In 2017, the West Region may have been one of the hardest to make it through and get to the College World Series, out of the entire D2 baseball world. That was quite evident with the brawl that took place during the West Region tournament, in which UC San Diego survived. And we attribute a lot of the ability for the Tritons to make it all the way to the championship game to the fact that they had been seasoned by their fellow West Region teams.
This year, we expect more of the same. Many teams return tournament-caliber squads, and there are a few who have retooled and will make some noise. There is no doubt that some familiar faces will be making a run yet again. But we also see at least two teams just outside everyone’s’ radar which will surprise a lot of people.
Our #5 West Region Pre-Season pick was red-hot all year in 2017. The Chico State Wildcats (CCAA) finished the season with 45 wins. The Wildcats even rolled into the West Region tournament as the #1 seed after winning the CCAA tournament title game against UC San Diego. And that is when the wheels fell off for Chico State. The Wildcats were two in out in the West Region tournament, losing to Cal Poly Pomona and California Baptist.
Coach Dave Taylor has to know that they missed a huge opportunity in 2017 to make a run to the National Championship. This year, some of the horses that had them knocking on the door in 2017 are gone, especially at the plate. Coach Taylor does return some quality arms and a few bats from last year that he can build on. We are going to have to see whether this team can be as good as the 2017 version, and finish the job.
At #4, Dixie State University Trailblazers (PacWest) had another successful season, with 39 wins and one of the top hitting teams in the region. Where the Trailblazers lacked somewhat was getting the key performances on the mound when they needed it. Especially against US San Diego in the West Region tournament, where the Tritons beat Dixie State twice to head to the College World Series.
Coach Chris Pfatenhauer continues to recruit top-level hitters, and will continue to be a threat in the PacWest and the West Region. If the Trailblazers can improve on the bump, they could make a run this year. But they are going to need to get by the teams listed in the Top 5. An improved bullpen would give them the edge.
Coming in at #3 in the West Region is the Azusa Pacific University Cougars. Azusa Pacific had a great season in 2017 and really looked like they would be the ones representing the West Region in the College World Series. When you have a 42-12 season, you have to consider that to be a very good year. But like Dixie State above, the Cougars ran into the buzz saw that was the UC San Diego Tritons in the West Region tournament, losing twice to the Tritons to end their season.
As disappointing as it was to be so close to making the trip to Grand Prairie, the Cougars should be able to use that experience to build on a successful 2018 season. Coach Paul Svagdis returns a very good bullpen and some key hitters from a well balanced 2017 squad. If a few hitters step up, Azusa Pacific should have another successful year. It will be tough, as the PacWest will be as competitive as it has been in the last 5 years.
Our #2 Pre-Season pick for the West Region is the University of California, San Diego Tritons (CCAA).The Tritons, while one of the top teams in the country all year, kind of stayed off the radar when it came to being able to be present in Grand Prairie. While they played very well all year, it wasn’t until the playoffs that the Tritons really decided they were going to make a run. And what a run it was. Not only did they roll through the West Region NCAA tournament, but then walked into Grand Prairie with a chip on their shoulder. With a first round one-run loss to St. Thomas Aquinas, the Tritons dug in and moved their way through the week to end up in the College World Series Semi-Final game. All the UC San Diego team had to do was to beat the Spartans…TWICE…and they would end up in The Show. The Tritons won the first game 10-0 and then finished the job later with a 7-3 victory. The Tritons lost the championship game to West Chester, finishing the year second in the country.
The Tritons lost a lot of their 2017 firepower to graduation. Key pitchers and hitters are now gone, and Coach Eric Newman will need to show if his team is rebuilding this year…or reloading. A few key players do return that he can use to build his 2018 team around.
Normally, the number two team in the country the previous year would be the odds on favorite to start the season as the front runner in the region. But the Tritons will need to show that they have a new face to a team but still have the ability to do what the 2017 version was able to do. Our bet is they will be in the mix in May.
And…..our #1 2018 West Region Pre-Season pick is:
The California Baptist University Lancers (PacWest) have been one of the teams constantly appearing in our region polls and predictions. They are continually strong in the PacWest Conference, and appeared in the West Region tournament in 2017… going 1-2.
While a very good team in 2017, the Lancers were just off the pace of the West Region leaders. Coach Gary Adcock’s coaching staff got as much out of the 2017 Lancers as they could have. And the experience and maturation of his squad will lead the 2018 California Baptist team to make their best run in years.
We believe that the Lancers will be very good at the plate, and will see much improvement on the mound. Our view is that the Lancers may be one of the most balanced teams in the West Region, which may be enough to put them in Cary later this year. Make no mistake… the West Region has a lot of contenders. And that means if the Lancers want to represent the West Region in the College World Series in 2018, they will need to step up things from 2017. As the season starts, they look like they just may be able to do that.