The Fullerton Regional may be the most wide-open of all the regional fields, right up there with the nearby Lake Elsinore Regional.
The Cal State Fullerton Titans started off slow, getting out to a 2-5 start. But a 13-2 finish to the season vaulted the perennial power into a hosting position, but will do so without star Justin Garza, who just underwent Tommy John Surgery.
The Titans face arguably the best 4-seed in the tournament in the Pepperdine Waves on Friday. Fullerton did beat Pepperdine 3-0 back on March 3rd, but both of these teams are much different now than they were nearly three months ago.
The Waves got into the tournament thanks to winning the West Coast Conference Tournament, but did so getting through the favorite San Diego. Pepperdine does not hit, but offer potentially the best starting rotation in Fullerton, which could be enough to get them through not only Fullerton, but whoever else they could face down the line.
The other Friday night game features a couple of other programs with a lot of winning in their histories with Arizona State and Clemson.
ASU is not exactly a fan of playing in Fullerton Regionals. This is the sixth time the Sun Devils will have traveled to Fullerton in the postseason since 2001, and have only emerged victorious once (2005 Super Regional). This is the first year under new head coach Tracy Smith, who is looking to restore some of the mystique to a program that has five national championships, but none since 1981.
Arizona State has faltered coming down the stretch in the Pac-12, as their bullpen, which was a strength at the start of the season, has come apart. They also ran into their toughest opponents at the end, and could not come away with series wins against any of them.
3-seed Clemson has just been about a .500 team all year long, which makes their at-large bid a bit surprising, but here they are anyway. The Tigers went 32-27 and 16-13 in the ACC, with a sweep at Florida State in the final weekend of the regular season as their only notable series win.
This region is wide open, if only for the reason that it’s four mediocre teams playing each other. I think Fullerton’s history will get them through, but the loss of Garza is enormous for this team. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of these four schools get through and make it to the Super Regionals.
*Featured Photo (above) credit to USA TODAY Sports