Baseball Preview: Fullerton Regional

The field of 64 is set. Okay, it's not basketball, but a baseball regional in which host No. 1 seed Cal-State Fullerton, No. 2 seed Stanford, No. 3 seed Kansas State and No. 4 seed Illinois will play up to seven total games. The survivor of the double-elimination weekend will advance with 15 others to next weekend's Super Regionals, which will in turn yield eight College World Series participants.

Stanford and Kansas State will play ball 4 p.m. Friday, with the Card then facing any or all of the three other teams in the bracket for the remainder of the weekend. Let's, therefore, look at stats for all four teams as we preview the Fullerton Regional:

TeamConfRPIRecordAvgERA
CSFBig West1340-15.2852.85
StanfordPac-101732-20.2983.50
KSUBig 124136-23.2804.21
IllinoisBig 1014028-25.2844.84

Stanford bats slightly better than the rest of the pod, but the biggest difference between the teams is ERA, which steadily increases with seed number. The Cardinal and Kansas State play in the toughest conferences of the lot, which is why Stanford and CSF are so close in their RPI rank, despite CSF sporting a significantly better record and ERA.

Team breakdowns:

Your Cardinal sport up to eight underclass starters in a most atypical season for grizzled veteran coach Mark Marquess. First Team All Pac-10 third baseman Stephen Piscotty leads the team in batting average, his .361 mark best on the team by 40 points. Brian Ragira, the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, is next at .321, with Tyler Gaffney (.320, team- high .478 slugging), Austin Wilson (.313), Kenny Diekroeger (.298), Jake Stewart (.294) and Chris Reed (6-2, 2.61 ERA) joining Ragira on the All Pac-10 Honorable Mention list. Add in Lonnie Kauppila (.288) and that's seven starters at or above .288.
Catcher Zach Jones, better known for his defense, but a .268 batter and .432 slugger in his own right, is the eighth starter, with Brian Guymon and Ben Clowe among those platooning in the final starting slot. Add it all up, and your Cardinal have an offensive star, Piscotty, and solid depth behind him, with .268 the third-worst average among starters. The only weakness is just 23 homers on the season, but should the weekend come down to offense, Stanford has it covered.
On the mound, Stanford has several solid pitchers, but no one ace who can put the team on his back. Mark Appel (5-6, 3.02 ERA), Danny Sandbrink (3-1, 3.50 ERA), Jordan Pries (5-5, 3.53 ERA) and Dean McArdle (7-4, 4.15 ETA) have combined for 48 of the Card's 52 starts, so expect them to shoulder the load this weekend. Reed, A.J. Vanegas (3.35 ERA), Scott Snodgress (4.65 ERA) or, in a jam, Sandbrink, have toed the rubber in the later innings this season.

Kansas State, Stanford's opening opponent, is in its third straight tournament, as we lean heavily here on out upon notes from the NCAA. Jason King is the offensive star, with a .333 average, 10 homers and 57 RBI. For comparison, no Card has more than four homers, and Ragira leads the Card with 41 RBI. Getting out to an early lead Friday will be important for Stanford, as Kansas State closer James Allen has a 1.35 ERA and 17 saves.

Fullerton has three impressive streaks in its corner: the Titans have won 10 of their last 12, have hosted a regional in 10 of the last 11 years, and have made the NCAA Tournament for 20 years running. If Stanford wants to upset the hometown Titans and claim the Regional, they'll have to navigate a pitching staff with great depth, and two standout brothers at the forefront: ace Noe Ramirez (8-3, 1.74 ERA), and closer Nick Ramirez (1.12 ERA, 16 saves).

Like Fullerton, Illinois is hot, having won 11 of 13, and also sports two stud brothers, in Justin (.333 average) and Josh Parr (.306). The similarities stop there though. The Illini won the Big 10 regular season and tournament titles concurrently for the first time ever, earning them their first NCAA bid since 2000. With an RPI nearly 100 spots behind the rest of the pod, and hailing from a conference not nearly as good at baseball as it is at most other sports, the Illini are a decided longshot.

The winner of Friday's Stanford/Kansas State tilt will face the Fullerton/Illinois winner at 8 p.m. Saturday. Lose and it's the Fullerton/Illinois loser at 4 p.m. Saturday. Assuming they haven't yet been double-eliminated, the Card will then play Sunday at 4 p.m. and/or 8 p.m.

A potential regional final will be 8 p.m. Monday, necessary only if two teams complete the weekend with just a loss apiece. All games will be on ESPNU.

Next week, the winner of the Fullerton Regional will meet the winner of the Chapel Hill Regional in a best-of-three Super Regional June 10-13. Host North Carolina, the No. 3 national seed, is the prohibitive favorite in the Chapel Hill Regional, with FIU, James Madison and Maine the No. 2, 3 and 4 seeds respectively.


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