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Big West Baseball Looks To Savor Home Cooking This Weekend

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12 BB Release-Week 4

3/6/2012

Seven of the nine Big West baseball squads host weekend series looking to capitalize on home field advantage.  Cal Poly (9-4) and Cal State Fullerton (8-4) are having the best starts in the conference so far.

AROUND THE BIG WEST

Titans Preseason Favorite
Cal State Fullerton was selected as the favorite to capture the 2012 Big West Conference title according to the 2012 Big West Baseball Preseason Coaches Poll after receiving six of the nine first-place votes and totaling 76 points. Picking up three first-place votes was UC Irvine, who was selected second with 70 points. Rounding out the top three after collecting 58 points were the 49ers of Long Beach State.

Last season CSF claimed its 25th Big West Conference championship after posting a 19-5 mark. Entering his first season as head coach of the Titans, Rick Vanderhook guides a team that welcomes back 16 letterwinners, six of which are starting position players. Unfortunately the Titans lost all their starting pitchers in the offseason so they will rely on a young and inexperienced pitching squad.

UC Irvine is coming off a season where it posted a fourth 40-plus win season (43-18) in five years, finished second in the Big West with a 16-8 mark and advanced to the Super Regionals after earning an at-large berth into its sixth-straight NCAA Tournament. Head coach Mike Gillespie returns three All-Big West honorees, including American Baseball Coaches Association Gold Glove catcher, Ronnie Shaeffer.

Third-place pick Long Beach State might be showcasing the most veteran Big West team this season as the 49ers welcome back 24 letterwinners, which includes seven starting position players and two starting pitchers from last year’s team. Long Beach State boasted a 29-27 overall mark after playing one of the strongest schedules in the country.

Earning the fourth spot is Cal Poly, who finished last season in third place with a 15-9 record. This year head coach Larry Lee leads a team that is highlighted by five starting position players and four starting pitchers.

UC Riverside secured the fifth spot with 44 total points, followed by UC Santa Barbara in the sixth slot with 37 points. Pacific garnered 37 points to lock down the seventh spot, while UC Davis and Cal State Northridge were picked eighth and ninth, earning 23 and 18 points, respectively.

Titan Win Streak Snapped
Cal State Fullerton had a seven-game winning streak snapped at the hands of non-conference rival USC on Tuesday in a 7-4 defeat.  The Titans won the final seven games of an eight-game homestand to carry the momentum into the midweek game against the Trojans, but could not continue the success.  The schedule gets even more difficult for CSF this weekend with a road series at No. 5 Texas A&M.  CSF is off to a solid start under first-year head coach Rick Vanderhook with an 8-4 record.

One-Run Games Unkind To 49ers
Long Beach State experienced a frustrating weekend trip to No. 12 Oregon.  The 49ers lost three one-run games to the Ducks and all in the final at bat.  They fell 5-4 on Friday, 3-2 in 13 innings on Saturday and 8-7 in Sunday’s series finale.  The sting of the three walkoff losses carried over into Tuesday’s midweek home game against San Diego State as Long Beach State gave up a pair of runs in the top of the ninth to succumb 3-1.  Eight of LBSU’s 12 games have been decided by one run, but the 49ers have managed just three wins in those close affairs.  Despite a five-game losing streak, the 49ers have played tough almost every time out.

Gaucho Road Warriors
UC Santa Barbara is taking the unconventional road to success early in the season under first-year head coach Andrew Checketts.  The Gauchos are a perfect 4-0 on the road thanks to a three-game sweep of San Jose State and a midweek win over Fresno State.  However, UCSB hasn’t fared as well at home as it is just 2-6 at Caesar Uyesaka Stadium.  Four of those losses have come by two runs or less.

Titans Represent In Rankings
After stumbling a bit last week, Cal Poly and UC Irvine exited the national rankings, leaving Cal State Fullerton as the lone Big West program to earn top 25 recognition.  The Titans are ranked as high as No. 11 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA).  They also have residence in the Collegiate Baseball (No. 12), USA Today/ESPN (No. 14) and Baseball America (No. 19) polls, respectively.  The Mustangs and Anteaters are both receiving votes in the USA Today/ESPN polls.  Cal Poly has won just two of its last five games after a 7-1 start.  The Anteaters have won just three of their last eight games and have struggled to find their offense.  The team has scored four runs or less in nine of its last 11 contests.

Steady Eddie To The Rescue
UC Riverside has struggled with losses in six of its last eight games, but has found the victory column with senior Eddie Orozco toeing the rubber.  The right-hander picked up the win against No. 12 Arizona State on Feb. 25 and came back in his next start to pitch eight strong innings in a 10-1 rout of Sam Houston State.  Orozco retired the first seven batters he faced and 15 of the first 16 as the Highlanders finished 1-3 last week.  He has now yielded just two earned runs and 11 hits in his last 14.0 innings of action.

Benson Makes First Win Count
It was an impressive accomplishment for Pacific freshman Michael Benson, who picked up his first collegiate victory in a 7-2 triumph at Big 12 opponent Kansas State in the series opener on Friday.  The Tiger righty allowed just one run in seven innings, walking one and striking out five as his performance helped the team win its second straight following a season-opening eight-game skid.

Looking To Make A Push
Through the first three weeks of the season, the Big West is an even 51-51 against non-conference competition.  Big West teams hope to make some headway this week with seven home series on tap.  Cal Poly hosts Washington, Long Beach State entertains Arizona State and UC Irvine welcomes Brigham Young.  Only Cal State Fullerton and UC Santa Barbara are packing their bags with trips to Texas A&M and Nevada, respectively.  In other action, Cal State Northridge hosts Indiana, UC Davis brings in Seattle, Sacramento State visits UC Riverside and Pacific plays host to Creighton.

The Boob Tube
Two Big West contests have been selected by ESPNU as part of its 2012 college baseball coverage.  The showdown between defending championship Cal State Fullerton and 2009 Big West Champion UC Irvine is slated to air on Sunday, April 15 at 2:00 p.m. at Cicerone Field at Anteater Ballpark.  The Anteaters make their second appearance on ESPNU the following month when they host UC Santa Barbara on May 6 at 2:00 p.m.