Going into the series at Wichita State, Cal State Fullerton had dropped two straight Big West series against UC Riverside and UCSB and saw their hopes for a Big West championship vanish. A quote from the character played by Hal Holbrook in the movie "Wall Street" came to mind - "Man looks in the abyss, there's nothing staring back at him. At that moment, man finds his character. And that is what keeps him out of the abyss." The Fullerton coaches and players stared into the abyss of playing in a hostile environment against a top 25 team and pulled out a series win that could end up keeping the Titans in the regional field. But, the team's work is far from done as Fullerton heads up to San Luis Obispo to play a dangerous opponent, the Cal Poly Mustangs (27-23, 8-7) who are tied with Fullerton in the Big West standings and would like nothing better than to end their season on a high note by winning their first series against the Titans since Cal Poly moved to Division I.
Cal Poly's lineup is similar to the one that Fullerton faced last week at Wichita, with the Mustangs also having a solid lineup with seven players in the lineup hitting over .300 and four regulars that are LH hitters. However, that's about where the similarity ends. Wichita relied much more on HR's and their base running to produce runs while Cal Poly relies more on stringing hits together to score runs, with the exception of Grant Desme, one of the leading candidates for Big West MVP. Cal Poly has 37 HR's (15 by Desme) and 32 SB's (12 by Desme) so they don't hit many HR's or steal many bases unless it's Desme doing that. Desme injured his hand last Sunday and had to come out of the game for X-rays so it is unknown at this time if he will be able to play this weekend. Cal Poly is a young team that has improved offensively as the season has gone on, hitting .340 over the last seven weekend series since conference play started and averaging 8.5 runs per game during that time (including a scorching .354 the last three weekends). However, Cal Poly has been prone to getting shut down by the better pitching staffs that they have seen this year. In the 19 games that Cal Poly has played against teams that are likely to be playing in regionals in June, the Mustangs have gone 3-16 and been held to four runs or less in 11 of those games.
C - Wes Dorrell (LH - .314 - 5 - 37 - 0) has taken over as the regular C during the second half of the season. Usually bats cleanup, 2nd on the team in HR's and RBI's. Dorrell is below average at blocking pitches (Cal Poly has allowed only 52 WP's and 10 PB's) and is average at throwing out baserunners (25-38 SB's). The backup C is Josh Thomas (RH - .157 - 1 - 10 - 0) and he starts vs. LHP's.
1B - Adam Buschini (RH - .308 - 4 - 28 - 4) usually hits sixth and has gotten hot after a cold start, hitting .375 since conf play started with four HR's. Buschini made some E's earlier in the year but has been better defensively recently.
2B - Pat Pezet (LH - .291 - 1 - 29 - 1) usually hits ninth but has been pretty productive for a hitter at the bottom of the lineup. Pezet went 12-33 with 10 RBI's over the last three series. Pezet is a good defensive player.
SS - Kyle Smith (RH - .274 - 1 - 33 - 2) usually hits second and is another player who has heated up since conf play started, hitting .328 with 21 RBI's. Smith has struggled at times defensively, making 12 E's.
3B - Brent Morel (RH - .329 - 5 - 27 - 4) usually hits fifth and has been one of the few players who hasn't hit as well since the start of conf play after helping to carry the offense earlier in the season. Morel has struggled defensively so that could be an area that Fullerton looks to attack.
CF - Logan Schafer (LH - .329 - 2 - 26 - 2) is the leadoff hitter and is another player who has heated up, hitting .390 since conf play started. Despite the low SB total, Schafer has good speed and covers ground well in CF.
RF - Grant Desme (RH - .405 - 15 - 53 - 12) hits third and is one of the best players on the west coast. If he is available to play this weekend, Desme is the player that the Fullerton coaches aren't going to let beat them. Desme is high on the radar screen of MLB scouts and is projected to be drafted in the first couple of rounds. He is outstanding in all facets of the game - hitting for average, hitting for power, base running, plate discipline (leads the team with 30 BB's), defense. Desme is the total package.
LF - Bryan Kepner (LH - .262 - 3 - 21 - 0) and Kyle Carson (RH - .300 - 0 - 13 - 0) have shared this position, with Carson getting more regular AB's recently and hitting well before going 0-7 last weekend. The LF's usually bat seventh or eighth. Carson is a little better defensively.
