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:
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.
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.
Coach: Dan Hubbs
Current Record: 8-3
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
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:
Coach: Steve Rodriguez
Conference: West Coast
Current Record: 9-3
UC IRVINE ANTEATERS
Coach: Mike Gillespie
Conference: Big West
Current Record: 9-3