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2013 Super Regional Preview: Fullerton (CA)

Fullerton Super Regional:

UCLA (42-17) vs. Cal State Fullerton (51-8)

For the fourth time in the last seven years, UCLA and Cal State Fullerton will tangle in the postseason. The opportunity to represent Southern California baseball in Omaha is on the line as the winner will receive a berth to the College World Series.

That was the also the case last time these teams met in the postseason. UCLA rallied to win the final two games of the series after being down to their final out in the second game. But Tyler Rahmatulla hit a two-run homer to keep the Bruins alive and they eventually punched their ticket to Omaha at the expense of the Titans (though Rahmatulla missed the College World Series after breaking his wrist in the celebratory dogpile). The previous two times it had been Fullerton that did the celebrating, defeating UCLA in 2007 and 2008.

Greeting Rahmatulla in the dugout was Cal State Fullerton head coach Rick Vanderhook, who was an assistant coach for UCLA under John Savage at the time. But after a three-year stint at UCLA, Vanderhook returned to his alma mater where he has now spent a quarter of a century in a Titans’ uniform as a player, assistant and now head honcho.

Under Vanderhook, Fullerton has compiled an 87-29 record, including a remarkable 51-8 tally this season. The Titans return to the Super Regionals for the 11th time, but first time since the 2010 defeat at UCLA. The Bruins make their third Super Regional appearance in four years, including back-to-back appearances for the first time in program history.

Schedule:

  • Game 1: Friday 4 p.m. PST (ESPN2)
  • Game 2: Saturday 7 p.m. PST (ESPN2)
  • Game 3: (if necessary) Sunday 7 p.m. PST (ESPN2)

UCLA Bruins (42-17, Pac-12 At Large)

Projected Starters & Starting Rotation:
C — Shane Zeile
1B — Pat Gallagher
2B — Cody Regis
SS — Pat Valaika
3B — Kevin Kramer
LF — Brenton Allen
CF — Brian Carroll
RF — Eric Filia
DH — Kevin Williams

SP — Adam Plutko
SP — Nick Vander Tuig
SP — Grant Watson
CL — David Berg

Road to the Super Regional: After compiling a 39-17 regular season record and a third-place finish in the Pac-12, UCLA received an at large berth and earned a Regional host spot. The Bruins faced all three opponents in their Regional, vanquishing all three. 

Adam Plutko became the school’s postseason wins leader in a 5-3 win against San Diego State on Friday. The Bruins were assisted by Jackie Robinson Stadium’s poor lighting on Saturday as a bases-clearing Kevin Williams’ triple that was lost in the lights tied the game and completely turned around a game Cal Poly had been dominating. UCLA came away with a 6-4 win.

Six runs proved to be the outcome on Sunday night as well, but it was the almost spotless pitching of Grant Watson, who combined with two relievers for a one-hit, 6-0 shutout of San Diego and its potent offense.

Cal State Fullerton (51-8, Big West Champions)

Projected Starters & Starting Rotation:
C — Chad Wallach
1B — Carlos Lopez
2B — Jake Jefferies
SS — Richy Pedroza
3B — Matt Chapman
LF — Anthony Hutting/Austin Diemer
CF — Michael Lorenzen
RF — Austin Kingsolver/Greg Velazquez
DH — J.D. Davis

SP — Thomas Eshelman
SP — Justin Garza
SP — Grahamm Wiest
CL — Michael Lorenzen

Road to Super Regionals: The Titans had the best regular season in the school’s storied Division I history producing a 48-8 mark and dominating the Big West by a six-game margin with a 23-4 conference record.

Fullerton earned the No. 5 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and hosted Arizona State, New Mexico and Columbia for the Fullerton (CA) Regional. The Titans put on a pitching clinic in the Regional. Grahamm Wiest defeated Columbia 4-1, pitching a complete game three-hitter on Friday night. They then took a 1-0 pitcher’s duel behind Justin Garza against Arizona State Saturday night. The Sun Devils batted their way back to the championship round, but Fullerton jumped on ASU early and rode Thomas Eshelman to a 6-1 win.

