|Tempe Regional||Fayetteville Regional||Auburn Regional||Atlanta Regional|
|Charlottesville Regional||Norman Regional||Columbia Regional||Myrtle Beach Regional|
|Austin Regional||Fort Worth Regional||Norwich Regional||Louisville Regional|
|UCLA Regional||Cal State Fullerton Regional||Coral Gables Regional||Gainesville Regional|
|Winkles Field-Packard Stadium at Brock Ballpark, Tempe, Ariz. (Host: Arizona State)|
|No. 1 Arizona State (47-8)
34th appearance, automatic, Pacific-10 Conference champion, No. 1 national seed. Coach: Tim Esmay.
No. 2 San Diego (36-20)
No. 3 Hawaii (33-26)
No. 4 Wisconsin-Milwaukee (33-24)
Arizona State had to replace last year’s Pac-10’s player of the year (Jason Kipnis), pitcher of the year (Mike Leake) and coach of the year (Pat Murphy), plus All-America lefthander Josh Spence (who has not pitched this season due to an elbow injury), but the Sun Devils never missed a beat, cruising to their fourth consecutive Pac-10 title and the No. 1 national seed for the first time. Arizona State’s veteran leadership and coaching staff deserves abundant credit for guiding the talented young core through the tumult of an unexpected coaching change and NCAA investigation; the hard-nosed Sun Devils simply refuse to lose. Coach Tim Esmay was rewarded this week with a well-earned removal of the “interim” tag. ASU is not as powerful has it has been in recent years, but it is one of the nation’s most balanced teams, ranking 17th nationally in batting (.340), 20th in scoring (8.6 runs per game), third in ERA (3.16), seventh in strikeouts per nine innings (8.9) and 12th in fielding percentage (.975). The deep, versatile lineup has plenty of movable parts, but player of the year candidate Zack MacPhee (.381/.490/.686 with a nation-leading 14 triples, eight homers, 59 RBIs and 18 stolen bases) is a constant at second base, and he has a slick double-play partner whether it is freshman of the year candidate Deven Marrero (.407/.464/.634) or fellow sophomore Drew Maggi (.351/.441/.471 with 33 steals). Jr. RHP Seth Blair (11-0, 3.20) anchors the rock-solid rotation, and the exceptional bullpen is built around three-headed monster Jordan Swagerty (1-0, 2.12 with 14 saves), Mitchell Lambson (7-2, 2.37) and Jake Barrett (2-0, 3.29). ASU is a heavy favorite in this regional and one of the leading contenders for the national title.
San Diego is one of the most dangerous No. 2 seeds in the NCAA tournament thanks to one of the nation’s most talented weekend rotations. Jr. RHP Kyle Blair (8-4, 2.99 with 118 strikeouts and 28 walks in 90 innings) has always had advanced feel for a four-pitch repertoire highlighted by a low-90s sinker and excellent slider, but this year he has done a much better job pounding the strike zone, which has helped him blossom into a bona fide ace. So. LHP Sammy Solis (9-2, 3.00 with 87 strikeouts and 26 walks in 87 innings) has stayed healthy as a redshirt sophomore and emerged as a legitimate co-ace, thanks to his good command of a quality three-pitch mix. Sr. RHP A.J. Griffin (7-3, 4.71 with 107 strikeouts and 27 walks in 94 innings) took a little while to get used to starting after spending most of his USD career as a shut-down closer, but he came on strong in the second half, giving the Toreros a strike-throwing veteran with strikeout stuff in the No. 3 starter spot. The bullpen is anchored by Sr. RHPs Matt Thomson (1-2, 2.63 with seven saves) and Matt Hauser (4-2, 3.51), two more power arms with swing-and-miss stuff. It should be no surprise, then, that USD is second in the nation with 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings. The scrappy lineup is built around seniors James Meador (.391/.449/.600 with seven homers and 62 RBIs) and Chris Engell (.421/.460/.514), but the Toreros suffered a major blow when Meador broke his left hand in practice Tuesday, ending his season. Meador is the reigning WCC player of the year and a favorite to win the award again this year; he will be extremely difficult to replace.
