OMAHA — It has been more than four months since Kirk Saarloos faced Stanford, the last team to beat the Cal State Fullerton right-hander.
Saarloos gave up successive sixth-inning home runs in the 3-0 defeat at Goodwin Field on Feb. 4 and then became almost invincible as a starter and closer for the Titans.
Saarloos gets a chance to avenge the defeat today when top-seeded Fullerton (47-16) plays No. 4 Stanford (49-16) in a College World Series winners' bracket game at Rosenblatt Stadium.
"I didn't really have my legs under me when I pitched against Stanford last time and my arm wasn't game ready," Saarloos said Saturday. "I think it's going to be a different story this time."
Saarloos (15-2), a 6-foot, 180-pound senior from Long Beach, has not pitched since June 1 when he went seven innings and defeated Mississippi State in the first game of a super regional.
He was available for the final inning in the Titans' opener against Nebraska, but freshman Chad Cordero overpowered the Cornhuskers in the final 2 1/3 innings to close out a 5-4 victory and earn his 14th save.
Fullerton Coach George Horton had Stanford on his mind when he started senior left-hander Jon Smith against Nebraska instead of Saarloos. The Cardinal won two of three games against Fullerton in that series and Horton wanted Saarloos on the mound the next time they played.
"Tulane and Nebraska are outstanding teams in our bracket, but Stanford is the one I'm most concerned about," Horton said upon arrival at Omaha.
Stanford showed its mettle Friday in a 13-11 victory over Tulane. The Cardinal used seven pitchers and overcame an 8-0, third-inning deficit to win a 4-hour 18-minute game that lasted one day as the longest nine-inning game in World Series history.
Saarloos, who was selected by the Houston Astros in the third round of last week's amateur draft, was not surprised.
"That's typical Stanford--they don't get down on themselves," Saarloos said. "They just keep throwing guys out there to get some outs, they play great defense and they chip away. No lead is too big against them."
Stanford, which ranks first in the nation in fielding percentage (.977), will start Mike Gosling (7-2), a junior left-hander who was drafted in the second round by the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Gosling started but pitched only one inning in the Cardinal's season-opening loss against Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He sat out more than a month--including the series against Fullerton--because of a strained elbow, then came back and went 7-0 during the regular season.
Gosling, however, has lost his two playoff starts. He gave up four runs and a season-high 11 hits in a 4-3 loss to Texas in a regional at Stanford on May 27. He followed that start by giving up three runs in four innings of a 4-3 loss to South Carolina in the second game of the super regional at home June 2.
Gosling will get no breaks against Fullerton.
First baseman Aaron Rifkin has hit four homers in the last two games and the Titans are manufacturing runs with smart baserunning and timely hitting.
Then, of course, there's the Saarloos factor.
"It doesn't matter who we are facing," Fullerton second baseman David Bacani said. "When Saarloos is on the mound for us, we know we don't have to score a ton of runs. He gives us a chance to beat anyone."
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College World Series
* Game 1--Stanford 13, Tulane 11
* Game 2--Cal State Fullerton 5, Nebraska 4
* Game 3--USC 11, Georgia 5
* Game 4--Miami 21, Tennessee 13
* Game 5--Tulane (55-12) vs. Nebraska (50-15), noon
* Game 6--Stanford (49-16) vs. Cal State Fullerton (47-16), 4 p.m.
* Game 7--Georgia (47-21) vs. Tennessee (46-19), noon
* Game 8--USC (45-17) vs. Miami (50-12), 4 p.m.
* Game 9--Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 loser, noon
* Game 10--Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 loser, 4 p.m.
* Game 11--Game 6 winner vs. Game 9 winner, 4 p.m.
* Game 12--Game 8 winner vs. Game 10 winner, noon
* Game 13--Game 6 winner vs. Game 11 winner, OR Game 8 winner vs. Game 12 winner, 11 a.m., if necessary
* Game 14--Game 8 winner vs. Game 12 winner, 3 p.m., if necessary
* Game 15--Championship, 10 a.m.