The Cal State Fullerton Titans may just be the best team in the country. Currently ranked #2 in America, the Titans rolled through the regular season with relative ease, knocked off a very tough ASU team in the Super Regionals (including a 7-1 thumping in the deciding third game), and then easily defeated LSU by an 8-2 score in their CWS opener. Furthermore, Cal State Fullerton has had quite a bit of success against Stanford this season with a convincing series sweep of the Cardinal back in early February.
Cal State Fullerton began the season with a bang as they swept Stanford. They didn't stop there, though, as they won 15 of their first 16 games in 2003, and the overwhelming majority of those games weren't close. After a brief slip-up at Minnesota (lost 2-of-3) in early March, the Titans continued their winning ways through the next month and a half with six straight series wins. After a series sweep at Cal Poly in the last week of April, Fullerton ascended to the #1 ranking only to fall back after getting swept at UC Riverside the very next week. But, the Titans have cruised since then as they've posted 11 wins in their last 14 games to run their record to a very impressive 49-14.
Despite finishing one game behind Long Beach State in the Big West standings (getting swept by Riverside cost Fullerton the title), the Titans took 4-of-6 games from 49ers this year. Both losses came to All-American Jered Weaver. In addition, the Titans went 2-1 against USC this season, 3-0 vs. UCLA, and 1-0 vs. Texas. In the postseason, Fullerton swept through their regional with a win over San Diego and two victories over Notre Dame. In the supers, the Titans took game one from ASU 5-1 before falling 7-6 in game two. But behind an outstanding performance from starter Dustin Miller and some early offense, Cal State Fullerton easily took game three by a 7-1 score.
This is a very solid squad in all aspects of the game. As a team, Fullerton is hitting .333 while their ERA is an impressive 2.75. The Titans don't hit a lot of homers as they have only 34 on the year. They do though steal a lot of bases with five guys in double figures in steals; as a team, they've swiped a whopping 111 bags on the year. What this Fullerton team does best though doesn't really show up in the stat column. They do a great job of putting pressure on defenses by stretching doubles into triples, for example. They hit behind runners well, and they almost always get that runner home from third with less than two outs. While it's not really an explosive offense (they haven't reached double figures since April 26th), it's an offense that thrives on timely hitting and one that will make you pay dearly if you give them extra outs.
From a pitching perspective, it doesn't get much better than Cal State Fullerton. As mentioned above, their team ERA is a stellar 2.75 while Coach George Horton has ten quality arms he can turn to. 2002 All-American Wes Littleton was expected to be the team's ace (and was the ace for the first month of the year), but a suspension sidelined Littleton for about a month and he's now out of the rotation despite a solid 3.82 ERA. The Titans' rotation has just been phenomenal and Littleton hasn't quite been able to keep pace. Nevertheless, Littleton is a great arm to have out of the bullpen in long relief stints and he may be used as a starter if Fullerton has to battle through the losers bracket.
Stanford also needs to score early against the Titans. Cal State Fullerton's bullpen has a combined 2.18 ERA on the year and they're a perfect 41-0 when they lead after seven innings. In fact, over the last three years, the Titans are an amazing 117-1 when leading after seven. The only loss was in the opening game of the Regionals to Stanford last year when the Cardinal battled back from a 2-0 deficit with single runs in the eighth and ninth to force extras (they eventually won in the bottom of the 13th). Most of the credit goes to All-American closer Chad Cordero who was a first round pick in this year's draft. Cordero has a 1.42 ERA, seven saves (he'd have more if Fullerton would play some closer games), and only seven walks compared to 63 K's in 50 2/3 innings pitched.
Cal State Fullerton's defense has also been solid as they sport a .972 fielding percentage which is one of the best in the country. Good hitting, good defense, and outstanding pitching. It's not hard to see why many view Cal State Fullerton as the best team in the country.
As for some possible weak links. The Titans were swept by UC Riverside (13-3, 4-3, and 5-1) just a little over a month ago. Stanford did smoke Riverside in the Regionals two weeks ago. Incidentally, the 13 runs given up by Fullerton in that game has been the only time all year the Titans have allowed double figures in runs. Another problem for Fullerton could be lack of experience in their starting rotation. Fullerton will likely start a freshman on the hill against Stanford so nerves could play a role. On the flip side though, the Cardinal is expected to start frosh Mark Romanczuk, so that factor could very well even out. The one downside to Fullerton's offense is that they don't hit many homers. If the wind is blowing out on Sunday, you figure Stanford would have the advantage as they have many more pure power hitters. As you can tell, I'm kind of reaching with possible weaknesses for Fullerton. This team is that good. The current junior class was the #1 rated recruiting class entering their freshmen year while the current freshman class was the second highest rated class in the country prior to this season.
