Surprise, surprise, Cal State Fullerton is picked to finish first in the Big West Conference. The Titans received six of the nine first place votes in the 2012 conferences coaches poll followed closely by UC Irvine.
Last season the Titans captured their 25th conference championship and ninth in the last 13 seasons. However, with the first place pick comes the daunting task of opening up the 2012 season on the road against the No. 1 Florida Gators. 2011 Big West Conference Freshman of the Year Michael Lorenzen, who hit for a team high .332 batting average, will lead Cal State Fullerton offensively. Pitching will be the biggest issue for this 2012 squad, after losing All Americans Nick Ramirez and Noe Ramirez in the off-season. Junior right-hander Dylan Floro will get the nod as the Friday night starter, who tied for the fourth most appearances in the Big West in 2011.
UC Irvine is coming off of a very successful season last year going 43-18, and were just one win away from advancing to the College World Series, falling just short after losing game three to Virginia 3-2. Leading the way in 2012 is shortstop D.J. Crumlich who hit for a .300 batting average and a team-leading 15 doubles. Junior Matt Whitehouse will be the main guy for the pitching staff, after going 4-0 and a 2.12 ERA. Crosby Slaught, who went 7-2 and a 3.93 ERA, will also contribute on the mound. Look for the Anteaters to make some noise in the Big West in 2012, and challenge Cal State Fullerton once again for the Big West title.
Long Beach State brings the most veteran team in the conference in 2012. The Dirtbags return 24 letter winners including seven position players and two starting pitchers from last year’s team, which finished fourth in the conference. They will be led offensively by All Big West Second Team selection shortstop Matt Duffy, designated hitter Ino Patron, and outfielder Brandon Metzger. Senior Shawn Stuart will lead the way for the 49ers pitching staff after going 4-4 with a 3.16 ERA in 13 starts in 2011.
Rounding out the list of potential challengers are the Cal Poly Mustangs who finished third in the Big West Conference in 2011. The Mustangs broke seven NCAA Division I pitching records last season in categories such as, lowest ERA (3.60), lowest opponents batting average (.254), fewest walks allowed (152), most strikeouts per nine innings (8.09) and fewest hits (443), runs (220) and earned runs allowed (184). Of that starting pitching rotation only Joey Wagman returns for 2012, after going 4-3 last season with a 3.62 ERA in seven starts. Offensively, the Mustangs return second baseman Denver Chavez, outfielder Mitch Haniger, third baseman Evan Busby from the starting lineup.
UC Riverside came in at the fifth spot in the coaches poll, followed by UC Santa Barbara in sixth, Pacific, UC Davis, with Cal State Northridge rounding out the bottom half of the conference for the 2012 season.