Hawaii was just 6-10 in the WAC with two weeks left in the regular season, but the Rainbows got hot at the right time, winning four-game series against New Mexico State and San Jose State heading into the conference tournament. Hawaii went 4-1 in the WAC tournament, beating defending champion Fresno State twice in three days to reach its first NCAA tournament since 2006, and just its second since 1993. The key to Hawaii’s success is the ability of its pitching staff to pound the strike zone and keep games tight: its pitchers have issued just 2.84 walks per game, 13th-fewest in the nation. The staff is bookended by a power-armed ace in Josh Slaats (5-3, 3.22) and a reliable closer in Lenny Linsky (3-0, 1.59 with 12 saves). Linsky’s career took off when he dropped to a three-quarters arm slot this year, giving his high-80s to low-90s fastball plenty of life. In the lineup, the Rainbows are very strong up the middle; middle infielders Kolten Wong (.365/.443/.554 with seven homers, 40 RBIs and 17 stolen bases) and Greg Garcia (.361/.459/.510) are defensive stalwarts as well as key pieces of the offense. The team’s top run producer is Jr. DH Jeffrey Van Doornum (.342/.404/.587 with 12 homers), who has made an impressive recovery from surgery on both shoulders last summer.
Wisconsin-Milwaukee stunned top-seeded Wright State twice in two days to win the Horizon League championship for the first time since 2002. The Panthers have a veteran lineup, with seven upperclassmen in the lineup most of the time, led by seniors Tim Patzman (.417/.471/.641), an athletic outfielder with a smooth lefthanded stroke who wears out the gaps, and Ben Long (.351/.424/.541 with eight homers and 55 RBIs), a first baseman with righthanded power to all fields. The pitching staff is anchored by Jr. RHP Chad Pierce (7-4, 3.70), who sat out last year after transferring from Arkansas. Pierce has the best arm strength on the team, with a fastball that can reach the low 90s, and he mixes in a very good changeup effectively. Pierce won the clincher against Wright State, allowing just two runs in six innings. Milwaukee also has a closer it can trust in So. RHP Cameron Amsrud (9 SV, 3.15 ERA), a submariner who works in the mid-80s and has a decent slider. The Panthers are a huge underdog against Arizona State, but this experienced team should not be by the atmosphere or the level of competition. Milwaukee played series earlier in the year at Arkansas and Kansas State, and opened 2009 with a four-game series in Tempe, where the Sun Devils blew them out in a four-game sweep.
|Baum Stadium, Fayetteville, Ark. (Host: Arkansas)|
|No. 1 Arkansas (40-18)
23rd appearance, at-large, fourth place in Southeastern Conference. Coach: Dave Van Horn.
No. 2 Washington State (34-20)
No. 3 Kansas State (36-20)
No. 4 Grambling State (22-30)
Arkansas made a surprise run to Omaha last year after falling into a major second-half funk, and the Hogs hope to do the same this year after a minor funk down the stretch—they have lost 10 of their last 15 games heading into regionals. But an 0-2 showing in the SEC tournament might have been a blessing in disguise, as it allowed the Razorbacks to give extra rest to banged-up stars Zack Cox (back strain), Brett Eibner (hairline fracture in right hand), Drew Smyly (blister on index finger) and Andy Wilkins (who left the second game in Hoover with a bloody nose and wooziness following an on-field collision with Smyly). Coach Dave Van Horn said last week that he expects the latter three to be fine for this week, and Cox reported no pain and “looked great” in practice this week, according to reports. If Arkansas is healthy, it is certainly the most talented team in this regional by a fair margin. Cox and Eibner are likely first-round picks, Wilkins is a proven slugger and Smyly fronts a staff that is deeper and more talented than last year’s Omaha staff. And facing Grambling State, the tournament’s lone sub-.500 team, in the opener allows Arkansas to confidently throw No. 3 starter T.J. Forrest (7-0, 2.76) in the opener, especially since Forrest has thrown well recently. That leaves Smyly (8-1, 2.54) and senior bulldog Mike Bolsinger (6-4, 4.35) for the next two games.
