College baseball regionals set to begin; a primer

College baseball regional primer

Cal State Fullerton needed every victory in its end-of-the-regular-season seven-game winning streak to advance to an NCAA Division I baseball regional for the 23rd consecutive season.

The Titans (32-22) got Coach Rick Vanderhook back from a 16-game suspension and immediately went on a tear. Vanderhook was on administrative leave while school officials investigated his conduct around the team.

Now Fullerton is faced with what might be the nation's toughest regional as opening-round action begins Friday.

The Titans play Nebraska (40-19) at the Stillwater (Okla.) Regional. Top-seeded Oklahoma State (45-16) plays Binghamton in the other Friday game at that regional. Fullerton is seeded third.

Long Beach State (32-24) is another Big West Conference team that finished the regular season on the roll. The Dirtbags have won 14 of 17 and steadily climbed the RPI ladder in the past month, finishing at No. 29.

Long Beach draws a tournament (pale) blue blood, opening against North Carolina (34-25) at the Gainesville (Fla.) Regional. Top-seeded Florida (40-21) plays College of Charleston (41-17) in the other opener at that regional.

UC Irvine and Cal Poly are the other Big West teams that made the tournament.

Irvine backed into the playoffs, losing eight of its last nine conference games after a blistering 14-1 start. The Anteaters (35-22) open against Nevada Las Vegas (35-23) at the Corvallis Regional. Oregon State (42-12), the top-seeded team in the tournament, meets North Dakota State (25-24) in the regional's other opener.

Conference champion Cal Poly (45-10) is one of only three teams -- Bryant and Mississippi are the others -- in the 64-team field that has a team batting average of .300 or better and a team earned-run average of less than 3.00.

The Mustangs, who hit .300 and had a 2.96 ERA, open against Sacramento State (39-22). In the regional's other game, West Coast Conference champion Pepperdine (39-16) meets Arizona State (33-22).

Pepperdine is led by two-way threat Aaron Brown, a junior left-hander who had an 11-1 record and 2.24 ERA and hit .320 with 12 home runs and 45 runs batted in.

Here are a few other around-the-horn tidbits about this year's tournament field:

* Fullerton's 23-year streak of consecutive regional berths is the third-longest in the nation. Miami will be making its 42nd straight appearance; Florida State has made the field the last 37 years.

* Hosting a regional is a very good thing. Last year, 14 of the 16 hosts advanced to the next step of the playoffs, a best-two-of-three-games super regional.

* Being the top-seeded team overall is not a very good thing. Oregon State will be fighting a history that has seen only one top-seeded team win the national title since 1999.

* Where's last year's national champion? Home. UCLA finished with a record of 25-30-1.

* The Southeastern Conference has 10 teams in the playoffs.

* Louisiana Lafayette enters regional action with 53 wins -- eight more than any other team.

* The tournament's most famous player: Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, Florida State's closer. Armed with a mid-90's fastball, Winston has given up just four earned runs in 30 2/3 innings, with 29 strikeouts.

* The tournament's best player? Tough to say. Pepperdine's Brown isn't the only double-barrel weapon. A.J. Reed of Kentucky, the SEC's player of the year, has 11 wins as a pitcher along with 23 home runs and 70 RBIs.

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