Big West Teams Enter Final Weekend Of Non-Conference Play
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12 BB Release-Week 6
The final weekend of non-conference play is here as Big West baseball squads look to pad their records before the start of league action next week.
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.
Four Gauchos Over .400
The UC Santa Barbara offense perked up in a three-game series with Rhode Island last week, batting .308 (32-for-104) with 36 runs scored in the sweep. The Gauchos scored double-digit runs in all three games against the Rams. The UCSB offense leads the Big West in average at .307 with a league-high four players sitting above the .400 mark. Senior Bryce Tafelski tops the league circuit with a .436 mark, followed by junior Brett Vertigan (.425), freshman Greg Mahle (.411) and sophomore Brandon Trinkwon (.403). Senior Lance Roenicke, who leads the Big West in doubles (9), is also seventh in average (.365) to give the Gauchos five players in the conference top 10.
Hoover Vacuums Up Cougars
UC Irvine senior Nick Hoover had not started a game since his sophomore season, but got the call on Wednesday against Washington State. The right-hander responded with a career-best 7.2 shutout innings, allowing just one hit and striking out five in a 6-0 UCI victory. He has contributed to an Anteater pitching staff that boasts the lowest ERA in the Big West at 2.68. Hoover, in five appearances spanning 12.2 innings, has not allowed a run and surrendered only two hits.
Aggie Pitching Stepping Up
After losing six of seven games during one stretch, UC Davis has righted the ship and won four of its last five. Pitching has been the key. The Aggies have allowed three earned runs or less during that five-game stretch and, as a result, managed to win despite scoring just 17 runs offensively. In the last five games, the Aggie pitching staff owns an ERA of 1.20 with just six runs allowed in the last 45.0 innings. Aggie hurlers also have issued just two walks during that span.
No Cheapies For Haniger
Cal Poly junior outfielder Mitch Haniger tops the Big West with five home runs, including one in each of the first two games of the Minnesota series. Ten of Haniger’s 21 hits on the season have gone for extra bases, helping him sport the Big West’s third-best slugging percentage at .594. With 18 home runs in two-plus seasons as a Mustang, Haniger needs one more roundtripper to move into a tie for 10th place in the Cal Poly all-time record book.
The One Run Blahs
The Big West has been involved in a plethora of close ballgames so far this season. In fact, 45 of the 160 games played against non-conference opponents – or 28 percent of the total schedule – have been decided by one run. Unfortunately, the Big West has come out on the wrong side of those decisions with a 19-26 record. Only two squads – Cal State Fullerton (3-2) and Cal State Northridge (4-3) – own winning records in one run games. Technically, the Titans are 5-2 in one run games against “non-conference” opponents since they played Big West member Long Beach State last week in a three-game set that did not count in the conference standings. UC Davis and UC Riverside are 3-3 and 1-1 in tight one run games, respectively.
49ers Tie Season-High For Runs
A season-long slump for the Long Beach State offense has led to a Big West worst .230 team average, but the clouds parted in Sunday’s 7-2 win over Cal State Fullerton. The 49ers tied their season-high for run output and pounded out a season-high tying 12 hits in the victory. LBSU, who has yet to hit a home run in 18 games this season, had been held to two or less runs in six of the previous seven contests before the outburst against Fullerton. Pitching has kept the 49ers in a ton of close games despite a 3-8 record in one run decisions. The 49er staff ranks second in the Big West with a 2.99 ERA.
Titans Ranked High In The Polls
Cal State Fullerton dipped slightly in the national polls after a 2-2 showing last week, but remains in the top 15 as Big West play approaches. The Titans are ranked No. 12 by Collegiate Baseball, No. 13 by Baseball America, No. 14 by the NCBWA and No. 15 in the USA Today/ESPN polls as they have won four consecutive weekend series. They are also responsible for handing top-ranked and 19-1 Florida its only loss of the 2012 campaign. With a 9-3 mark at Goodwin Field, CSF hopes to continue home field success with a three-game set against Oral Roberts this week.
Hager Picks Up First Career Win
Pacific freshman pitcher Mike Hager won his first career game in a 4-2 triumph over Gonzaga Sunday. He threw 8.0 innings and allowed just four hits, one run and one walk in an economical 84-pitch effort. Hager’s heroics helped the Tigers end a slump in which they had lost six of their last seven games.
Two Catchers Named To Johnny Bench Award Watch List
Two Big West players have been included on the 43-player Johnny Bench Award Watch List. The award honors the nation’s top collegiate catcher. Cal Poly sophomore Chris Hoo and UC Irvine senior Ronnie Shaeffer represent the Big West on the list.