Did Vanderbilt draw the toughest possible game one matchup in Omaha? Though Cal State Fullerton has the worst odds to win the NCAA Championship at 14/1, they boast one of the biggest trump cards in the country - starting pitcher Thomas Eshelman.
Eshelman, the 46th pick of the 2015 MLB Draft, has been a lights-out hurler throughout his NCAA career. He's a two-time All-American (and headed for a third), the 2013 National Freshman of the Year, and a member of the USA Collegiate National Team. He allowed only eight walks this season while posting a 1.89 ERA. He gives Fullerton a dangerous presence for any single-game matchup.
He'll have to be on the top of his game to extend his team's unlikely run in the NCAA Tournament.
The Titans snuck into the College World Series thanks to a wild finish to the Louisville Super Regional. While their talent carried them to a game three, luck pushed them across the finish line to eliminate the Cardinals on their own home field. It started in the 10th inning when Louisville put runners on the corners with two outs. Tyler Peitzmeier fired a wild pitch through his catcher's legs and toward the backstop, but the ball caromed off the umpire's leg. That kept the ball close enough to home plate to prevent the game-winning run from coming home, and Brendan McKay grounded out two pitches later to end the Louisville rally.
Fullerton responded with one of the most controversial plays of the NCAA Tournament one batter later. Davi Olmedo-Barrera roped a fly ball down the left field line that came within centimeters of the foul pole. The umpires ruled it a home run, and despite an instant replay review, there was not enough video evidence to either confirm or negate the call on the field. That one run would be enough to lift the Titans to victory and push them into the CWS field.
Now, they'll face the toughest test of their season when they square off with a red hot Vanderbilt team on Sunday night. Here's what the Commodores can expect.
The Cal State Fullerton Titans
Record: 39-23 (19-5 Big West)
Warren Nolan RPI Rank: 19th (Vanderbilt is fifth)
All-Time Record Against Vanderbilt: 0-0. This is the first meeting between Vanderbilt and Cal State-Fullerton. Old money meets new money, y'all.
Best Win: Three wins (out of four) against #11 Louisville. The Titans knocked off the National Seed Cardinals last weekend, but they also stole an early-season matchup from their ACC foes back in February. If you exclude their success against Louisville, CSF went just 6-11 against RPI Top 50 foes this season.
Worst Loss: Of course, one day before beating Louisville, Fullerton lost to #159 Alabama State. It's tough to read much into a Valentine's Day loss, but the Titans also dropped games to #106 Stanford (twice) and #112 Cal State Bakersfield (by 13 runs) this season. The Titans are capable of very good things, but they can also completely forget how to play baseball some days.
Batter to Be Wary Of: Davi Olmedo-Barrera didn't just lift the Titans to the College World Series - his 11th inning blast also gave him 50 percent of the team's total home runs for the season. He doesn't have overwhelming power, but he has the strength to carry the ball down the right or left field lines and out of play. His 45 RBI is 14 more than the next closest batter in the Titan lineup. He's one of only four regulars to bat better than .300 for CSF in 2015.
Pitchers to Watch: Thomas Eshelman is going to be the third straight ace that the Commodores will face this postseason. They had a good run against Illinois's Kevin Duchene and Tyler Jay, but Eshelman's combination of experience and control will give them a whole different beast with which to deal. He allowed just one run over seven innings in his last start in game one of the Louisville Super Regional, but he also gave up eight hits. Eshelmann has shown a penchant for stranding runners this postseason - something Vanderbilt has struggled with all year. If he pitches to his potential, Sunday night could be very frustrating for the Commodores.
Key Stat: 45.2%. Titan catcher A.J. Kennedy is batting .169 on the season. So why is he still in the lineup? Because he's throwing out nearly half the runners who have tried to steal a base on him this season. Vanderbilt was aggressive on the basepaths in Illinois and haven't been thrown out in their past 20 attempts. That could change very quickly against Cal State Fullerton