FULLERTON – Cal State Fullerton baseball looks to narrow the gap on Long Beach State in the Big West Conference standings when it takes on the Rainbow Warriors in Hawaii for a three-game series.
CSUF will have to put aside the allure of Hawaii to come back with a series victory.
“We play a night game every night, and we stay right in Waikiki so there’s distractions, but we were in Vegas and we handled those distractions. We’ll need to handle these ones,” said Titans Head Coach Rick Vanderhook.
The Titans (26-15 overall) sit tied for second place in the conference with Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with an 8-4 conference record. Cal Poly holds the tiebreaker over the Titans after claiming victory in their three-game series this season.
Hawaii is fifth in the Big West with a 6-6 conference record (24-15 overall), with losses to UC Riverside, UC Davis and Cal State Northridge.
Fullerton starter Connor Seabold and Hawaii starter Brendan Hornung are projected to be on the mound Friday. The two are tied with a conference-leading 73 strikeouts. Hornung is also ranked fifth in the conference with a 2.98 ERA.
Hawaii took the series last season 2-1 at Goodwin Field. In Hornung’s start, he went 6.2 innings pitched and gave up seven hits and two runs but didn’t give up an earned run.
Sophomore right fielder Ruben Cardenas missed 19 games in the middle of the season with a lower-back injury before returning against UC Davis on April 7. Cardenas then missed back-to-back games against USC and San Diego before being put back in the rotation for two games against Cal Poly.
Since the series against the Cal Poly, Cardenas has been ruled out for the remainder of the season.
The loss of Cardenas is a big one for the Titans, as he ranks sixth on the team with 18 RBIs and is second on the team with three home runs in just 16 games this season.
“It’s a huge loss. If you look at his numbers, he has about 1.5 runs accounted for a game,” Vanderhook said. “We’re going to go to war with what we got.”
Hunter Cullen has been one of the guys the Titans have gone to war with in the absence of Cardenas. Cullen has been a defensive fill-in for most of his four-year career at CSUF, but has had more opportunities now in his senior season.
The senior defensive specialist has played in 36 of the Titans’ 41 games. Now with Cardenas out, he is the everyday starter in right field. Cullen made a diving catch in the Titans 3-2 victory over Irvine last Saturday that was ranked No. 9 on SportsCenter’s top-10 plays.
“(I’ve watched it) a good amount, I’m still watching it,” Cullen said.
While Cullen is known for his highlight defensive plays, his offensive ability has helped the Titans at the plate this season. Cullen is batting at a .296 average with a .364 on-base percentage. The senior also ranks fourth on the team with 19 RBIs and tied for second with Cardenas with three home runs.
“Just staying within myself. It’s my senior year so I’m just going out there and having fun. I’ve been waiting for three years,” Cullen said. “It’s good to be able to swing it now.”
Typical shortstop Timmy Richards has been nursing a sore groin throughout the season, causing him to miss six games earlier in the year.
Because of his limited range due to the injury, Vanderhook decided to change up the defense, putting Richards at first base and moving Sahid Valenzuela to shortstop while returning Dillon Persinger to second base.
Vanderhook said the defensive positioning will be on a week-to-week basis depending on how Richards is feeling.
Fullerton is back on the diamond Friday in Hawaii at 9:35 p.m. when it takes on the Rainbow Warriors.