COL­LEGE WORLD SE­RIES

The Ti­tans will be un­der­dogs when they take on Van­der­bilt at Col­lege World Se­ries.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Shot­gun Spratling sports@la­times.com

FULLER­TON VS. VAN­DER­BILT | TO­DAY: GAME1 IN OMAHA, TV: ESPN2, 5 P.M. PDT

The Ti­tans will be un­der­dogs against the de­fend­ing cham­pion Com­modores and could gar­ner sup­port from the home­town fans.

The peo­ple of Omaha like their steaks big and their col­lege base­ball pro­grams small.

That’s why Cal State Fuller­ton prob­a­bly will have strong sup­port at the Col­lege World Se­ries be­gin­ning Sun­day when the Ti­tans open against de­fend­ing na­tional cham­pion Van­der­bilt at 5 p.m. PDT.

Each June, the home­town fans pack TD Amer­i­trade Park — and, be­fore the new ball­park, Rosen­blatt Sta­dium — re­gard­less of whether lo­cal fa­vorites Ne­braska or Creighton are part of the field. The Corn­huskers and Blue­jays have com­bined for four ap­pear­ances in the tour­na­ment’s 65-year his­tory, so the lo­cals of­ten are look­ing for a teamto adopt.

Typ­i­cally, they choose an un­der­dog, whether that is a re­gional No. 4 seed such as Fresno State, which won the na­tional cham­pi­onship in 2008; an up­start mak­ing its first ap­pear­ance, such as Stony Brook or Kent State in 2012; or a tra­di­tional base­ball power froma school with­out a foot­ball pro­gram such as Fuller­ton.

“The peo­ple of the city of Omaha are kind of the bluecol­lar peo­ple. They’re the hard­work­ing peo­ple,” said Fuller­ton as­sis­tant Chad Baum, who is mak­ing his fifth Col­lege World Se­ries ap­pear­ance as a player and coach with the Ti­tans. “They kind of re­late and know we’re that lit­tle com­muter school, that lit­tle blip, and they kind of grav­i­tate to­ward us.”

The Ti­tans got here by pro­duc­ing runs with walks, hit bat­ters and sac­ri­fices. They win with pitch­ing and de­fense rather than a slew of highly drafted slug­gers.

Van­der­bilt and Louisiana State have the top two draft picks in the re­cent Ma­jor League Base­ball draft play­ing short­stop, Dansby Swan­son and Alex Breg­man. Arkansas’ An­drew Ben­in­tendi and Miami’s David Thomp­son led the na­tion in home runs.

Fuller­ton coun­ters with the stingi­est pitcher in col­lege base­ball, Thomas Eshel­man, who has an 18.71 strike­out-to-walk ra­tio, and a lineup that has hit a pedes­trian .265.

The Ti­tans also play to the crowd. The coach­ing staff in­structs the play­ers to throw beach balls back into the stands rather than out of play, part of an ef­fort to be the most fan-friendly con­tin­gent in the eight-team field.

“We’ve been lucky enough to have dudes that win the crowd when we’ve played here,” Baum said, cit­ing for­mer Ti­tans Mark Kot­say, Kurt Suzuki and Ja­son Wind­sor.

This year, Fuller­ton has an­other po­ten­tial crowd win­ner in closer Tyler Peitzmeier. The se­nior left­hander, who pitched eight innings in re­lief in last week­end’s su­per re­gional se­ries win over Louisville, is the only Ti­tan from out­side of Cal­i­for­nia. He is from Yu­tan, Neb. — 25 miles west of Omaha.

“I ac­tu­ally grew up in Omaha,” Peitzmeier said. “My par­ents would buy me a 10-pack of gen­eral ad­mis­sion tick­ets ev­ery year when it was back at Rosen­blatt.”

Peitzmeier be­came a Fuller­ton fan af­ter see­ing the Ti­tans play Ne­braska here in 2001. He is look­ing for­ward to play­ing in front of his fam­ily and friends, and said his par­ents might be even more ex­cited than he is.

“It means a lot to them be­cause they grew up in Omaha here too,” Peitzmeier said. “They’ve grown up around the Col­lege World Se­ries and I think it’s been a dream for them formeto come­back.”

Re­united

For the sec­ond week in a row, Eshel­man will op­pose a fel­low USA Base­ball Col­le­giate Na­tional Team mem­ber. Last­week, Eshel­man and the Ti­tans bested Louisville’s Kyle Funkhouser, who was the 35th pick over­all, by the Dodgers, in the MLB draft. Sun­day, it will be Van­der­bilt right-han­der Car­son Ful­mer, the No. 8 over­all pick.

“You al­ways want to play the best, and with him in the op­po­site dugout it’s go­ing to be a hard game,” said Eshel­man, who was the 46th pick of the draft, by the Hous­ton Astros. “We’re go­ing to­have a dif­fi­cult time putting up runs against him, but we’re just go­ing to try to grind like we al­ways do.”

The Ti­tans have a strong track record against Team USA mem­bers. Eshel­man pre­vi­ously de­feated UC Santa Bar­bara right-han­der Dil­lon Tate— the No. 4 over­all pick in the draft, by Texas — and the Ti­tans won a three-game se­ries against in­fielder Mark Mathias’ Cal Poly team and the Fuller­ton Re­gional, which in­cluded Ari­zona State closer Ryan Burr and Clem­son catcher Chris Okey.

Along with Eshel­man and in­jured Fuller­ton starter Justin Garza, there are six mem­bers of last sum­mer’s Team USA squad par­tic­i­pat­ing in the Col­lege World Se­ries. Three are from Van­der­bilt: Ful­mer, out­fielder Bryan Reynolds and short­stop Swan­son.

“I’m re­ally look­ing for­ward to fac­ing Dansby,” Eshel­man said. “I think he’s ob­vi­ously the best player in the draft and all of Di­vi­sion I.”

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