San Diego Regional Capsule

San Diego Regional Capsule
Tony Gwynn Stadium, San Diego

No. 1 San Diego (43-16)
Fourth appearance, automatic, won West Coast regular season and tournament, No. 8 national seed

No. 2 Cal State Fullerton (33-23)
29th appearance, at-large, Big West

No. 3 Minnesota (40-16)
28th appearance, at-large, Big Ten

No. 4 Fresno State (36-27)
29th appearance, automatic, won Western Athletic regular season and tournament

San Diego caught everyone’s attention in early February when it won a series at Texas, but that was just the tip of the iceberg for a Toreros team that has climbed to a program-best No. 4 in the top 25 rankings entering the NCAA tournament. USD won its third West Coast Conference title last weekend even after ace lefty Brian Matusz lost the opener against Gonzaga. Matusz (10-3, 2.73) ranks second in the nation with 156 strikeouts, and fellow sophomore lefty Josh Romanski (9-1, 3.16) teams with him to form a menacing duo. It’s easy to forget righthander Matt Couch (9-2, 3.60), who won the WCC clincher, and freshman closer A.J. Griffin (6-1, 2.63, 11 saves), who can pitch extended stretches when needed. Griffin bailed the Toreros out of plenty of tight spots early in the year before the rotation got settled. But it’s not all about the arms–USD plays terrific defense (.974 fielding percentage, ninth in the nation) and gets leadership and offense from seniors Shane Buschini (team-leading .356 average and 13 homers) and Jordan Abruzzo (.333, eight home runs) and junior second baseman Justin Snyder (.354).

Cal State Fullerton won a regional last year that also contained San Diego and Fresno State, but that regional was in Fullerton, and that Titans team had a lot more experience and firepower. This CSF edition has had to break in new starters in the rotation behind stalwart Wes Roemer (9-6, 3.51) and new faces all over the diamond. Righthander Jeff Kaplan (10-3, 3.36) emerged as a reliable No. 2 starter, but freshman Sean Urena (3-3, 4.50) tailed off in the second half and the Titans have essentially been auditioning other candidates every Sunday since. Junior center fielder Clark Hardman (.378/.421/.508) has had a fine season, but just one other Titan regular is hitting over .300 (Josh Fellhauer at .310). Fullerton faltered down the stretch, losing its final four conference series sandwiched around a road series win at Wichita State. George Horton’s teams are always fundamentally sound and tough outs in the postseason, but he’ll need to find some magic to overcome a San Diego team with considerably more talent.

Minnesota has now been sent to California for each of its last three regional appearances, most recently in 2004 when Fullerton’s Jason Windsor beat Minnesota’s Glen Perkins. The Gophers earned an at-large bid this year out of the Big Ten on the strength of a challenging non-conference schedule. They didn’t just play tough warm-weather teams, they also held their own, going a combined 3-4 against Mississippi, Arkansas and Pepperdine. The Golden Gophers could have an advantage in close, late-game situations thanks to their stellar bullpen, which includes Josh Oslin (11 saves, 2.75 ERA), Bill Johnson (two saves, 2.13) and Kyle Carr (eight saves, 3.56). Ace Gary Perinar has good stuff, as evidenced by his 70 strikeouts in 67 innings, but he’s been inconsistent (4-5, 5.10) in his first season as a starter.

Fresno State won the WAC for the second straight year, but after earning a No. 2 seed in the Fullerton regional a year ago the Bulldogs were stuck with a No. 4 seed and a tournament-opening date with San Diego this year. Not that the Bulldogs will be intimidated–they took two of three from the Toreros back in March, putting up six runs on Matusz in the opener and getting a strong start from junior righthander Clayton Allison in the finale. Allison, a junior college transfer before the year, led Fresno with 10 wins despite striking out just 63 in 102 innings. Sophomore lefty Justin Wilson (8-5, 3.19) misses more bats, racking up 101 Ks in 96 innings. The balanced Bulldogs don’™t dazzle in any area, but the lineup has some pop and some speed in Steve Susdorf (.342, 12 homers, 11 stolen bases), Loren Storey (.338, seven homers, 21 steals) and Tommy Mendonca (nine homers).