Cal State Fullerton Picked To Win Big West Title
Cal State Fullerton was picked to win its fifth straight title in 2014, according to the nine conference coaches that voted in the Big West baseball preseason coaches poll. The Titans earned eight first-place votes en route to a total of 73 points and was followed by Cal Poly, who grabbed 68 points. UC Santa Barbara locked the third slot with 60 points and UC Irvine, who collected the final first-place vote, ranked fourth after registering a 55-point total.
Last season, Cal State Fullerton captured its 27th Big West Conference championship after posting a 23-4 league mark which sent the Titans to their 35th postseason appearance and advanced to the Fullerton Super Regional where they ultimately fell to eventual national champion UCLA after posting an overall 51-10 record. The nucleus of the 2014 Titans is their stellar pitching staff, which in 2013 ranked No. 1 nationally in walks allowed per nine innings (1.41), No. 1 in strikeout to walk ratio (4.94) and No. 1 in WHIP (1.0), while also ranking fourth with a 2.47 earned run average.
The Titans return Louisville Slugger Preseason First Team All-American pitchers in RHP Thomas Eshelman (12-3, 1.48 ERA, 83 K) and RHP Justin Garza (12-0, 2.03 ERA, 95 K, 17 BB in 115 IP). In 2013, Garza was named Big West Pitcher of the Year after posting a 12-0 record, while Eshelman received Big West Freshman Pitcher of the Year accolades following a season where he paced the league with an impressive 1.48 ERA, good enough for 10th in the country.
Eshelman led the nation in walks allowed per nine innings (0.23) as he only surrendered 3 in 115 2/3 innings. That staggering number is the lowest in the history of NCAA Division I baseball, according to the NCAA Baseball Record Book. He also ranked first nationally in strikeout to walk ratio (27.67) and ranked No. 1 in WHIP (0.77). The Titans also return another quality starter in RHP Grahamm Wiest (9-3, 3.27 ERA, 76 K, 13 BB).
Second-place pick Cal Poly finished 2013 tied for second place in the Big West with a 17-10 conference mark and registered on overall record of 40-19, which earned the Mustangs their second NCAA regional berth. A total of 19 letterwinners return, including senior third baseman Jimmy Allen (.299, 39 RBI) and junior relief pitcher Reed Reilly (2.29 ERA, 14 saves). Also returning are outfielders Nick Torres (.333, seven home runs, 49 RBI) and Jordan Ellis (.323, 18 RBI), infielders Tim Wise, Peter Van Gansen and John Schuknecht, catcher Chris Hoo and designated hitter Brian Mundell (.265, 11 home runs, 42 RBI).
Joining Reilly on the pitching staff are starters Matt Imhof (7-3, 2.74 ERA), Casey Bloomquist (6-2, 5.02 ERA) and Bryan Granger (5-4, 5.37 ERA) and relievers Taylor Chris (1-0, 2.55 ERA) and Danny Zandona (2-1, 4.50 ERA), among others.
UC Santa Barbara, selected third in the preseason poll, looks to continue where it left off last season as the Gauchos return the entire rotation from 2013, as well as the back end of the bullpen and seven starting position players, that led the team to a tie for second place in the league with a 17-10 mark. With an overall record of 35-25, and riding a season-ending hot streak where UCSB posted an 11-3 mark in its final 14 contests, the Gauchos earned their first appearance in the postseason since 2001.
UC Irvine, who was tabbed to place fourth in this year’s title race, found itself knotted in a three-way tie for fourth with a 15-12 record last season. In 2014, the Anteaters welcome back preseason All-America trio Andrew Morales, Connor Spencer and Taylor Sparks.
Morales was 10-0 on the mound last year and boasted a 1.89 earned run average en route to being named an All-Big West first-team selection. Sparks was the Big West Co-Player of the Year in 2013, received an American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) All-West Region second-team nod, was an ABCA Gold Glove winner and chosen as a Collegiate Baseball “Louisville Slugger” second-team All-American. Spencer hit .373 in his sophomore season and claimed the Big West Conference batting title. The first baseman totaled 79 hits, including a team-leading 19 doubles and drove in 35 runs. He was 46th in the country in batting and was 51st in doubles while placing third in the conference with a .443 on-base percentage.
Long Beach State placed fifth in the poll with 49 points and while Hawai’i nabbed sixth with 33 points. UC Riverside collected 27 points to nab the seventh slot, Cal State Northridge followed close behind in eighth place with 25 points. Closing out the nine-team field was UC Davis, who tallied 15 points.
2014 Coaches Poll Results
1. Cal State Fullerton (8) - 73
2. Cal Poly - 68
3. UC Santa Barbara - 60
4. UC Irvine (1) - 55
5. Long Beach State - 49
6. Hawai’i - 33
7. UC Riverside - 27
8. Cal State Northridge - 25
9. UC Davis - 15
( ) First-place vote