Washington State broke a 19-year regionals drought in 2009, and the Cougars surpassed expectations again in 2010, breaking into the Top 25 for the first time since 1994 and finishing third in the ultra-competitive Pac-10. The Cougars succeed in large measure thanks to their hard-nosed, grinder mentality, but they do have some talented pieces. Athletic outfielder Derek Jones (.300/.386/.576 with 11 homers and 40 RBIs) is the centerpiece of the lineup, which has a nice balance of right- and lefthanded line-drive hitters. Defensively, the Cougars have steady veterans in the middle infield in shortstop Shea Vucinich and second baseman Cody Bartlett. But if Washington State is going to win this regional, it will have to ride its arms. Jr. RHP Chad Arnold (5-3, 3.47) is a physical, competitive ace who locates with a four-pitch mix, giving the Cougars a pitching edge in their opening matchup with Kansas State. The best arm on the staff, though, belongs to So. LHP Adam Conley (5-3, 3.13, 11 saves), who dominated in the bullpen for most of the season before thriving in the weekend rotation over the final four weeks. Conley pitched in the mid-80s last year but jumped into the 90-94 range this year. The Cougars also have a closer who can be nasty when he’s on: Sr. RHP Seth Harvey (3-1, 5.33) attacks hitters with a 90-92 mph fastball with good arm-side run.
Kansas State snapped an even longer regionals drought last year than Wazzu; the Wildcats had never before appeared in the NCAA tournament. And like the Cougars, they built upon that momentum by making a second straight regional this year, despite a less talented roster. K-State never did replace departed first-team All-America ace A.J. Morris, and pitching became very much a group effort in 2010, as starters very seldom worked deep into games. But the Wildcats have a solid bullpen anchored by So. RHP James Allen (5-0, 2.03 with eight saves), and that unit has shouldered much of the load. But the strength of this team is the top third of the order: So. OF Nick Martini (.416/.507/.566), the Big 12 co-player of the year, as well as Sr. 3B Adam Muenster (.386/.477/.513) and Jr. SS Carter Jurica (.359/.442/.605 with 11 homers and 65 RBIs), who both earned all-conference honors. All three of those players also bring speed (each stole at least 18 bases), and all three are tough outs (each walked more than he struck out).
If you think Grambling State’s record is unimpressive, consider this: The Tigers were just 16-30 before winning their final six games, including an unbeaten run through the SWAC tournament to reach regionals for the first time since 1985. Almost certainly the weakest pitching team in the field of 64, Grambling has an 8.51 team ERA, so it could be in trouble in a regional filled with good offensive teams. Grambling’s best chance to pull off an upset is to run opponents ragged. Seven Tigers have reached double-digits in stolen bases this year, led by top hitter Chris Wolfe (.358/.441/.430 with 27 steals in 35 tries). Seniors Mychal Roby (.286/.395/.524 with 10 homers) and Steve Kletke (.306/.443/.590 with 10 homers) give the lineup a little bit of pop.
|Plainsman Park, Auburn, Ala. (Host: Auburn)|
|No. 1 Auburn (40-19)
18th appearance, at-large, second place in Southeastern Conference. Coach: John Pawlowski
No. 2 Clemson (38-21)
No. 3 Southern Mississippi (35-22)
No. 4 Jacksonville State (32-24)
It took a little time, but Auburn’s fifth-ranked 2007 recruiting class finally delivered on its promise this spring, leading the Tigers to its first SEC tournament appearance since 2003 and its first SEC Western Division title since 1995. The Tigers caught fire down the stretch, winning their final six weekend series, including road sets at Arkansas and Mississippi. That heralded junior class led the way, as SEC player of the year Hunter Morris (.392/.462/.752 with 21 homers and 70 RBIs), outfielders Brian Fletcher (.359/.427/.693 with 20 homers and 70 RBIs) and Trent Mummey (.371/.432/.788 with 15 homers in just 132 at-bats) and DH Kevin Patterson (.307/.412/.789 with 16 homers in 114 at-bats) headlined an offense that led the nation with 117 home runs. That group understandably grabs the headlines, but Auburn also has a deep, athletic supporting cast, including underrated leadoff man Justin Fradejas (.347/.411/.422 with 12 steals). One thing to watch: Mummey (strained quad muscle) and Fletcher (bruised hand after being hit by pitch) were banged up in the SEC tournament but should be OK for this weekend. Pitching was a question for Auburn early in the season, but the staff has solidified around lefties Cory Luckie (6-4, 5.68) and Grant Dayton (8-2, 4.33), who both throw strikes with quality three-pitch mixes. And closer Austin Hubbard (5-2, 1.96 with nine saves) dominates with a hard-breaking low-80s slider, giving the Tigers an edge in close games, especially against a team like Clemson that has struggled to find consistency in the bullpen.
