By Rick Eymer
Palo Alto Online Sports
Stanford coach Mark Marquess knows a lot more about the Cal State Fullerton baseball program than most observers. The Titans were a regular opponent through the years and the Cardinal (32-20) was assigned there for last year's regional.
Stanford will be going again this year as the NCAA baseball selection committee announced the 64-team field Monday.
The Cardinal enters as the second seed in the region, with Fullerton the top seed. Stanford meets Kansas State (36-23) in Friday's opener on ESPNU at 4 p.m.
"These are anxious days," Marquess said. "We pretty much knew we were in, but there's always some excitement finding out where you go and who you play."
Kansas State reached the Big 12 tournament semifinals before losing to eventual conference champion Texas A&M in extra innings.
Stanford swept California in its final Pac-10 series last weekend, winning 3-2 and 4-2 and was leading 7-1 in the third game before getting rained out in the fourth inning.
"Over the years you learn it doesn't make much difference who you play," Marquess said. "At this time of the year you know you're playing a good team."
Fullerton (40-15) and Illinois (28-25) meet in the other first-round game of the double-elimination tournament at 8 p.m. All games will be televised on ESPNU.
Cardinal sophomore Tyler Gaffney brings a 17-game hitting streak as Stanford, which has won 11 of its last 15 games, makes its 30th trip into the postseason. Stanford hopes to make its 17th trip to the College World Series.
Gaffney has seen his average rise to .320, third on the team behind sophomore Stephen Piscotty (.361) and freshman Brian Ragira (.321). Freshman Austin Wilson (.313) has also been a surprise.
Menlo School grads Kenny Diekroeger and Danny Diekroeger have also made an impact for the Cardinal. Kenny has started 51 games, hits .298 with two home runs and 29 RBI.
Danny has worked his way into the lineup as a left-handed designated hitter. He's hitting .276 and has appeared in 16 games, most of them in the second half of the season. He had two RBI wiped out by rain on Saturday.
"If there's one thing we lack it's that left-handed presence in the lineup," Marquess said. "We've flipped him into the spot against tough right-handers and he has delivered for us."
Stanford right-hander Mark Appel (5-6, 3.02) is the favorite to start Friday but Marquess is reserving the final decision for later in the week as he pours over scouting reports of the other three teams.
"When (Brett) Mooneyham got hurt we kind of threw him into the fire," Marquess said. He was matched up against everybody's ace. In a way it was really not fair to him. He went up against the best and he kept us in those games."
Appel can't wait for first pitch, whenever it comes.
"We're excited to get the playoffs going," he said. "I'm starting to figure things out at the right time. It's been a long road and a huge learning process. I'm learning from other players and from other teams."
Stanford is 13-9 against the field, which includes games against national seeds Vanderbilt, Texas and Rice. The Cardinal played all three of them within its first 11 games.
Stanford finished fifth in the Pac-10, which have six schools heading to the postseason. Arizona State, Oregon State and UCLA each host a regional while California plays at Rice and Arizona heads to Texas A&M.
"It was fair," Marquess said. "Oregon made a push at the end and had an outside chance. They were deserving; they just swept Oregon State and beat us 2 of 3."
Kansas State makes its third straight NCAA appearance. The Wildcats have won eight of their last 11 and finished sixth in the Big 12.
Jason King brings a 16-game hitting streak into the fray for Kansas State, which also features Mountain View native Evan Marshall (5-5, 1.171), the Wildcats' set-up man in the bullpen.
Illinois makes its ninth NCAA appearance and first since 2000 after winning the Big Ten tournament. Dan Harleb is in his fifth season as head coach, guiding the Fighting Illini to the Big Ten tournament in each of his five seasons.
The Big West champion Titans are making their 33rd NCAA appearances and are in the post season for the 20th straight year. Dave Serrano is in his fifth season, having coached the Titans to Big West titles in four seasons. He has coached UC Irvine (2007) and Fullerton (2009) to the College World Series.