No. 1 Cal State Fullerton (43-13)
28th appearance, automatic, won Big West regular season, No. 5 national seed
No. 2 Fresno State (43-16)
28th appearance, automatic, won Western Athletic regular season and tournament
No. 3 San Diego (32-23)
Third appearance, at-large, West Coast
No. 4 Saint Louis (32-27)
Fifth appearance, automatic, won Atlantic 10 tournament
Cal State Fullerton is the only team in the nation to boast a rotation in which all three starters have won 11 or more games and own ERAs less than 3.00. Righthanders Wes Roemer, Lauren Gagnier and Dustin Miller combined on a 34-6, 2.45 record with a 239-45 strikeout-walk ratio in 319 innings. That’s very good, and helps a team lead the nation with a 2.66 ERA. Closer Vinnie Pestano recorded 13 saves and allowed four earned runs in closing out many of those victories, but an elbow ligament strain puts him on the sidelines for the rest of the season. Setup man Ryan Paul takes over Pestano’s role, but that thins a pitching staff that never found a regular fourth starter. Fulleton is nearly as good defensively, ranking fifth with a .977 fielding percentage and boasting perhaps the nation’s top double-play combination in veterans Justin “Red” Turner and Blake Davis. The offense is experienced with table setters Turner and Davis at the top, but needs more pop out of Danny Dorn, Brett Pill and Brandon Tripp, who has plenty of power (team-best eight home runs), speed (8-of-9 SB) and strikeouts (52). Fullerton hit 35 homers on the year.
Fresno State gets back into the tournament for the first time since 2001 by winning its first outright WAC title since 1991. The Bulldogs are well-armed for an upset run with a 3.71 ERA behind veteran starters Doug Fister, Andy Underwood and Eddie Romero, but academic issues ended the season of sophomore third baseman Beau Mills, who led the team in the triple-crown categories (.355-14-58), before the conference tournament. Mills, Steve Susdorf and Christian Vitters combined for 39 homers, more than any other team in this regional, but Fresno will miss Mills’ pop. Junior center fielder Nick Moresi could help offset that. He’s finally getting over a nagging wrist injury and playing more like he did as a sophomore, when he hit .352-11-54 with 13 steals.
Perhaps no bubble team felt more relieved to make the tournament than San Diego. The Toreros swept Texas, won a series at Houston and scored wins against Vanderbilt and Kansas before slipping to third in the WCC. The arms of freshman lefty Brian Matusz (4-3, 3.63, 88 strikeouts) and junior righty Josh Butler (8-5, 2.89, 91 strikeouts) stack up against any team’s top two, though both seemed to tire down the stretch in a season in which San Diego began play in January. San Diego led the conference with a .306 team average thanks to a veteran lineup, but it totaled just 25 homers and no player hit more than five. USD ranked eighth nationally in fielding (.976).
After years of bringing up the bottom of the Conference USA, Saint Louis found the Atlantic-10 more to its liking. It makes its first NCAA appearance since 1966 after setting a school record with 32 wins. The good news ends there. In a regional bereft of power, Saint Louis’ 22 homers rank last. And they scored seven runs total in six games against 2006 NCAA teams Evansville, Mississippi and Missouri. Junior righthander Ryan Bird (8-5, 2.59, 95 strikeouts) needs to pitch the game of his life to give the Billikens any hope.