilt, Auburn and (especially) Alabama out in the SEC.
Eliminating those four teams from contention for a No. 1 seed leaves three spots open once you get past the "secure" teams from other conferences (Arizona State, Coastal Carolina, Louisville, Texas, UCLA). Cal State Fullerton and TCU claim two of those bids with their first-place conference standings and strong overall résumés. The overall strength of the conference nets the Pac-10 a third bid, with California edging out Arizona by winning the head-to-head series.
All but one of the No. 1 seeds will host a regional. The lack of lights at California is likely to force the NCAA to look elsewhere, so the excluded ACC and SEC schools come back into play. Clemson is unlikely to get the nod as a third host in South Carolina, while Alabama's low conference standing makes it an unlikely host. Vandy wins the race against Auburn based on higher standing in both the RPI and human polls.
Here's the breakdown by conference for the 16 host sites through April 19:
ACC (4): Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia
Big 12 (1): Texas
Big East (1): Louisville
Big South (1): Coastal Carolina
Big West (1): Cal State Fullerton
MWC (1): TCU
Pac-10 (2): Arizona State, UCLA
SEC (5): Arkansas, Florida, LSU, South Carolina, Vanderbilt
It's time to unveil the 16 regionals. National seeds are listed, and the regional following the national seed is paired against it in the super regionals.
No. 1 Arizona State
No. 2 Arkansas
No. 3 Texas
|Fort Worth Regional
No. 4 Georgia Tech
|Baton Rouge Regional
No. 5 LSU
|Coral Gables Regional
Florida Gulf Coast
No. 6 Virginia
No. 7 Coastal Carolina
College of Charleston
|Los Angeles Regional
No. 8 UCLA
Cal State Fullerton
Last five in: UC Irvine, Kentucky, Ole Miss, College of Charleston, North Carolina
First nine out: VMI, Georgia Southern, Louisiana-Lafayette, Michigan, Baylor, Boston College, Pittsburgh, Mississippi State, Tulane
Louisville fans have a legitimate gripe with this bracket. The Cardinals were under consideration for a national seed, losing out narrowly to Coastal Carolina and UCLA. The NCAA doesn't seed the other eight No. 1 seeds, and most of the other regionals paired off well geographically, so Louisville draws the short straw and is paired up with Arizona State. If Louisville captures the Big East crown (and especially if UCLA continues to struggle in conference play), the Cardinals can lay claim to a national seed and force the committee to pair someone else with the Sun Devils.
UC Irvine narrowly makes the field, sparing the Big West from earning just one bid in 2010. East Carolina also falls on the right side of the bubble to join first-place Rice from Conference USA.
Three SEC teams sit squarely on the bubble, with one or two bids at stake. Until the conference race plays out, Kentucky and Ole Miss look like better bets to make the field than Mississippi State.
VMI (Big South), Georgia Southern (SoCon) and Louisiana-Lafayette (Sun Belt) narrowly miss earning a third bid for their respective conferences. Their fate likely rests in the hands of regular-season champions from one-bid leagues winning their conference tournaments.
And the very last team in the field is North Carolina. The Tar Heels have ended their season in Omaha each of the past four years, but a 6-12 start to ACC play (and a tough finishing schedule) puts the team in a perilous position. The pollsters and RPI still like the Heels, so for now UNC gets the final invite.
That does it for this week's aluminum-bat version of bracketology. This will be a weekly feature heading up to the selection show on Memorial Day, and your comments are welcome.
Jeremy Mills is a researcher for ESPN and is a contributor to ESPN.com's college baseball coverage.
They lined up three deep at the bend in the road at the southeast corner of the Rosenblatt Stadium parking lot, where College World Series Boulevard turns into 10th Street and the air is thick with grill smoke, laughter and classic rock.
The gatherers formed a circle around a row of pink plastic flamingos, just the like the ones in your least favorite aunt's front yard. Only these birds were emblazoned with the logos of the eight participating teams doing battle inside the old ballpark.
Ryan McGee for ESPN.comWhere else can you see The Hooding Ceremony, complete with plastic pink flamingos, take place?
The crowd smiled, joked and drank away their excited anticipation. The adults ushered the youngsters to the front to make sure they could see firsthand what was about to happen, a time-honored College World Series tradition. Several of the children held bouquets of dead flowers. Soon a hush began to wash over the revelers like a wave.
