Stillwater News Press

College Sports

May 29, 2014

NCAA Division I Baseball Stillwater Regional: Huskers hope to neutralize Fullerton’s pitching staff

STILLWATER, Okla. — While Nebraska is making its first appearance in the NCAA Division I baseball tournament since 2008 as one of two teams from the Big Ten Conference, the Cornhuskers’ first opponent has been a mainstay — but just barely this year.

Cal State Fullerton (23-22), in a way, backed into its 36th postseason appearance and its 23 consecutive trip to the postseason — which is third longest in the country behind Miami (42) and Florida State (37).

“We’re happy to be here. A few weeks ago, we were two feet in the grave, and we kind of found out a way to get out of it,” Cal State Fullerton coach Rick Vanderhook said. “We’re just happy to have another opportunity to play. ... Winning seven games in a row (got us into the tournament). Pretty simple.”

It’s not just a seven-game winning streak — which included a sweep of fellow NCAA participant UC-Irvine — that Fullerton rides into the NCAA tournament. The Titans are mostly riding their pitching staff.

The Cal State Fullerton pitching staff boasts the country’s best ERA at 2.03 — better than the national top seed Oregon State, which is second with a 2.13 team ERA.

“They’re leading the nation in ERA for a reason. I think from a pitchability standpoint, this is as good as it gets, their ability to mix pitches and their location,” Nebraska coach Darin Erstad said. “In all the games that we’ve watched, their ability to execute pitches, set hitters up and be able to work the ball from both sides of the plate with multiple pitches, you don’t see that very often from a whole staff.

“They have three guys that are like that. It’s probably the best overall staff that we’ll see, so yeah, it’s a good challenge.”

A large reason for the success from the pitching staff is the lack of free bases. Fullerton pitchers give up an average of 1.46 walks per nine innings. CSF’s ace Thomas Eshelman is big reason for that number — he has issued just seven walks in 117 1/3 innings pitched — along with teammate Grahamm Wiest, who has 12 bases on balls given up over 104 2/3 innings.

“In college baseball, walks are a part of the game,” said Vanderhook, whose team swept four games against Nebraska a year ago. “With Oklahoma State, walks are a big part of their offense so if you don’t walk them, they have to hit. They can hit .260 or .270, but you minimize the runs that get scored against you.

“We pride ourselves on throwing strikes, winning the 2-2 counts and getting outs as fast as we can get them. We don’t pitch to strike guys out. We pitch to contact.”

Nebraska (40-19) hopes to play to that contact. The Cornhuskers have six starters batting over .300 and are averaging 5.9 runs per game, which trails only Oklahoma State for best among the Stillwater Regional teams.

“We have to make sure we get guys on base, we can’t get into a habit of one guy popping up, then the next guy popping up and then the next guy popping up and going one-two-three,” Nebraska’s Michael Pritchard said. “So, I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge for us and continually putting together good at-bats, extending innings and getting as many runs in as we can.”

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