NCAA Baseball Tournament 2013 super regional preview: Fullerton

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE

Can UCLA crack Cal State Fullerton's dynamic freshman pitching duo? We break down the Cali clash and figure out who has the edge.

The Titans and Bruins both cruised through their regionals, and now match up in a West Coast showdown with the College World Series on the line. With great pitching a key feature for both teams, expect a lot of defense this weekend in Fullerton.

(5) Cal State Fullerton (51-8) vs. (1) UCLA (42-17)

All times Eastern
Friday: 7 p.m. (ESPN2)
Saturday: 10 p.m. (ESPN2)
Sunday (if necessary): 10 p.m. (ESPN2)

Background

A college baseball powerhouse, Cal State Fullerton is plenty familiar with the postseason. This is their 11th trip to the super regionals, and a win this weekend would send them to their 17th Omaha berth. They've racked up four national championships in their history, the most recent coming in 2004 when Kurt Suzuki helped the Titans defeat Texas in the finals.

UCLA hosted a super last season, moving past TCU to earn their fourth College World Series trip. They opened with a 9-1 victory over tournament sweetheart Stony Brook, but dropped consecutive games against Florida State and eventual national champion Arizona.

Path to the supers

Both schools made short work of the regionals, going undefeated to round things up in three games. UCLA worked through all three of its regional partners, taking down San Diego State, Cal Poly and San Diego in order.

After pulling away from Columbia on Day 1, Cal State Fullerton had to sweat their way through a tense 1-0 victory over Arizona State last Saturday. Shortstop Richy Pedroza finally put the Titans on the board with an RBI in the bottom of the seventh, and that was all the support starter Justin Garza needed for the win. The rematch against Arizona State the following day was a bit less stressful, as the Titans eased to a 6-1 final.

Hitting

Juniors Carlos Lopez and Michael Lorenzen are the Titans' primary bats, holding identical .335 averages. Lopez is only 1-for-9 so far in the tourney, but Lorenzen has been solid, bringing in three big runs on Sunday to help clinch the regional. Cal State Fullerton finished the first round hitting in the bottom third of tournament teams, meaning they'll need to pick it up if they want to advance.

UCLA has some hitting issues of its own; in fact, they ranked last in the Pac-12 in team batting average. They looked solid last weekend, though, scoring just under six runs per game in their three contests. It won't be as easy in Fullerton, where they'll have to face a dominant Titan pitching rotation.

Pitching

Cal State Fullerton will run out two elite freshman pitchers on Friday and Saturday in Thomas Eshelman and Garza, who are a combined 24-2 this season. Speaking of the number two, that's how many walks Eshelman has all season. That's right: he's given free passes only twice in just over 107 innings, and flaunts an absurd 39:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He fanned seven over eight one-run innings in the second game against Arizona, and no, he didn't walk anyone.

Pitching is also UCLA's strength, as they supplemented their conference-worst batting average with a second-place ERA. The pitching hasn't been spectacular so far in the tournament, though Grant Watson surrendered just one hit in seven innings as part of a shutdown of San Diego on Sunday.

Prediction

Both staffs are primed for a defensive showdown, but the duo of Eshelman and Garza is the more reliable bet. They dominate in back-to-back starts, and the Titans find themselves in Omaha looking for a fifth championship.

Cal State Fullerton in two games.

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