Long Beach Regional Preview

Long Beach Regional Capsule
Blair Field, Long Beach, Calif.
No. 1 Long Beach State (37-19)
18th appearance, automatic, Big West Conference champion
No. 2 San Diego (41-15)
Fifth appearance, automatic, West Coast Conference regular-season and tournament champion
No. 3 California (33-19-2)
10th appearance, at-large, tied for fourth place in Pacific-10 Conference
No. 4 Fresno State (37-27)
30th appearance, automatic, Western Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament champion

Long Beach State
entered the season ranked 13th in the nation and as the favorite to win the Big West, and while their path was circuitous, the Dirtbags did earn the Big West title with a win against Cal State Fullerton on the final day of the season. LBSU started out strong with series wins against Rice, Wichita State, Southern California and UCLA in the first five weeks of the season, but the Dirtbags went 1-9 on a 10-game road trip in late March and early April, and they dropped early conference series against UC Irvine and UC Davis before rallying down the stretch. As a team that relies upon its pitching, defense and execution, the Beach is much better at spacious Blair Field (23-7) than on the road (14-12), so earning a home regional was critical. Big West tri-pitcher of the year (along with Fullerton’s Jeff Kaplan and UC Irvine’s Scott Gorgen) Andrew Liebel (8-3, 1.81) garners comparisons to Yankees righthander Ian Kennedy for his four-pitch mix and feel for pitching, and he anchors a deep, talented pitching staff. Junior righty Vance Worley (7-3, 4.41) and closer Bryan Shaw (2-1, 1.29 with eight saves) both have big-time arms and freshman righty Jake Thompson (2-5, 4.95) has held his own in the rotation after skipping his senior year of high school. Big West co-player of the year Shane Peterson (.399/.510/.601 with seven homers and 50 RBIs) and senior outfielder Jason Corder (.305 with 13 homers and 51 RBIs) provide the punch in an otherwise punchless lineup that struggled frequently this year, scoring just 5.9 runs per game (213th in the nation).

San Diego
opened the year at No. 11 in the rankings and stayed in the top 25 all year, climbing to No. 7 this week. The Toreros won the WCC’s regular-season and championship series for the second year in a row, but eight early games against Hawaii-Hilo and Harvard hurt their RPI, and they were given a No. 2 seed in the nation’s toughest regional at Long Beach. Blair Field suppresses offense, and so does USD’s phenomenal pitching staff, led by junior lefthander Brian Matusz (11-2, 1.88 with 131 strikeouts and 21 walks in 96 innings), one of the top candidates for national player of the year honors and the No. 1 overall pick. Center fielder/lefthander Josh Romanski (.316/.406/.481 with six homers; 9-0, 3.76) is the heart and soul of the Toreros and one of the nation’s best two-way players. Like Long Beach, the Toreros have a grinder mentality offensively, but they also have some punch in freshman third baseman Victor Sanchez (team-leading 12 homers), the centerpiece of the nation’s top recruiting class last year.
After being snubbed for regionals the last two years, California finally forced the selection committee to give them an at-large bid this year, but the Bears still got the short end of the stick by earning a No. 3 seed in the regional of death despite being ranked No. 20 in the nation. The Golden Bears swept a three-game series against top-seeded Long Beach State earlier this year and went 6-0 total against the three other teams in this regional. But Cal gets a lot of its offense from the long ball—particularly from junior first baseman David Cooper (.363 with 19 homers and 55 RBIs) and senior second baseman Josh Satin (.388 with 18 homers and 52 RBIs)—and that style of play is not a great fit for Blair Field. Of course the Golden Bears have some pretty good arms to throw out there, starting with junior righthander Tyson Ross (7-3, 4.40), who ran his fastball into the mid-90s and showed much more confidence in his changeup in the second half of the year. Closer Matt Gorgen (2-2, 3.20 with nine saves) anchors a strong bullpen, but the key will be how well Cal’s other inconsistent pitchers fare this weekend.

Fresno State
opened the year ranked No. 18 but stumbled to an 8-12 start before recovering to win the WAC’s regular season and conference tournament for the third straight year. Fresno’s chances took a major hit when ace righthander Tanner Scheppers (8-2, 2.93 with 109 strikeouts in 71 innings)—a potential top-10 overall pick in the draft—went down in mid-May with shoulder pain, ending his season. But the Bulldogs still have a nice collection of experienced, quality arms, led by lefthanders Justin Wilson (6-4, 4.29) and righty Clayton Allison (2-5, 4.17), plus a stalwart closer in Brandon Burke (4-5, 3.26 with 10 saves). The lineup has some power, led by senior outfielder Steve Susdorft (.347 with 10 homers and 75 RBIs), first baseman Alan Ahmady (.389 with 12 homers and 79 RBIs) and third baseman Tommy Mendonca (.273 with 14 homers). One major concern: Danny Muno (21 errors, .903 fielding percentage) is a defensive liability at shortstop, and this regional should place a premium on execution.