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UNIVERSITY BEAT

Plenty Is on Line for 49ers, Titans

May 16, 2003|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

It's not USC-UCLA, but for the players, the annual baseball series between Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton is a no less passionate rivalry.

Both teams are ranked in the top four in the nation, and the championship in the Big West Conference -- and position as a possible playoff host -- is on the line as the teams open a three-game series tonight at 7 at Fullerton's Goodwin Field.

Third-ranked Long Beach (36-14, 15-3) needs one victory to clinch its first Big West championship since 1998. But fourth-ranked Fullerton (41-12, 13-5), the conference champion from 1997-2001, is 22-1 this season at home. Saturday's game starts at 6 p.m., and Sunday's at 5 p.m.

"It's a real healthy rivalry," said Fullerton Coach George Horton, who notched career victory No. 300 when the Titans defeated UC Irvine on Sunday. "It's based on the importance of the series but a lot of it is bragging rights. Usually the championship goes through the two of us."

The Big West champion is likely to be the only local team to play host to a regional, although there is an outside chance both teams would be selected as regional sites if they maintain their high ranking. The NCAA will announce its eight regional sites May 25, and the 64-team field the following day.

"I believe we've done enough to warrant consideration even if we do finish second [in the Big West]," Long Beach Coach Mike Weathers said.

Riverside Coach Jack Smitheran believes the 49ers may have an edge. In the past two weeks, his team swept Fullerton at home, then lost three in a row at Long Beach.

"I told Mike that they have a national championship quality team," Smitheran said. "They can go to Omaha unless they fall apart at the seams."

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The Pacific-10 Conference track and field championships will be held for the first time at USC's Loker Stadium. Field events begin at 11 a.m. Saturday and running events start at 1 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. The hammer throw will be contested at West L.A. College, the women at 10 a.m. on Saturday and men at 9 a.m. Sunday.

USC is expected to end Stanford's two-year reign as men's national champion. UCLA is favored to win its eighth consecutive women's title.

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Tenth-ranked Chapman is the top seed and host of a four-team Division II baseball regional, which started Thursday.

Pomona-Pitzer, champion of the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, is also in the field.

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Cal Lutheran (24-20) and Chapman (30-10) were eliminated in a Division III softball regional last week in Tacoma, Wash.... Fullerton second baseman Justin Turner and USC catcher Jeff Clement were invited to the U.S. national team trials.

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