The ping of metal bats and the quirky dugout antics of college baseball return Friday. The 2018 season begins with several Southland schools seeking redemption, led by Long Beach State.
Last season, the Dirtbags won their first outright Big West Conference title since 2003 but came up 90 feet short in a winner-take-all super regional matchup with Cal State Fullerton — the first meeting between the rivals with a trip to the College World Series at stake.
The Titans earned their 18th trip to Omaha while Long Beach State was forced to watch them celebrate on its home field. Dirtbags second baseman Jarren Duran seethed in the dugout and has used that memory as motivation this offseason. He is expected to be next in a long line of star middle infielders for the Dirtbags after a breakout performance in the postseason.
Long Beach State opens against a talented St. Mary's team that is one of the West Coast programs on the rise. The Titans, ranked No. 17 by D1Baseball.com, have a top 25 matchup against No. 13 Stanford to open the season. Preseason All-American pitcher Colton Eastman is set to face off against the Cardinal's Tristan Beck, another potential early round draft pick. Fullerton is seeking to end the longest national championship drought in its 42-year Division I history, last winning in 2004.
No. 11 UCLA is the most recent national champion from Southern California, but the Bruins haven't made it to a super regional since their 2013 title. They hope a veteran pitching staff and the growth of a talented sophomore class can help change that. USC's 12 national championships are the most by any school, but the Trojans have been to the postseason only once since 2004. Freshman right-hander Kyle Hurt could be the team's best pitcher since Brad Boxberger.
Pepperdine is searching for its first postseason appearance since Rick Hirtensteiner took over after the 2015 season. West Coast Conference rival Loyola Marymount tied for the regular-season title for the first time in 17 years last season, but hasn't been to a regional since 2000.
Hall of Fame coach Mike Gillespie wants one last trip to Omaha in his final year coaching at UC Irvine, while UC Riverside's Troy Percival seeks his first postseason appearance in his fourth year coaching. He should get a boost from the addition of his son, Cole, a freshman right-handed pitcher with a 93-mph fastball.