Probable Starting Lineup (Bats/Throws, Class) :
C – Kurt Suzuki (R/R, So.), .351, 2 HR, 28 RBI, 1 SB
1B – Richie Burgos (L/R, Jr.), .324, 4 HR, 49 RBI, 4 SB
2B – Jason Corapci (R/R, Sr.), .297, 0 HR, 19 RBI, 3 SB
3B – Ronnie Prettyman (L/R, So.), .356, 0 HR, 34 RBI, 14 SB
SS – Justin Turner (R/R, Fr.), .321, 0 HR, 35 RBI, 13 SB
LF – Danny Dorn (L/L, Fr.), .366, 7 HR, 54 RBI, 5 SB
CF – Kyle Boyer (R/R, Jr.), .342, 6 HR, 49 RBI, 24 SB
RF – Shane Costa (L/R, Jr.), .372, 4 HR, 54 RBI, 28 SB
DH – P.J. Pilittere (R/R, Jr.), .371, 2 HR, 28 RBI, 3 SB
* stats do not include Fullerton's game on Friday versus LSU *
Hitting Notes: Costa is the top hitter in this lineup - the junior rightfielder bats third and hit a big home run on Friday against LSU… The freshman Dorn has burst on to the scene this year - he'll likely bat 6th or 7th and is one of the few power threats on this team… Turner hits leadoff against lefties and has lots of speed… Prettyman hits leadoff against righthanders, but with Romanczuk starting, he'll move down to 8th - he's definitely a threat to run… Pilittere has been hitting either fourth or fifth in the lineup of late - he doesn't hit many homers, but is having a breakout year in terms of his batting average… Six of the nine guys in the order are hitting at .340 or above while only one player (Corapci, .297) is hitting below .300.
Probable Starting Pitcher :
Ryan Schreppel (LHP; 5-3, 2.45 ERA) or Dustin Miller (RHP; 9-2, 3.03 ERA)
Starting Pitching Notes: Schreppel has been their #2 guy the past few weeks since returning from a knee injury that sidelined him for two months (March and April) … not a very hard thrower, but has good control (14 BB in 51 1/3 IP) while he's recorded 42 strikeouts on the year. And although Schreppel has been the #2 guy, he did struggle in his last start (3 IP, 6 H, 5 R, 4 ER vs. ASU – Game 2) which may lead to a switch in the starting rotation. Schreppel made his collegiate debut against Stanford back in February, when he allowed just one run on five hits in five innings (he started the Saturday game). If he does start, he probably won't pitch very deep in the game as he's not pitched past the sixth inning since returning from his injury five weeks ago… Miller is a redshirt freshman who went to the same high school as Mark Jecmen. Miller throws harder than Schreppel while displaying equally impressive stats (95 IP, 23 BB, 92 SO). Miller has been hot lately as he allowed just one run in eight innings (10 K's) in the regional championship game against Notre Dame while he allowed only one run in 7 2/3 innings (3 hits) in game three of the Super Regionals against ASU. Miller started the series finale against Stanford back in February and allowed just one run on four hits in six innings to record the victory.
Primary Relief Pitchers:
RHP – Chad Cordero (5-1, 1.42 ERA, 7 SV)
RHP – Sean Martin (1-2, 2.80 ERA, 1 SV)
RHP – Travis Ingle (3-0, 3.06 ERA)
LHP – Ricky Romero (3-0, 3.21 ERA)
RHP – Wes Littleton (6-3, 3.82 ERA)
Bullpen Notes: Cordero leads the way as the closer as it's basically "game over" if Fullerton leads after seven innings… Martin is an experienced senior who has walked only three in 35 1/3 innings this year… Romero is the only lefty out of the bullpen as he's had experience starting this year, so he could go a few innings if needed… Littleton began the year as the #1 starter and was 9-4 with a 2.40 ERA as the top starter for the Titans in 2002.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Score Early - As good as the Fullerton starting rotation is, the bullpen is even better. And while Schreppel and Miller have both had solid seasons, neither are the #1 starter, so you'd expect Stanford's potent offense to at least score a few runs.
Do the little things right - You'd expect a low-scoring game with Mark Romanczuk (12-0, 3.39) facing off against this dominant Fullerton staff. Because of this, it's vital that Stanford does the little things right to win the game. That means getting bunts down, hitting behind runners, and getting guys home from third with less than two outs. Runs could be a hot commodity on Sunday.
Production from the top of the order - Sam Fuld, Brian Hall/Jonny Ash, and Carlos Quentin need to get on base in this game. All-American catcher Ryan Garko (.415, 18 HR, 91 RBI) is locked in at the plate right now and needs to have guys on base when he's up. Danny Putnam (.358, 14 HR, 58 RBI) has also been hot of late.
Mark Romanczuk's control - The freshman southpaw has had trouble with his control at times this year. Last week against LBSU, he didn't walk a batter in 8 1/3 innings which was a big reason why he outdueled All-American Jered Weaver. Fullerton isn't a team that waits for the three-run homer; they strive on mistakes from their opponent so Romanczuk can ill-afford to put extra guys on base.
This is obviously a very important game for Stanford. A win against the Titans puts the Cardinal into the driver's seat in their bracket. A loss forces the Cardinal to win on Tuesday (versus LSU or South Carolina), on Wednesday (versus Fullerton), and on Thursday (versus Fullerton) to advance to the championship series. While Stanford's pitching depth is improved this year, it's not as strong as Fullerton's, so a loss wouldn't be quite as damaging to the Titans. This essentially could come down to a three-game series between Stanford and Fullerton with the winner of the series moving on to the championship round. And while Fullerton has a tremendous ballclub, Stanford is the hottest team in the country right now with ten wins in a row and 19 victories in their last 20 games. Fullerton did sweep the Card back in February, but this is a very different Stanford team right now.
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