DH - Luke Yoder (RH - .307 - 0 - 10 - 5) has shared this position with Kepner. Yoder was scorching the ball earlier during the first four weeks of conf play (14-31) but has cooled off since then. The DH's usually bat 7th or 8th.
With the offensive numbers that Cal Poly has been putting up and a solid defensive team, why are the Mustangs barely over
.500 for the season? You guessed it, the pitching staff. It has been a long year on the mound for Cal Poly and injuries have taken their toll as two of the SP's (Matt Leonard, Marc Nobriga) and one of the primary setup men (Derrick Saito) are out for the season with arm injuries. The staff ERA for the season is 4.99 and since conference play started, it is 5.54. Cal Poly has gone 14-7 over the last seven weekends (including sweeps of Fresno State and UC Davis in non-conf series) but that is primarily due to the offense with the exception of the one series that the Mustangs won against a regional caliber team, UC Irvine. Due to the injuries that Cal Poly has gone through, there isn't much depth on the pitching staff.
FRI SP - Eric Massingham (1-1, 5.01 ERA, 9 apps, 6 starts, 32 IP, 40 H's, 16 BB's, 20 K's, .310 BA) was thrown into the Friday SP role early in the conf season due to some of the injuries that Cal Poly has gone through. Massingham has a live arm but has struggled with his control. He hadn't gotten out of the 5th inning in 5 of his 6 starts before pitching 6 1/3 innings last week against UC Davis but he has one start this year that stands out - his line against Riverside was 6 IP, 5 H's, 1 R. Massingham has done a good job of holding runners on (2-6 SB's).
SAT SP - Grant Theophilius (LHP, 1-1, 4.11 ERA, 9 apps, 0 starts, 15 IP, 12 H's, 11 BB's, 8 K's, .231 BA) is making the first start of his career after relieving the past two seasons. Theophilius came into the game last Sat after the SP was taken out in the 1st inning and threw an effective 5 1/3 innings, allowing 1 R on 5 H's.
SUN SP - Thomas Eager (RHP, 9-3, 3.58 ERA, 16 starts, 111 IP, 97 H's, 40 BB's, 94 K's, .239 BA) has the best arm on the pitching staff and has easily been the best SP for Cal Poly this season. Eager started out the season very well but since conf play started, he has been inconsistent. Over the last seven weeks, he has combined to shut out Irvine and Fresno State in two of his starts but in his other five starts has allowed 31 R's (25 ER's) in 35 IP for a 6.43 ERA. In two of those starts, against Riverside and Long Beach, Eager pitched well for the first five innings before the wheels fell off. Eager sometimes struggles with his control (17 HBP's in addition to 40 BB's in 111 IP). Baserunners have run often against Eager (17-27 SB's).
Relievers - Evan Reed (4-3, 2.75 ERA, 8 saves, 28 apps, 36 IP, 32 H's, 16 BB's, 34 K's, .246 BA) has done a solid job as the closer and has been counted on to pitch often due to the lack of depth in the bullpen. The middle relievers likely to see action are Andrew Slorp (2-1, 8.76 ERA, 17 apps, 25 IP, 43 H's, 15 BB's, 24 K's, .391 BA) and Steven Fischback (2-2, 6.98 ERA, 10 apps, 2 starts, 19 IP, 27 H's, 14 BB's, 9 K's, .329 BA), who started last Sat's game and failed to get an out, giving up 6 R's. The only LHP left in the bullpen due to the injuries is Frankie Reed (0-1, 6.66 ERA, 20 apps, 26 IP, 32 H's, 16 BB's, 20 K's, .308 BA).
Fullerton has struggled to hit high caliber pitching most of this season but the Cal Poly pitching staff is struggling right now so the Titans should be able to put plenty of runs up on the board. Fullerton has a significant pitching advantage in the first two games of the series. Cal Poly is 3-16 against teams that are likely to be playing in regionals in June. Horton coached teams are 35-5 against Cal Poly. Fullerton turned the direction that the season was headed in around last weekend and with the way the pitching staff has stepped up, the Titans should be able to come out of San Luis Obispo with a series win over Cal Poly.