Clemson won a regional last year with a team dominated by freshmen and sophomores and entered this year with its eyes fixed on Omaha. On March 20, Clemson seemed headed in that direction after sweeping Virginia Tech to improve to 17-2 overall, but the Tigers then fell into a midseason swoon, losing 15 of their next 23 games before getting back on track in May. Due in part to its up-and-down bullpen, Clemson has struggled in close games, going just 8-14 in contests decided by two or fewer runs. By and large, Clemson is a good, athletic defensive team, but one of its best athletes—So. SS Brad Miller, the team’s leading hitter at .373—has struggled at a vital position, committing 25 errors and prompting a shift to DH for the final regular-season series against Florida State. Miller must make the routine plays for Clemson to make a deep postseason run. The lineup has a good mix of power (led by slugging outfielders Kyle Parker and Jeff Schaus) and speed (John Hinson leads a group of four Tigers with double-digit steals). The pitching staff is deep but not overpowering, and Clemson’s arms generally keep the ball in the park, which will be paramount in the cozy confines of Plainsman Park.
For the second straight spring, Southern Mississippi overcame midseason doldrums to make regionals. Last year, the Golden Eagles went all the way to Omaha in retiring coach Corky Palmer’s last season. This year, alumnus Brett Favre has promised he will return for another season in the NFL if they can get back to the CWS. With a mediocre RPI, they wouldn’t have had that opportunity if they hadn’t won the CUSA tournament to earn the league’s automatic bid. A key to last year’s run was the leadership and performance of five seniors in the everyday lineup, and for a while this year’s team had a leadership void, but seniors Taylor Walker and Travis Graves stepped into it. Walker, the team’s second-leading hitter, is also a steadying presence on the infield at second base, where he has a .986 fielding percentage. Double-play partner B.A. Vollmuth (.378/.487/.716 with 18 homers and 68 RBIs) was a preseason All-American and is the most talented player on the roster, but he can be inconsistent defensively, as evidenced by his 24 errors. The lineup is centered around that duo, but veterans like Graves, Joey Archer and Kameron Brunty also played key roles on the 2009 Omaha team and help give the Eagles good balance. Freshman center fielder Dillon Day has also provided an energy boost since taking over an everyday spot midway through the season. Southern Miss is also dangerous because of its strong one-two punch atop the rotation—bulldog righthanders Todd McInnis (6-5, 3.15) and Scott Copeland (11-0, 3.38)—and its shut-down closer, sidewinder Collin Cargill (3-2, 1.86 with nine saves).
Jacksonville State finished just a half-game behind Tennessee Tech in the OVC regular-season standings, then out-slugged the top-seeded Golden Eagles twice in a perfect run through the conference tournament. Jacksonville State is an offensive club with power and speed, making it dangerous in hitter-friendly Plainsman Park. Five Gamecocks reached double digits in home runs, headlined by first-team preseason All-America center fielder Todd Cunningham (.352 with 10 homers and 39 RBIs). The switch-hitting Cunningham led the Cape Cod League in batting last summer and makes excellent contact with a smooth line-drive stroke. He’s also a good runner who stole 21 bases in 23 attempts, making him one of four Gamecocks with double-digit steals. Cunningham and Sr. 2B Bert Smith (.371 with 34 stolen bases in 38 tries) make the offense go from the first two spots in the lineup. Like Southern Miss, the Gamecocks have a senior submariner anchoring the bullpen in Alex Jones (3.60 ERA, six saves). Jacksonville State won’t win many pitcher’s duels, but savvy senior Austin Lucas (6-0, 4.97) has a chance to keep the Gamecocks in the game against Auburn.
