Scheduling difficult games is just part of the ethos of Cal State Fullerton baseball. In fact, we wrote something to that effect as part of last year’s countdown to opening day.
And, like clockwork, as their 2018 schedule was released, it was clear that they had done so again for the upcoming season.
They get things going with a road series against Stanford, a team ranked ninth in the College Baseball Central preseason top 25. With a presumed rotation of Tristan Beck, Kris Bubic, and Erik Miller, in some order, the Cardinal are going to being able to pitch with the best teams in the country. Fullerton, led by Colton Eastman in the rotation and Brett Conine in the bullpen, will do the same. And each side comes with their own set of offensive question marks. Strap in for a hard-fought, low-scoring series on The Farm.
The very next weekend, the Titans will welcome Houston to Goodwin Field for a three-game set, a series that we discussed earlier in the countdown when we talked about Houston’s similarly stacked non-conference schedule. The Cougars will be armed, no pun intended, with an ace of their own in Trey Cumbie, and an offense led by veterans like Joe Davis, Connor Hollis, Grayson Padgett, Jared Triolo, and Lael Lockhart. Last season, in Houston, these two teams split a pair of games, with the third being cancelled, and this series promises to be just as tightly-contested.
After a home midweek game against UCLA, Fullerton will head south to take on Tulane. The Green Wave coming on strong late in the season in 2017 suggests that they could be much-improved in year two under Travis Jewett, and even with a ton of new faces all over the field, they’re going to be plenty talented. Combine that with lengthy travel that will make early-afternoon start times feel like late-morning start times for a team from the west coast, and you have the recipe for a tough road series.
Those three series are mighty tough, but none of the three are actually the toughest. That honor goes to the team they play on the road the weekend after the Tulane series, Oregon State, the preseason number three team in our rankings. With a deep lineup that doesn’t provide a pitcher any breaks from one through nine, and a pitching staff led by the nearly unhittable Luke Heimlich and a tested veteran like Bryce Fehmel, it’s a huge ask for the Titans to go on the road and win this series.
They return home the weekend after the OSU series for the non-conference series that comes the closest to feeling like they’re getting a break. But given that the team they’ll welcome in is WAC favorite Grand Canyon, it doesn’t seem like all that much of a break after all. The Lopes will welcome back their entire weekend rotation from 2017 in Jake Repavich, Jake Wong, and Jack Schneider, along with five hitters who had 100 or more at-bats and hit better than .280. Fullerton will be favored here, but it’s not going to be a cakewalk.
The final non-conference series, coming after a home midweek game against West Coast Conference contender San Diego, is only technically a non-conference series, because it’s their annual out-of-conference three-game series with rival Long Beach State. These two actually went at it in three series last year, with their two series during the regular season, both of which were won by LBSU, and their super regional series in the postseason, which Fullerton won two games to one. These two teams know each other really well, like to play the same style of baseball, and are both going to be competitive at the top of the Big West again in 2018, which makes this series a lot of fun, no matter how many times they play.
The Titans are going to take some lumps. As good as they are, this non-conference schedule is simply too tough for them not to have a misstep or two. But it will prepare them for the gauntlet of the Big West and for the postseason, and with all the help they’ll get from an RPI and strength of schedule standpoint, it will certainly put them in good position to play from home come regionals in June.