"Here he comes make way there he is "
As Mark Samstad made his way through the parting masses, he was careful not to spill his beer. Not yet, anyway. He waved to the people like a member of the British royal family as he walked along the line of flamingos until he reached the one at the end, the one draped in Cal State Fullerton paraphernalia.
Throughout the opening weekend of the Series, Titan fans had stopped by to adorn their chosen bird with towels, beads and stickers. Now they were nowhere to be found, replaced by gloating Texas, LSU and Arkansas fans.
Because exactly 30 minutes earlier, Fullerton had become the first team asked to depart Omaha and head home, having been eliminated by Virginia 7-5.
Now it was time to begin what all these fans had shown up to see.
It was time for the hooding ceremony.
"Cal State Fullerton, who would have thunk?" Samstad asked. The man with the Goose Gossage mustache is an Omaha native and self-proclaimed "professional tailgater" (he even has a business card to prove it). He has lived in Fort Lauderdale for three decades, but always returns home for the Series, and for his followers.
"They're gone. So, let's have a moment of silence for the Cal State Fullerton, what is that? Titans? Or Mutants?"
With that, he poured his beer over the flamingo's head as the children placed the dead flowers at its feet. And to the crowd he commanded, "Hit the 'Taps'!"
To a chorus of kazoos and a recording of a Marine Corps bugle, a specially chosen child -- a "professional tailgater" in training -- stepped forward and tied a black hood over the Cal State Fullerton head and season.
"As they say," Samstad shouted to his people, "two and barbecue!"
Later that evening, Fullerton's fowl was pulled from the ground and moved a few feet away to make sure it was separated from the flock of the living. Almost precisely 24 hours later, it finally had company, as the beer-soaked bird of Southern Miss was moved alongside.
"That one there looks like a flamingo, but it's not," Samstad said, stroking his mustache. "That's a Golden Eagle."
Ryan McGee is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine. His new book, "The Road To Omaha: Hits, Hopes and History at the College World Series," which chronicles the excitement and passion of the CWS, is now available.
But guess who's winning over the hearts of Omaha?
AP Photo/Ted KirkWith 6 hits, 3 runs and 3 RBIs in two games, Keith Werman is making the most the CWS.
Werman used another huge day at the plate Monday to lift Virginia to a 7-5 win over Cal State Fullerton, eliminating the No. 2 national seed from the College World Series. The freshman, who hits in the 9 hole and was inserted in the lineup just a month ago, tied the game with an RBI single in the second inning, and has six hits in two games in Omaha.
"To be completely honest, I love it," Werman said. "I love it when fans get on me about being small and saying I can't do it. Well, look who's out there. I'm the one out there doing what I can for the team."
Werman is the poster boy for a Cavaliers team that had never been to the CWS before 2009, and hasn't backed down to college baseball's elite. Less than 48 hours after the Cavs' near-miss against LSU, coach Brian O'Connor's team eliminated the Titans, who were favored by some gurus to win the national championship.
The Cavaliers chased Fullerton ace Daniel Renken in the sixth, rattling him for six runs on a tweaked lineup. O'Connor sat up late Sunday night drawing up at least six different lineups for Monday's win-or-go-home game, and inevitably settled with a different one from those he agonized over.
"I don't know if it had a whole lot of effect," O'Connor said, "because I'm not that smart.
"I'm very, very proud of our club. This team has shown me time and time again to be a very resilient group."
While the Cavaliers plotted for Wednesday, Fullerton coach Dave Serrano shook his head over the confounding two-game stretch of disappointments. Just like Saturday, when the Titans lost 10-6 to Arkansas, Serrano said his team was overthinking and was wound too tight.
He took full responsibility for the collapse, and the fact that Fullerton had been pointed toward a national championship since February and was the first team sent home from Omaha. The Titans jumped to an early 2-0 lead Monday, but blew a big opportunity for some breathing room in the second when they had two runners on with no outs and didn't capitalize. That was a momentum killer, Serrano said.
In the opposite dugout, the Cavaliers were calmly playing, as if it were a February tuneup game. O'Connor, who grew up just outside of Omaha and played in the 1991 CWS with the hometown Creighton Bluejays, held a 45-minute team meeting last week in which he explained the atmosphere and the mindset Virginia had to take.
