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Titans, Dirtbags Battle For Big West Automatic Berth To NCAA Tournament

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12 BB Release-Week 15

5/21/2012

Baseball rivals Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State meet this weekend at Blair Field with the series winner earning the Big West's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament.

AROUND THE BIG WEST

Titans, Dirtbags Meet With NCAA Tournament Berth At Stake
As anticipated, this weekend’s showdown between Big West baseball rivals Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State has postseason ramifications.

The winner of the three-game series at Blair Field receives the Big West’s automatic berth into the 64-team NCAA Championship bracket.  League-leading Cal State Fullerton (33-18, 15-6) owns a one-game lead on second place Long Beach State (27-25, 14-7).  The Titans need two wins against the Dirtbags to win the conference title outright and secure automatic qualifier status to the NCAA Tournament.

On the other hand, the Dirtbags need to win twice to share the regular season crown with the Titans.  In so doing, they would simultaneously earn the Big West automatic bid to the NCAA’s by virtue of winning the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Titans.  LBSU needs to sweep CSF to win the outright regular season title.

CSF is closing in on its 18th regular season title as a member of the Big West (12 outright, 4 co, 1 tri) and seventh in the last nine years.  The Titans enter the series in somewhat of a mini slump with four losses in their last six games.  The offense has mustered just seven runs in those four losses.  The Titans dropped a conference series for the first time in seven tries, losing two of three games to UC Riverside last weekend.  They missed an opportunity to end Long Beach State’s hopes for a regular season title, which would have been accomplished had they swept the Highlanders. 

LBSU is aiming for its 10th Big West regular season title (6 outright, 2 co, 1 tri) and first since 2008.  The Dirtbags enjoyed a 10-year stretch from 1989-98 in which they captured six titles.  Their last outright championship occurred in 2003 before earning a share of the crown with Cal State Fullerton in 2008.  Since a 6-14 start, the Dirtbags have won 21 of their last 35 contests.  More than half – 28 to be exact – of LBSU’s 52 games have been decided by one run.  LBSU is 14-14 in one-run games overall.  However, early on this season LBSU struggled in those situations, going just 3-9 at one point in one-run affairs.

Pitching has defined much of the success of both clubs in 2012.  LBSU leads the Big West in ERA (3.08) in overall games, a tad better than CSF’s 3.17 mark.  The Dirtbags have been even stingier in conference play with a miniscule 2.50 ERA.  They have held opponents to four runs or less in 16 of 21 games.  The Titans counter by ranking No. 1 in the nation in walks allowed per nine innings (1.88) and No. 5 in strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.26).

In Other Big West Action
Cal Poly and UC Irvine hope to strengthen their résumés for postseason consideration with strong finishes in conference action.

Cal Poly (33-20, 13-8) swept UC Santa Barbara last week to hit the 30-win mark for the fifth time under head coach Larry Lee.  The Mustangs are hot, winners of 11 of their last 14 games.  They look to accumulate more wins with a trip to UC Riverside this week.

UC Irvine (30-22, 12-9) took two of three games from Cal State Bakersfield last week to clinch its ninth straight season of 30 or more wins.  The Anteaters travel to UC Davis this weekend.

Steady Stuart Shuts Em Down
Long Beach State right-hander Shawn Stuart is having an impressive senior season and a key reason the club is in contention for a Big West title on the final weekend of the regular season.

Stuart moved to 7-0 on the year and lowered his ERA to 2.21 with seven shutout innings in a 5-1 victory against Pacific on Sunday.  In Big West games only, Stuart has posted a 6-0 record with a conference-best 1.42 ERA.  He has defeated three of the top teams in the standings – Cal Poly, Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine – and has yet to allow more than four runs in any of his 13 starts this season.

Metzger Two Doses From Record
Although Long Beach State ranks last in the Big West in team batting average (.259) for overall games, the offense is much improved against conference competition.  The Dirtbags rank fourth with a .280 average against league opponents.  Senior Brennan Metzger is a big part of that success.  He leads LBSU in average (.315), runs scored (36), RBI (34) and stolen bases (11).  He also tops the team and ranks third in the Big West with 15 hit by pitches.  That gives him 54 for his career, which puts him just two shy of tying the school record of 56 hit by pitches that Bryan Kennedy set from 1998-2001.

Matadors With Most Conference Wins Since 2002
Despite losing two of three this past weekend to UC Davis, the Matadors improved to 10-11 in Big West play with Sunday’s 6-3 win against the Aggies.  The 10 wins represent the most in conference play for a CSUN squad since 2002, when that team went 19-5 en route to a Big West championship.  That also was the last year the Matadors finished above .500 in conference play.  They must sweep Pacific this weekend to end a streak of nine straight seasons with a below .500 conference record. 

Lorenzen Tied For Second In Saves
Cal State Fullerton sophomore Michael Lorenzen nailed down his 16th save of the season in Friday’s 3-2 victory over UC Riverside.  It moved him into a tie for second all-time on the CSF single-season saves list with Nick Ramirez (2011).  Lorenzen also is tied for fifth in the Big West record book and needs only one more save to slide into a tie for second.  A candidate for John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year, College Baseball Hall of Fame Pitcher of the Year and NCBWA Stopper of the Year, Lorenzen’s 16 saves tie him for fifth in the nation with Oregon’s Jimmie Sherfy.

Gillespie Goes For Win No. 200
Head coach Mike Gillespie goes for a milestone 200th win at UC Irvine when his Anteaters take the field against No. 9 UCLA on Tuesday.  Gillespie is 199-94 in his fifth season at the helm.  He has led the Anteaters to at least 30 wins in all five of his seasons.  Gillespie’s distinguished career as a Division I coach features a combined 962 victories in 24 seasons at both USC and UCI.

Vertigan Closing In On Batting Title
A monstrous series for UC Santa Barbara outfielder Brett Vertigan lifted his average to a Big West leading .381 going into the final week of the regular season.  Vertigan went 8-for-13 against Cal Poly to retake the lead in conference batting average from Pacific’s Erik Lockwood.  Vertigan is attempting to become the first Big West batting champion from UCSB since Bill Geivett in 1985.