(Part 8 of a College World Series preview series)
Cal State Fullerton didn't necessarily take the easy route, but the bottom line is the Titans are making their 18th trip to the College World Series. CSF (39-22) is paired against No. 1 seed Oregon State in Game 1 on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Coach Rick Vanderhook's Titans went 3-0 in the Stanford Regional at the expense of Brigham Young (13-2) and Stanford (4-1, 4-2).
After dropping the Super Regional opener to Big West Conference rival Long Beach State 3-0, the Titans stormed back to take Games 2 and 3 12-0 and 2-1. CSF had dropped six of its previous seven meetings against the Dirtbags. By winning the final two games, the Titans became the only team in the CWS field to win a Super Regional on the road.
For Fullerton, the next step is ending a seven-game losing streak in Omaha. Although the Titans have won national championships in each of the past four decades (1979, 1984, 1994, 2004), they have gone two and out in their previous three CWS appearances in 2007, '09 and '15.
Solidifying their status as one of the nation's most consistent programs, the Titans have added to a trio of impressive streaks:
— Fullerton's 26 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances rank second only to Florida State, which has reached the tournament for the 40th straight season.
— The Titans have now won 30 or more games in each of their 43 seasons since moving into Division I.
— CSF has had at least one player chosen in the Major League Draft for the past 43 years, including three earlier this week.
Fullerton is batting .270 as a team with 44 home runs.
Outside of junior center fielder and leadoff batter Scott Hurst, the lineup isn't overly-imposing. Fullerton is batting .270 as a team with 44 home runs and ranks last among CWS team with 5.48 runs per game.
Drafted Tuesday by the St. Louis Cardinals in the third round as the 94th overall pick, Hurst's 12 home runs double the output of his nearest teammate. Hurst and Louisville's Brendan McKay are the only Division I players to hit four homers in a game this season. For the season, Hurst leads the team in virtually every other offensive category as well, including batting (.332), on base percentage (.424), slugging (.585), hits (80), total bases (141), extra base hits (32), triples (5) and runs (54), while ranking second in doubles (15).
Fullerton's first three batters — Hurst, freshman second baseman Sahid Valenzuela and junior first baseman Dillon Persinger — all collected first-team All-Big West honors.
Valenzuela (.324, 1 HR, 24 RBI) is the Big West Field Freshman of the Year.
Persinger has a .296 batting average with a .417 on base percentage, three home runs, 30 RBI and 18 stolen bases.
Completing the batting lineup are senior shortstop Timmy Richards (.301-4-26), sophomore designated hitter Hank LoForte (.253-0-19), junior third baseman Taylor Bryant (.266-3-35), senior right fielder Hunter Cullen (.271-6-30), junior catcher Chris Hudgins (.242-5-31) and junior left fielder Chris Prescott (.230-0-7).
CSF's pitching staff has compiled a 3.57 team ERA, while allowing only one run over the past 25 innings.
Junior right-hander Connor Seabold (11-5, 3.01) is a workhorse at the top of the rotation. In 122.2 innings of work, he has fanned 120 while walking only 22. Seabold was the 83th overall pick of the MLB Draft on Tuesday by the Philadelphia Phillies.
Junior left-hander John Gavin (8-2, 2.67) has logged 101 innings.
Since returning from an elbow injury on May 21, sophomore right-hander Colton Eastman (2-0, 1.09, 1 save) has been masterful. In eight appearances, he has allowed 14 hits over 33 innings, while striking out 37 and handing out 12 walks. Eastman has notched both of the his wins in tournament play, including Sunday's decisive Game 3 vs. Long Beach State.
Senior right-hander Brett Conine (0-1, 1.49) has converted all 15 save opportunities while striking out 40 and walking six in a span of 42.1 innings.
Sophomore right-handers Blake Workman (6-2, 2.70) and Gavin Velasquez (4-3, 4.50) also play key roles out of the bullpen.