Titans Take on No. 1

STANFORD - Experience, preseason hype and recent history all stand against Cal State Fullerton tonight, as the Titans open their 2002 baseball season at Leland Stanford Junior University

Fullerton, ranked 15, 17 and 10 in three preseason polls, will break in two new weekend starting pitchers and six first -time position starters. The Titans are still smarting from their two losses to Stanford in Omaha to end last season

The Titans' slew of questions marks stand in stark contrast to the Alleged Geniuses of Stanford, who enter tonight as the consensus No. 1 team in the nation. The AGs return eight position starters, two weekend pitchers and their closer from last year's 51-17 team

Fullerton (48-18 in 2001) faces its toughest challenges tonight and Saturday, when it sends Wes Littleton (2-0, 7.68 ERA) and juco transfer Jeff Housman to the mound against proven Stanford starters Jeremy Guthrie (13-4, 2.82) and Tim Cunningham (6-0, 3.62)

The Titans should have an upper- hand on Sunday with last season's freshman sensation Darric Merrell (8-4, 2.95) going against a yet-to-be named AG starter

From Nos. 1 and 2 hitters Sam Fuld (.357) and Chris O'Riordan (.359, 12 HRs), all the way down to No. 9 Arik VanZandt (6 HRs and 34 RBI), Stanford's lineup is balanced and powerful

DH-turned-second baseman Jason Corapci (.333), center fielder Chris Stringfellow (.345) and right fielder Shane Costa (.380) will need to come up big this weekend for Fullerton, if the Titans have any chance at winning two of three

While the other Fullerton starters don't have the Division I experience of Corapci, Stringfellow and Costa, they're not totally inexperienced either

Catcher P.J. Pilittere started 17 games for an injured Brett Kay last season and caught the Titans' historic three-game sweep at eventual national champion Miami. Shortstop David Munoz was an NAIA All-American at Biola, batting .372 with 12 HRs, and possible third base starter Mike Martinez came through with one of the most clutch hits of 2001 (a three-run double to beat UC Santa Barbara on May 13)

THE WORM RETURNS: As you race home (that is if home is in the Inland Empire or North Orange County) to catch tonight's 6 o'clock first pitch, flip to 1370-AM KWRM on the car stereo. K-Worm is set to broadcast 27 Fullerton baseball games over the air this season, and of course virtually every game will be on Internet radio

COLD, DAMN COLD: Be thankful to be in a warm car or home tonight. The Weather Channel predicts it'll be 49 degrees when the first pitch is thrown tonight at Stanford and down to 43 by 10 p.m

Saturday and Sunday's days games will not be much warmer, with forecast highs set for 56 and 58 degrees

LIES, DAMN LIES AND STATISTICS: The Junior University is basking in the glow of a consensus No. 1 ranking, and gleeful AG apologists are quick to note that Stanford has enjoyed a No. 1 preseason ranking in at least one poll in five of the past eight years

Of course there's a downside to that otherwise impressive stat that rarely gets mentioned inside these not-so-Ivy covered walls: In those previous seven seasons, the AGs have captured a grand total of zero national titles

By any objective standard, that makes Stanford baseball the most underachieving program in all of college sports. Think about it: Would a football coach at Nebraska or a basketball coach at Duke be able to survive so many preseason No. 1 rankings without bringing home a title? But since college baseball flies under the national sports radar screen, the Junior University's annual choke job in Omaha goes largely unnoticed

CHRIS WEBBER OF THE DIAMOND: The AGs No. 4 hitter and right fielder Carlos Quentin is lucky the College World Series is nowhere in the publicity neighborhood of the basketball Final Four

If you recall, it was Quentin's bonehead play that helped Miami to four runs in the third inning of last season's title game. Despite a glaring sun, Quentin did not wear sunglasses and lost a routine fly ball that keyed Miami's outburst

It was a remarkable lapse, particularly for a school that prides itself on handing everything to its silver spoon-fed students

You'd figure one of those future Enron or Arthur Andersen CEOs in the AG dugout would have presented Quentin with his sunglasses on a silver platter before taking the field

Instead, Quentin turned a fly ball that was as ridiculously easy as a Stanford undergrad course and turned it into a Miami track meet

STANFORD NOT HAILING TO THE CHIEF: Not even the Titans dominant closer, Chad "Chief'' Cordero (14 saves, 1.83) could solve Stanford in 2001, losing twice to the AGs

Then again, Chief could have very easily avoided those defeats if Mike Rouse's ninth-inning drive didn't die in suddenly windless Rosenblatt Stadium on June 10; or if Murph Norris didn't hit into a bases-loaded double play to end Stanford's 9-8 victory at Fullerton on Feb. 3.