Position-By-Position Breakdown:

Catcher: Chad Wallach vs. Shane Zeile

It’s a little uncanny the familial similarities of these two backstops. Both catchers have Major League lineage. Chad Wallach’s father, Tim, slugged his way to 260 career home runs, five All-Star games and three Gold Gloves. Shane Zeile’s uncle, Todd, was a 15-year veteran, known most for his seven years with the St. Louis Cardinals. Both of the elders spent time roaming other parts of the field before settling in at the hot corner while Shane and Chad have taken to the tools of ignorance behind the plate.

For Fullerton, Big Red has been indispensable. Not only is he batting over .300 and providing gap-to-gap pop with 16 extra-base hits, he and the pitching staff have limited opposing team’s running games. Wallach has thrown out 41 percent of would-be base stealers. Zeile, on the other hand, has thrown out 27 percent and is batting .239.

Advantage: Cal State Fullerton

First Base: Carlos Lopez vs. Pat Gallagher

Junior Pat Gallagher was named the Los Angeles Regional Most Outstanding Player after collecting six hits and driving in four runs. Savage was effusive in praise of Gallagher after the culmination of the Regional for being a guy that has patiently waited for his opportunity behind Cody Regis and Trevor Brown. But even though Gallagher has put together a nice season, this one goes Fullerton’s way easily.

Carlos Lopez worked hard in the offseason slimming down and trimming away the baby fat. The results have followed. He is hitting .335 — second on the team to Michael Lorenzen by percentage points. He leads the team in stolen bases with 15, after having only 20 in his first three seasons combined.

Advantage: Cal State Fullerton

Second Base: Jake Jefferies vs. Cody Regis

Jake Jefferies is Cody Regis three years ago. As a freshman, Regis was a prime contributor on the 2010 squad (.312, 17 2B, 9 HR, 47 RBI), but faltered the last two seasons with the new bats. John Savage stuck with him through the struggles and Regis has rewarded him by putting some of the pieces back together.

Jefferies is the same type of freshman contributor Regis once was. Jefferies does a good job of making the most out of pitchers’ mistakes. And head coach Rick Vanderhook raves about his ability to hit in the clutch, calling him one of, if not the very best, freshman hitters in the last three innings of the game. He has a knack for coming up with the big hit when the Titans are in need, such as in Saturday’s epic 1-0 Regional win over Arizona State.

Neither are Gold Glove caliber defenders, but Orloff has a little more range than Regis, who moved over from second base with the emergence of Gallagher and due to a preseason injury to Kevin Williams.

Advantage: Cal State Fullerton

Shortstop: Richy Pedroza vs. Pat Valaika

Both Pat Valaika and Richy Pedroza are veteran leaders in the middle of the diamond for their squads. Both are tremendous defensively with Valaika shining routinely and being named the Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year and Pedroza being named the Big West Defensive Player of the Year. Pedroza is a great table-setter at the top of the Fullerton lineup. He sees a lot of pitches, spoils a number of good pitches and just grinds on pitchers in front of the tremendous collection of quality hitters in Lopez, Chapman, Lorenzen, Davis and Wallach.

Valaika is a different type of hitter for UCLA. He helps provide the pop in the middle of the order and is known for his ability to come up clutch. Valaika led the Bruins with five home runs and drove in 47 runs. I’ll take Valaika’s five errors over Pedroza’s 10.

Advantage: UCLA

Third Base: Matt Chapman vs. Kevin Kramer

From a pure hitting standpoint, sophomores Kevin Kramer and Matt Chapman may be each team’s best. Kramer swings from the left side and does a little bit of everything for UCLA from the two-hole in the lineup while Chapman has returned to the No. 3 spot in the order after struggling at the beginning of the year and being injured in the middle part of the season.

Chapman has been swinging a hot stick at the end of the season and could be a top prospect a year from now when he’s eligible for the MLB Draft. However, Kramer was the Bruins’ strongest hitter at the end of the regular season and he has been a consistent contributor for UCLA all season. He leads the team with a .285 average and is second with 40 RBI (Kramer and Valaika are only Bruins with 25+ RBI).

