A little perspective
Cal State Fullerton. In case you've never heard of them, their baseball team has a 10,000 seat stadium. They've won as many national championships (four, in 1979, 1984, 1995, and 2004) as the number of times Maryland has managed to make the NCAA Tournament. In fact, the Titans have been invited to the NCAA Tournament 36 times, including 23 consecutive years. But that streak is in jeopardy this year, and standing in the way is a Maryland Terrapin team hoping to make a second consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance.
As you can surmise, Cal State Fullerton is one of the premier college baseball programs in the country. This weekend the Terps host the Titans for a three-game set, the first time these two schools have played against one another. It's akin to Oregon coming to Byrd Stadium to play the Terrapins' football team.
2015 is a watershed year for the Titans
Recently all has not been well in Fullerton. In 2014 the team "struggled" through a 32-24 regular season record, and there was concern that the Titans might not even make the NCAA Tournament. Maybe it was the Titans' SOS or perhaps the team's name recognition, but in any event they went to the Stillwater, OK Regional. There they beat Nebraska twice but dropped two games to host school Oklahoma State.
Rumors started to circulate that Head Coach Rick Vanderhook's job was in jeopardy. Things got worse when rising sophomore star pitcher Phil Bickford transferred to a junior college so that he would be available for the 2015 MLB draft. A bit of panic set in when Cal State Fullerton dropped four of their first five games this year, then three weeks later were swept at Indiana.
But it was foolish to count the Titans out. Since the debacle in Bloomington the Titans have won at least one road game at RPI-24 Long Beach State, No. 23 Nebraska, and RPI-27 Cal State Northridge. Their SOS is 14, and while their RPI is a borderline 40, taking a series against the No. 22 Terrapins would be a major boon to the team's NCAA chances.
This is also an important series for the Terrapins. Beating Cal State Fullerton would help the Terps' RPI, as well as provide serious benefits to Maryland's body of work.
Pitching and Defense
The Titans rely heavily on their pitching staff. The 2015 ace, RHP Thomas Eshelman, Jr. (3-4, 2.34 era) has not disappointed. In fact, he was recently one of 60 players named to the Golden Spikes Award watch list, joining Terrapins Mike Shawaryn and Brandon Lowe. Although he's 3-4 on the year, he's already thrown two complete games, one being a shutout in which he struck out 14 Texas Tech batters. RHP Justin Garza, Jr. (3-0, 3.00 era) has been a steady Saturday starter. Big 6'6" freshman LHP John Gavin has stepped into the Sunday slot, where he's 5-1 with a 4.53 era. The Titan's closer is RHP Tyler Peitzmeier (0-1, 3.52 era) who has 12 saves in 12 opportunities already this season, good for second in the nation. Although the Titans defense has been average, only 18 of 34 (53%) of base runners have successfully swiped a base.
Last year the Titans had a mediocre offense. Unfortunately for Cal State Fullerton, they lost their two best hitters to the MLB draft. This year the Titans haven't upped their game offensively. A lot of weight was placed on highly-touted freshman OF Scott Hurst, who is currently batting just .260 with 14 rbi. The best batter returning from last year, Tanner Pinkston, has seen limited action and is near the Mendoza line. Conversely, Coach Vanderhook predicted that Davi Olmedo-Barrera would have a break-out year, and he's been proven right. The DH is batting .302 with 4 hr, 5 3b, and a team-high 27 rbi. Josh Vargas (.337), Tyler Steib (.297, 9-11 sb-att), and Josh Estill (.280, 5 hr, 25 RBIs) provide much of the remainder of Fullerton's offense.
The Titans like to run, and have stolen 34 bases in 45 attempts. They are patient at the plate, and excel at playing small ball. Fullerton lacks long ball prowess, knocking only 11 home runs this year.
Cal State Fullerton is 19-16 overall, 7-9 away from home. They currently sit at second place in the Big West conference with a 6-3 mark. In other words, this is not a typical Titans team. Their RPI is 40, although a #14 SOS might be enough to get them into post-season play. But make no mistake, this series is huge for the Titans.
One intriguing aspect will be seeing how the excellent command of the strike zone shown by the Fullerton pitchers plays out against Maryland's patience at the plate. On the reverse side, will Maryland's pitchers throw strikes and keep Fullerton out of their small-ball approach? These two factors could go a long way towards determining which team takes the series.
Friday 7:00 p.m. RHP Thomas Eshelman (3-4) vs. RHP Mike Shawaryn (8-0)
Saturday 2:00 p.m. RHP Justin Garza (3-2) vs. LHP Tayler Stiles (2-3)
Sunday: 1:00 p.m. LHP John Gavin (5-1) vs. RHP Brian Shaffer (3-0)