Cal State Fullerton Prepares To Defend Big West Baseball Title
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12 BB Release-Week 7
Cal State Fullerton, ranked as high as No. 10 among the four major national polls, begins its quest for a second straight Big West baseball title this weekend at home against Cal State Northridge.
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.
Conference Play Begins
The race for the Big West regular season championship commences this week with eight of the nine conference members in action. Defending champion Cal State Fullerton hosts Cal State Northridge with sights set on winning its sixth title in the last eight seasons. Since 2004, the only two seasons in which the Titans did not hoist the crown were 2007 (UC Riverside) and 2009 (UC Irvine). CSF has played its traditional challenging non-conference schedule to prepare for the rigors of Big West play and so far has fashioned a 14-8 record. At 16-8 and boasting the highest number of wins and best winning percentage (.667) of all Big West squads, Cal Poly looks for continued success in a conference-opening series against Long Beach State. The Mustangs are 4-1 on a current 11-game homestand. They have won four of their five non-conference series this season. The 49ers may be the most dangerous bunch in the league despite an 8-14 record. Among the 14 losses have been an astounding nine by one run. Pacific travels to UC Irvine looking to cool off an Anteater squad that has won a season-high five straight. Rounding out league action is UC Santa Barbara playing host to UC Riverside. The Gauchos boast the Big West’s top offense with a .296 average, while the Highlander team ERA is 3.71.
Aggies On ESPN3 Twice This Week
In collaboration with ESPN and the Hawai’i Tourism Authority, the Big West Conference’s 10-game distribution package on ESPN3 continues this week as a pair of baseball games between UC Davis and Hawai’i will be aired from the islands. The first game will take place on Thursday, Mar. 29 at 6:35 p.m. (HST) and 9:35 p.m. (PDT). ESPN3 will then carry the final game of the four-game series on Sunday, Apr. 1 at 1:05 p.m. (HST) and 4:05 p.m. (PDT). The Aggies are in the midst of a busy six-game week which includes home dates against Nevada on Monday and No. 2 Stanford on Tuesday. Hawai’i is in its final season of competition with the Western Athletic Conference before becoming a full fledged Big West Conference member in July of 2012.
Vertigan Extends Hit Streak
UC Santa Barbara junior Brett Vertigan has had quite an impressive first half of the season. In addition to leading the Big West in batting average (.424), slugging percentage (.606), hits (42), triples (5) and total bases (60), the outfielder boasts a current 22-game hitting streak. Vertigan’s performance puts him among the national leaders as well. His 42 hits ties him for seventh-most in the nation and he is tied for third with five triples. Vertigan leads a stable of solid UCSB hitters that has contributed to a league-best .296 team average. Four Gauchos also rank in the Big West individual top 10 for average.
Lorenzen Among Nation’s Leaders In Saves
Michael Lorenzen had a spectacular first season in a Cal State Fullerton uniform in 2011, earning Big West Freshman of the Year honors and Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American recognition. However, he did that all as an outfielder. In 2012, Lorenzen continues to produce for the Titan offense as he leads the Big West in stolen bases (10) and is tied for fourth in hits (30). But perhaps the biggest attention grabber so far is his work on the mound. Lorenzen is tied for third nationally with eight saves as the new Fullerton closer with the 90-plus mph fastball. The right-handed fireballer has registered those eight saves in nine appearances, allowing no runs and striking out 11 in 8.2 innings of work. He logged one save against No. 1 Florida, another against No. 11 TCU and two more versus No. 5 Texas A&M. And all this after not pitching a single inning during the 2011 campaign.
Long Beach State Finds Offense
Long Beach State’s offense busted out in a big way last Saturday against Wichita State. After suffering its fourth walk off loss in the series opener, giving up six runs in the ninth inning to watch a 7-2 lead dissolve into an 8-7 loss, the 49ers could have folded the next two games. But they didn’t. In fact, they won both. And in a display of resolve, Long Beach State put a beating on the Shockers with a decisive 13-1 win in game two. The 49ers set season-highs in runs and hits (16). The outburst obliterated the previous season-high of seven runs scored in a game.
Muren Rolling Along For Matadors
Cal State Northridge junior pitcher Alex Muren won his third straight start and notched a Big West leading fifth victory after hurling a complete game in a 3-2 triumph over Saint Mary’s on Friday. He lowered his ERA to 3.46. In his last three starts, Muren is 3-0 with a 1.57 ERA. He has lowered his ERA by over two runs during that span.