Advantage: UCLA

Left Field: Anthony Hutting/Austin Diemer vs. Brenton Allen

At the corner outfield positions, Cal State Fullerton deploys a straight-up platoon. Anthony Hutting and Austin Kingsolver will start on Friday and Saturday this weekend against the right-handed starters and Austin Diemer and Greg Velazquez will likely man the field if there is a game on Sunday. Usually, if players are in a platoon, it’s because neither player is producing enough to take over the spot, but with the Titans, it’s just because of how much talent the squad has.

Junior Brenton Allen has taken over the left field role after initially being in a platoon with talented Ty Moore, who struggled his freshman season. The left-handed hitting Allen has even proved to be a reliable bat against southpaws as he has routinely lined balls the other way in the second half of the season. But this one goes to Hutting/Diemer. Hutting provides some pop and Diemer is one of the only all-conference performers in the country that splits time in a platoon situation.

Advantage: Cal State Fullerton

Center Field: Michael Lorenzen vs. Brian Carroll

Michael Lorenzen became the first Big West player selected in the 2013 MLB Draft when the Cincinnati Reds took him in the Competitive Balance (Sandwich) Round A, No. 38 overall. Lorenzen is one of the top centerfielders in the country. He has great range defensively enabled by his plus speed and strong instincts as soon as the ball comes off the bat. And then there is his arm. Lorenzen likely has the best centerfield arm strength in the country, which he proves when he enters to game in the ninth inning as Fullerton’s closer and pops the mitt with 94-99 mph heat.

Brian Carroll is one of the more crucial players for UCLA. He can really set the tempo and tone at the top of the lineup if he is able to reach base and cause some havoc on the bases. He has great speed, though he’s not the best base stealer. When he gets on base, he is likely to run and that puts the entire opposing defense on edge. That often leads to more fastballs and better pitches to hit for Kramer, Filia and Valaika behind him. However, he sometimes struggles making contact.

Lorenzen once had major concerns about how much he would be able to hit at the next level, but he has had a strong season at the plate. He will occasionally yank some inside pitches foul and then pull off breaking balls, but when he’s on, he does a tremendous job of driving the ball the opposite way to right-centerfield. When he hits it that way, he can then show off his speed as he rounds second and heads for third.

Advantage: Cal State Fullerton

Right Field: Austin Kingsolver/Greg Velazquez vs. Eric Filia

There are not many No. 3 hitters batting .266 with 24 RBI, but Filia provides more than a batting average. He is a line drive hitter that has the capability of beating out a bunt or shooting one through the hole on a hit-and-run. He can do whatever is needed for the UCLA squad.

Fullerton’s right field platoon is weaker than its left field combo. The slender Kingsolver has speed, but not much else to go with it while Velazquez has some pop, but has yet to put it all together yet.

Advantage: UCLA

Designated Hitter: J.D. Davis vs. Kevin Williams

Kevin Williams was a better hitter than J.D. Davis last season, but he has struggled throughout the season since returning from an injury that caused him to miss the non-conference schedule. He has only hit .239 with five extra-base hits in 105 at bats. However, Williams did have the big blow in the UCLA’s 6-4 win over Cal Poly when he was credited with a three-run triple after the outfielder lost the ball in the lights.

Davis, on the other hand, has had a tremendous sophomore campaign. He has been a force in the middle of the lineup, batting .327 and driving in 49 runs on the year.

Advantage: Cal State Fullerton

Friday Starting Pitcher: Justin Garza vs. Adam Plutko

Adam Plutko is an experienced veteran, who set the UCLA postseason wins record last weekend, picking up his fifth victory to improve to 5-0 with an ERA under 1.00. Justin Garza has a ton of talent with an explosive fastball and a dirty changeup all bundled up in his small frame. He proved his mettle last weekend when he outdueled Arizona State’s Ryan Kellogg 1-0.

But Garza will be making his first true Friday night start thanks to the re-arrangement of the starting rotation last weekend when Rick Vanderhook elected to start No. 3 starter Grahamm Wiest in the opener against Columbia. Does the pressure finally get to him? Give me the veteran in this one even though I don’t think the frosh will be rattled.