|Russ Chandler Stadium, Atlanta (Host: Georgia Tech)|
|No. 1 Georgia Tech (45-13)
25th appearance, at-large, third place in Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 8 national seed. Coach: Danny Hall.
No. 2 Alabama (37-22)
No. 3 Elon (38-22)
No. 4 Mercer (37-22)
Power bats and power arms are the name of the game for Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets rank second in the nation with 114 home runs, thanks to seven players with double-digit long balls, led by mashing corner infielders Tony Plagman (.357/.449/.706 with 19 homers and 73 RBIs) and Matt Skole (.344/.44/.697 with 19 homers and 61 RBIs). The experienced lineup also features one of the nation’s top all-around shortstops in Derek Dietrich (.360/.469/.667 with 16 homers and 58 RBIs). On the mound, Jr. RHP Deck McGuire (8-4, 3.01 with 112-31 K-BB in 105 IP) has not been dominant from wire to wire, but his four-pitch repertoire is one of the best in the nation and he has excellent feel for pitching, and he’ll be drafted in the top half of the first round. Tech has the luxury of saving him for its second game because it has its choice of three other power arms to start the opener against Mercer. So. LHP Jed Bradley (9-4, 4.17), Jr. RHP Brandon Cumpton (9-2, 4.95) and So. RHP Mark Pope (7-1, 4.26) all have strikeout stuff, and they give Tech a good shot even if it falls into the loser’s bracket at some point in the tournament. The bullpen is also stocked with quality arms, and it got a boost down the stretch by the return of injured closer Kevin Jacob, a first-team preseason All-American thanks to his enormous arm strength. Jacob is an x-factor, but the Yellow Jackets don’t need to count on him in key spots thanks to the solid work of Sr. RHP Andrew Robinson (4-0, 2.67 with seven saves).
After a hot start, Alabama slumped in the middle of the season and was sitting just 10-15 in the SEC with five games to play. That’s when the Crimson Tide suddenly became red hot, winning eight straight games to reach the SEC tournament championship, where it lost in extra innings to equally hot LSU. Pitching was the key to the surge. In the first three games at the conference tournament, Alabama got complete games from Jimmy Nelson and Adam Morgan sandwiched around 8 1/3 strong innings from Nathan Kilcrease—and most importantly, none of them issued a walk. The hulking Nelson has a power arm that could carry him into the supplemental first round of the draft, while the 5-foot-6 Kilcrease is nicknamed “Peanut” by his teammates, but he is a ferocious competitor who stabilized the rotation since moving from a bullpen role. Another pint-sized star, 5-foot-7 center fielder Taylor Dugas (.391/.538/.517 with 18 stolen bases and a 59-18 BB-K mark), is the nation’s premier leadoff man; he reached base safely in 47 straight games before going 0-for-5 against LSU, and he has been aboard in 57 of Alabama’s 59 games. ‘Bama has more speed behind him in Jr. SS Josh Rutledge (.357/.399/.521), a prototypical No. 2 hitter. Alabama left first-team preseason All-America second baseman Ross Wilson (.259/.381/.413) in the No. 3 spot all year despite his struggles, and he showed signs his extended slump could be over in the last three games in Hoover, going 5-for-7. For Alabama to get where it wants to go, it will need Wilson to keep that momentum going.
