Titans, Cardinal Back At It…
By CB360 Contributor Jack Blanchat
(Jack will be at the Fullerton Regional all weekend. Look for his post-tourney analysis here next week.)
Preview: Fullerton Regional
Once again, the NCAA schedule makers couldn’t resist the allure of a Stanford – Cal State-Fullerton matchup – but if the Cardinal and Titans are to square off for a trip to the Super Regionals, they must slip past a sneaky good Kansas State team and Big Ten Champion Illinois.
The Fullerton is definitely the favorite to advance to the Supers this weekend – they’re a 40-win team with some eye-popping stats. The Titans have the nation’s 13th-best team ERA (2.85) thanks to a phenomenal pitching staff, but they also play a brand of small ball that can be confusing and frustrating to teams – the Titans’ 75 sac bunts are ninth in the nation – and they don’t need many runs to win games thanks to their pitchers.
Junior Noe Ramirez (8-3) has a 1.74 ERA and his opponents’ batting average is just .183, and junior Tyler Pill (6-1) has a 2.08 ERA and 99 strikeouts this season. Third starter Colin O’Connell has a 2.42 ERA and a 7-3 record – and he’s walked just 6 batters all season. To cap it all off, closer Nick Ramirez has 16 saves this year and a 1.12 ERA – on top of his .285 batting average and nine home runs as a first baseman.
Stanford and Fullerton are familiar rivals – the teams usually play every year, and this is the second consecutive time the Cardinal have played in Fullerton’s regional. In 2008, Stanford sent Fullerton home in the Super Regional in SoCal, but in 2010, Fullerton returned the favor by knocking out the Cardinal. Hence why the NCAA wanted to see these teams go at it again, and why this regional will be televised.
Stanford is a legitimate threat to knock off the Titans this weekend because it can counter an excellent pitching staff. Stanford has a .298 team batting average, and sophomore Stephen Piscotty leads the squad with a .361 batting average. After that is Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Brian Ragira, who hits .321, and sophomore Tyler Gaffney, who is hitting .320 and riding a 17-game hit streak. Even Stanford’s “weakest” hitter is a threat – senior catcher Zach Jones, who has a .268 batting average, is actually batting .323 in his last 36 games after starting the season hitting .130 in his first 16 games. Jones also leads the team in extra-base hits. Stanford has a pretty solid pitching staff to boot – it’s 3.50 team ERA is 47th best in the country, and closer Chris Reed has a 6-2 record and eight saves of his own. It all adds up to one thing: don’t count out the Cardinal this weekend.
Kansas State and Illinois will certainly be overlooked this weekend, but these are two solid squads who are both riding hot streaks. Illinois won the Big Ten Tournament by beating Michigan State by a combined 13-2 in two games, and the Fighting Illini are 16-4 in their last 20 games. However, Illinois doesn’t have a scary pitching staff – all of the Illini starters have an ERA over 4.00.
The story is almost the same for Kansas State, which staved off elimination once in the Big 12 Tournament before eventually losing to Texas A&M in extra innings in the Big 12 Championship game in Oklahoma City. The Cats can count on the big bats of brothers Jason and Jared King, who combined for 18 home runs this season, and have a combined slugging percentage of .577 (Jared’s is .547, Jason’s is .608). The Cats also have some small ball of their own to compliment the Kings’ power, with 2010 Big 12 Player of the Year Nick Martini swiping 24 bags to compliment the team’s 62 sac bunts. The pitching staff is a weakness for the Wildcats, though, as no starter has an ERA under 4.00. The back end of the pen does have closer James Allen, who has 17 saves, but all signs suggest that the Wildcats will be looking to win a slugfest this weekend.
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