Advantage: UCLA

Saturday Starting Pitcher: Thomas Eshelman vs. Nick Vander Tuig

Thomas “Mr. No Walk” Eshelman doesn’t quite have the same stuff as fellow freshman Garza, but when you spot every pitch up, it doesn’t matter. Eshelman has only issued two walks in 107 2/3 innings pitched! That’s ridiculous. Vander Tuig has a little bit better stuff than Plutko, sitting around 91-93. He also has plenty of big game experience, so expect him to be on his game.

The UCLA offensive approach relies on taking advantage of mistakes, whether they be made by the pitcher or the defense. They don’t have a very good average, but the Bruins typically make you pay for any free bases. Too bad Eshelman doesn’t allow free passes.

Advantage: Cal State Fullerton

Sunday Starting Pitcher: Grahamm Wiest vs. Grant Watson

There aren’t many sophomores that have the veteran experience that Grahamm Wiest and Grant Watson have. Watson was tremendous in the midweek and out of the pen for UCLA last season and took over the Sunday role this year. He broke out with a really strong start, going 5-0 with a 1.31 ERA in his first six starts. But the skids started around the time conference play started and it wasn’t until Regional play last weekend that he put together another seven inning start. He turned in a gem in the Regional clincher, combining with two relievers for a one-hitter.

Wiest has been consistent both seasons as Fullerton’s Sunday starter. He isn’t going to wow you with his stuff, but he puts together solid start after solid start, culminating in a three-hit complete game in last weekend’s Fullerton (CA) Regional against Columbia. Like the two freshmen, Wiest attacks hitters and doesn’t give up the free passes. Add in the run support he usually gets in Sunday games and he has a 9-3 record this year.

Advantage: Cal State Fullerton

Long Reliever: Koby Gauna vs. Cody Poteet

If either team has to go to the bullpen early or if a game goes into extra innings, both teams have a quality young arm that has been starting in the midweek all season. Cody Poteet has shown flashes of being really, really good, but he’s also been pulled very early in starts more than once. Poteet has also yet to make a postseason appearance. Fullerton sophomore Koby Gauna has been more consistent, finishing 4-1 with a 2.60 ERA in six starts.

Advantage: Cal State Fullerton

Power Reliever: J.D. Davis vs. James Kaprielian

Both the Titans and Bruins can bring young, hard-throwing righties in out of the bullpen. Both J.D. Davis and James Kaprielian have experience in high-pressure situations as each has closed games at points this season. Davis filled in at the backend whenever Lorenzen’s arm wasn’t 100 percent from his centerfield play and Kaprielian started the season as UCLA’s closer before he was sat down after having some arm issues.

Both have low-to-mid 90s fastballs with power breaking balls. Kaprielian’s hook may be just a little bit more nasty, but both are high-quality strikeout pitches.

Advantage: UCLA

Setup Man: Tyler Peitzmeier vs. Zack Weiss

UCLA’s bullpen is so good in part because the Bruins have different types of arms. Zack Weiss has been the Bruins’ primary setup man this season and he throws a different look at hitters relying heavily on a power 11-to-5 breaking ball to go with a low 90s fastball. Tyler Peitzmeier is a very consistent lefty and could play a huge role in this series with how many lefty bats UCLA has. The Nebraska native will try to help the Titans return to Omaha using a sidearm delivery that will top out just above 90 mph.

Advantage: UCLA

Closer: Michael Lorenzen vs. David Berg

There aren’t many closers that are in the same class as Lorenzen and Berg and I doubt there is another pair of closers facing off in a Super Regional of this caliber. And they are such different pitchers. Lorenzen can pump it up to the high 90s and then brings a power slider to finish off hitters.

As a sidewinder, Berg only tops out at 82-84 mph, but his ball moves all over the place. He can run his fastball in on the hands of right-handed hitters or change his grip and push the ball down against lefties. He also has a frisbee slider that no one seems to make good contact with. Berg uses the tremendous defensive left side of the infield to his advantage, getting hitters to pound the ball into the group routinely.

Advantage: UCLA