Sep 14, 2013; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Southern California Trojans mascot Tommy Trojan performs with the Spirit of Troy marching band; perhaps they'll be seen at USC baseball games this season. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

SoCal College Baseball: Lots of Strong Teams As The Season is Underway


Jun 25, 2013; Omaha, NE, USA; UCLA Bruins designated hitter Kevin Williams (left) is congratulated by center fielder Brian Carroll (24) for scoring during the fourth inning in game 2 of the College World Series finals against the Mississippi State Bulldogs at TD Ameritrade Park. Mandatory Credit: Dave Weaver-USA TODAY Sports

 

By the end of this month, college basketball’s Final Four will have been played and March Madness will be over.

Many fans will be watching spring football practice and waiting for that season, but they don’t necessarily have to satisfy themselves with attending the intersquad scrimmages that will take place on the gridiron over the next few weeks.

America’s traditional national pastime, baseball, has been growing on the collegiate level for quite some time as the College World Series in Omaha, NE have drawn huge crowds or the past several years.

Not to mention television broadcasting not only those games, but regionals and regular season contests as well; the popularity of college baseball is rivaling its basketball and football counterparts.

As far as the Los Angeles area is concerned, there are – as one would imagine given how the region has long been known as being strong in baseball – several strong baseball programs among the ten schools that play in Division 1.

Here is how a few of them are doing so far in this young season, starting with the defending national champions:

UCLA BRUINS

Coach:  John Savage

Current Record:  7-5

Rankings:  #9 by NCBWA, #11 by USA Today, #15 by Baseball America, and #16 by Collegiate Baseball

Hitting Leaders: Shane Zeile (C), .359 average, 7 RBIs / Brian Carroll (CF), .300 average / Trent Chatterton (SS), 8 RBIs

Pitching Leaders:  James Kaprelian, 2-1, 0.90 ERA, 27 stikeouts / David Berg (closer), 2.08 ERA, 3 saves

At first glance, 7-5 doesn’t look so bad.

But in this case it reflects the issue that these Bruins have had for a while, which they were able to overcome last year in their title run but which is worse so far this season…

The fact that they can’t hit, as their team batting average is a pathetic .238.

This is shades of the dead ball era teams of 100 years ago or the Los Angeles Dodgers of the 1960s, whose pitching staff had two of the greatest hurlers of all time in Sandy Koufax and
Don Drysdale.

A big reason why those two Hall of Famers put up such legendary numbers was because with the lack of hitting those Dodgers had, they had to as the majority of their games featured scores of 1-0 or 2-1; if Koufax, Drysdale, or any of their fellow pitchers had bad days on the mound, the game was pretty much a lost cause.

The same holds true in Westwood as UCLA has lost three straight at one point during this campaign. The pressure is on for their talented hurlers to produce, or else it’s an “L” in the win-loss column.

Can these Bruins manage to overcome their weaknesses at the plate – they have yet to hit a home run – and get into position to return to Omaha?

The good news is that the season is still relatively early and there’s plenty of time for the hitters to perform.

USC TROJANS

Coach:  Dan Hubbs

Current Record:  8-3                                                                                                    

Rankings: None                        

Hitting Leaders:  Jake Hernandez (C), .486 average / Kevin Swick (3B), .396 average, 8 RBIs / Vahn Bozolan (OF), 2 home runs

Pitching Leaders:  Bob Wheatley, 2-0, 0.47 ERA, 17 strikeouts / James Guillen, 2-0, 2.35 ERA

After eight consecutive years without a postseason appearance – including a few last place finishes in the Pac-12 – judging by how things are going so far it looks like people may need to start worrying about these Trojans again.

Not only did they win their first seven games and are 8-1 at home in Dedeaux Field, unlike their crosstown rival Bruins these Trojans can hit as six of their players are batting .323 or better.

One main factor in this program’s recent futility was that they would recruit a top-notch class, then see many of them get drafted and signed by major league clubs; those blue-chippers would end up in a minor league uniform instead of a USC uniform.

With an NCAA-leading 12 championships, despite all the troubles – they are on their fourth coach in eight years – ‘SC has always been a sleeping giant.

Even though it’s early, from the looks of things the Trojans may just be waking up.

They will get a chance to see if that’s so at the 5th annual Dodgertown Classic this Sunday, March 6, when UCLA comes to Dedeaux Field (Dodger Stadium is unavailable due to renovating); a win by USC would do much for the program and will possibly set things up for a strong remainder of the season.

CAL STATE FULLERTON TITANS

Coach: Rick Vanderhook

Current Record: 7-3                                                                                                 

Jun 8, 2013; Fullerton, CA, USA; Cal State Fullerton Titans players react after a 3-0 loss against the UCLA Bruins during the Fullerton super regional of the 2013 NCAA baseball tournament at Goodwin Field. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Rankings:  #4 by NCBWA, #5 by USA Today, #4 by Baseball America, and #3 by Collegiate Baseball

Hitting Leaders:  Matt Chapman (3B), .341 average, 2 home runs, 9 RBIs / J.D. Davis (1B), .325, 3 HRs, 9 RBIs / Greg Velasquez (LF), 2 HRs, 9 RBIs / Tanner Pinkston (1B,DH), .368 / Clay Williamson (RF) .367

Pitching Leaders:  Thomas Eshelman, 2-0, 2.05 ERA, 20 strikeouts / Graham Wiest, 1.27 ERA, 20 Ks / Justin Garza, 2-0, 2.61 ERA, 21 Ks / Koby Gauna (closer), 1.72 ERA, 2 saves

Despite UCLA beating them in an epic Super Regional at their place at Goodwin Field last year, the fact remains:

This is the best program in Southern California and one of the best in the nation.

Along with their top-five rankings in all the polls, the fact that they’ve never had a losing season in 35 years as a Division I program is enough evidence of their prowess.

Not only does the Titans’ pitching match the Bruins – and everyone else’s for that matter – Cal State Fullerton’s hitting has some pop as they are doing very well as a team in both average and power.

Not bad for a program that, with CSUF being a commuter school that doesn’t have the funds to really commit to athletics, has lost coaches to places than can pay better salaries.

As is usually the case, the Titans’ conference, the Big West, is theirs for the taking, as well as a berth in the College World Series, which they will be especially motivated to achieve after the Bruins denied them that honor in 2013.

The question for this team is, can they redeem themselves and get to Omaha?

OTHER SOCAL TEAMS THAT HAVE STARTED THE 2014 SEASON WELL:

PEPPERDINE WAVES

Coach: Steve Rodriguez

Conference: West Coast

Current Record: 9-3

UC IRVINE ANTEATERS

Coach: Mike Gillespie

Conference: Big West

Current Record: 9-3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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