Titans Picked To Defend Title
The Cal State Fullerton Titans have been tabbed to repeat as the Big West Conference Baseball Champions in 2019, according to the nine conference coaches that voted on the Big West baseball preseason poll. The defending Big West Champions earned three first-place votes en route to a total of 70 points. UC Irvine sits second with four-first place votes and 67 total points while Long Beach State is five points back in third after collecting one first-place vote and 62 points.
Led by five-time Big West Coach of the year, including last season, Rick Vanderhook, the Titans enter the 2019 season ranked in a variety of national polls, with their highest ranking of 18th being handed out by Collegiate Baseball. Fullerton is the fourth highest ranked team on the west coast, only behind UCLA, Stanford and Oregon State.
In 2018, Cal State Fullerton claimed its 22nd Big West regular season championship with an 18-6 mark. In earning the Big West’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, CSF qualified for postseason for the 40th time in program history while making its 27th straight NCAA appearance. Since 1999, the Titans have captured 14 of the 20 championships (12 outright, 2 shared). Fullerton welcomes back seven of the nine starting field players from a season ago including double-play duo 2018 All-Big West First Teamer Hank LoForte and 2017 All-Big West First Teamer Sahid Valenzuela. On the mound, the Titans will showcase a new weekend rotation as 2018 Big West Pitcher of the Year Colton Eastman, Tommy Wilson and Andrew Quezada were selected in the MLB Draft. Look for sophomore Tanner Bibee to step up after starting seven games last season, while striking out 56 en route to a 3.86 earned run average in his freshman campaign.
UC Irvine, under the helm of first-year head coach and former Anteater Ben Orloff, starts the season ranked No. 25 by Baseball America. The Anteaters are coming off a season where they finished tied for third with a 13-11 season and ranked in the nation’s top 25 in several categories, including 14th in sacrifice flies (34). The pitching staff is headlined by preseason All-America Andre Pallante, a unanimous All-American after his 2018 campaign where he finished 10-1 with a 1.60 ERA. The junior right hander spent the summer on the U.S. Collegiate National Team where he played against national teams from Japan, Chinese Taipei, and Cuba. UC Irvine also welcomes back its top hitter from last season with Brendan Brooks. The All-Big West Honorable Mention team member paced the ’Eaters with a .308 batting average, while scoring 22 runs and riving in an additional 23 during his freshman season. He will be joined by UCI’s hit leader, Konnor Zickefoose, who paced the team with 60 hits, while belting a .306 clip.
Last season, Long Beach State registered an even 12-12 league mark to finish fifth in the conference. On the mound in 2019 you will find Second Team All-Big West member pitcher Zak Baayoun, who finished second on the team last season with a 3.89 ERA and sported a 9-3 record. Defensively, catcher Chris Jimenez returns to the lineup after posting a .986 fielding percentage. He also contributed offensively, notching a team-best 32 RBI and nine doubles. Also keep an eye on sophomore outfielder Leonard Jones, who belted a team-high .312 average, scored 14 runs while driving in 22 more. The 2019 season marks the ninth year the Dirtbags are coached by Troy Buckley, the 2017 Big West Coach of the Year after leading the LBSU to a league title.
Cal Poly, who earned one first-place vote, sits fourth with 60 points and is followed UC Santa Barbara and its 49 points. With a total of 43 points, Hawai’i holds the sixth spot and CSUN owns seventh with 29 points. UC Davis secured the eighth slot with 19 points and UC Riverside (17) rounded out the nine-team field.
2019 Coaches Poll Results
1. Cal State Fullerton (3) - 70
2. UC Irvine (4) - 67
3. Long Beach State (1) - 62
4. Cal Poly (1) - 60
5. UC Santa Barbara - 49
6. Hawai’i - 32
7. CSUN - 29
8. UC Davis - 19
9. UC Riverside - 17
() First place votes