"It would be nothing like they ever experienced," O'Connor said. " I just told them [about] everything from the bomb-sniffing dogs, from everybody asking for autographs. If you try to push them away and act like they're not there, you're making a big mistake. I think you have to embrace everything."
For two days, the Cavaliers have.
• Virginia eliminated both of the Big West's national seeds from the NCAA tournament (No. 6 UC Irvine and No. 2 Cal State Fullerton).
• Monday's victory extended the Cavaliers' own school record with 49 wins, which ranks third nationally behind LSU (52) and Arizona State (50).
• Monday's loss drops Cal State Fullerton to 34-27 in its 16 CWS appearances, as the Titans suffered their fifth consecutive CWS loss dating back to 2006. The five-game streak is the longest CWS drought by the Titans, who had previously lost four in a row between 1988 and 1990.
• Virginia Coach Brian O'Connor is the second coach to pick up his first CWS victory in 2009, joining Arkansas' Dave Van Horn.
• The 2009 CWS marks only the fifth time in Cal State Fullerton's 16 appearances the Titans have gone 0-2. The previous times occurred in 1975, 1982, 1990 and 2007.
• The six runs allowed by Daniel Renken was his highest total of the year. He had not allowed more than four runs in any of his previous 16 starts. Renken had won his last seven starts prior to Monday's loss to Virginia.
• Senior RHP Andrew Carraway improved to 9-1 on the season with his 20th career win. His nine wins this season and 20 wins in his career both tie for sixth on UVa's single-season and career lists. He now has made 73 appearances, which ranks fourth on UVa's career lists.
• Danny Hultzen's stolen base in the seventh inning was the first stolen base allowed by Cal State Fullerton in the NCAA tournament.
And at least one more game at the College World Series.
The unseeded Cavs eliminated No. 2 national seed Cal State Fullerton 7-5 in Monday's first game thanks to two home runs and an out-of-sync Titans offense. The Cavaliers move on to play the loser of LSU-Arkansas (ESPN2/ESPN360, 7 p.m. ET) on Wednesday night.
Kevin Arico finished off the Titans for Virginia, but not without a fight from the other side.
After stealing second base, Joey Siddons trimmed Fullerton's deficit to three when he scored off third baseman Steven Proscia's error. Proscia threw the ball to the right of first base on Christian Colon's single.
After a Gary Brown single put Colon on second, Arico retired Josh Fellhauer. The Cavs then had their chance to end the game when Keith Werman scooped up Jared Clark's ground ball. But Werman failed to get his foot on the second-base bag, allowing Brown to safely reach second and Colon to score.
Down two at 7-5, Kevin Davis hit a ground ball to shortstop Tyler Cannon, who tossed to Werman at second for the final out.
The seventh inning had opportunities for both teams -- mostly Virginia, as Dan Grovatt was on first and Danny Hultzen on third when Steven Proscia struck out for the third out -- but none materialized.
With only three outs to go for Cal State Fullerton, elimination looms. The Titans need production -- and fast.
Nick Ramirez relieved Daniel Renken three batters into the half-inning after Franco Valdes doubled over first baseman Jared Clark with two outs. And Virginia wasted no time in turning up the heat for Ramirez.
Keith Werman doubled to center to score Valdes, and Tyler Cannon scored Werman before Joe Scott tagged out Cannon in his attempt to get to second base. The Cavaliers lead 7-3 after six innings.
Again in position to even the score with runners on first and third, the Titans couldn't pull through in the top of the fifth inning.
Andrew Carraway, in relief of Robert Morey, began his College World Series by walking Fullerton's Christian Colon. But another mistake between bases for the Titans had Colon tagged out while leading at first.
Gary Brown struck out before Josh Fellhauer hit a hard one off the right-field wall, good for a double. A mistake behind the plate by Virginia's Franco Valdes allowed Jared Clark to advance to first base and Fellhauer to third. But Khris Davis' pop fly ended the Titans' chances and their inning.
With one out in the bottom of the inning, the Cavaliers' Tyler Cannon scored on Phil Gosselin's RBI double to the left-center wall.
Renken retired two consecutive batters from the third inning into the fourth -- Jarrett Parker and John Hicks -- to keep Virginia at bay while the Titans attempt to even the score.
But the offense has yet to step up. The Titans couldn't produce in the top of the fourth, making it back-to-back half-innings without a run scored.