After riding its powerful offense to regionals a year ago, Elon expected to be more of a small-ball outfit in 2010, but the Phoenix still have six players with double-digit home runs, led by Sr. OF Matt Hinson (.315/.384/.673 with 16 homers and 49 RBIs). But this is a more balanced offense that does not sit back and wait for three-run homers; indeed, Elon can push the action with its speed, led by outfielders Harry Austin (19 steals) and Justin Hilt (21). Elon also has reliable veterans up the middle in Jr. SS Neal Pritchard (.345/.463/.563, 11 HR) and Sr. C Mike Melillo (.312/.449/.561, 11 HR). Elon remains an offensive club, but it is stronger on the mound than it was a year ago. Jr. LHP Jimmy Reyes (10-3, 3.97 with 95-21 K-BB in 95 IP) has blossomed into a dominant ace down the stretch thanks to his lively 88-91 mph fastball and excellent slider; he’s pitched at least seven innings in his last seven starts. And Sr. RHP Thomas Girdwood (3-2, 5.33, eight saves) owns the Elon and Southern Conference career saves records thanks to a 91-93 mph fastball and sometimes-plus slider.
Mercer ran unbeaten through the Atlantic Sun tournament to win its first conference title since 1983, when it was known as the Trans America Athletic Conference and current head coach Craig Gibson manned first base. But this is also Mercer’s first-ever trip to regionals, and it is a good fit in what figures to be one of the most offensive regionals in 2010. Mercer hit .340 as a team, and it has a pair of big power threats in So. 3B Jacob Tanis (.382/.446/.744 with 22 homers and 86 RBIs) and Jr. 1B John Moreland (.312 with 21 homers and 52 RBIs). Tanis, the A-Sun tourney MVP, has the most RBIs in a season by an A-Sun player since Stetson’s Frank Corr set the league record with 98 in 2000. But pitching keyed Mercer’s run through the conference tournament, as it allowed just 12 runs in four games, the fewest by an A-Sun champ since 2004. The key to the staff is the bullpen, where righthanders David Teasley (5-1, 4.57 with five saves and 69 innings over 41 appearances) and J.T. Odom (2-2, 3.48 with five saves and 41 innings over 33 appearances) have been rocks.
|Davenport Field, Charlottesville, Va. (Host: Virginia)|
|No. 1 Virginia (47-11)
10th appearance, at-large, Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season champion, No. 5 national seed. Coach: Brian O’Connor.
No. 2 Mississippi (38-22)
No. 3 St. John’s (40-18)
No. 4 Virginia Commonwealth (34-24-1)
Virginia caught fire last June and made its first College World Series appearance ahead of schedule with a freshman-and-sophomore-laden team. The Cavaliers entered this season as one of the favorites for the national title from the outset, and they have handled the weight of expectations with aplomb, winning all but one of their weekend series and spending two separate six-week stints at No. 1 in the rankings. Few teams in college baseball are as complete as the Cavaliers, who have a deep, athletic, powerful, fast lineup, a solid weekend rotation and a pair of reliable bullpen veterans in closer Kevin Arico (2.93 with a nation-leading 16 saves) and setup man Tyler Wilson (7-3, 3.42). As an illustration of Virginia’s balance, it ranks 25th nationally in batting (.333), 12th in ERA (3.67) and seventh in fielding percentage (.977). UVa.’s power numbers are suppressed by spacious Davenport Field, but it has plenty of pop in the lineup in Phil Gosselin, Jarrett Parker, Steven Proscia, Dan Grovatt and John Hicks—all of whom have at least seven home runs and at least 15 doubles. The key to Virginia’s national title hopes, though, will be how its pitching holds up. In particular, ace lefty Danny Hultzen (9-1, 2.43 with 111-20 K-BB in 93 IP) needs to pitch better than he has over the last three weeks.
Mississippi won a regional last year and hosted the upstart Cavaliers in the Oxford Super Regional, where their 37-year Omaha drought was extended in excruciating fashion. After Ole Miss won the opener, ace Drew Pomeranz pitched well and left with a 3-2 lead after seven innings in the would-be clincher the next day, but Virginia rallied from behind with two in the eighth, then won again in game three. Pomeranz (8-2, 2.21 with 134-46 K-BB in 94 IP), one of the nation’s most dominant pitchers thanks to a boring low-90s fastball and devastating knuckle curve, might not get another shot at the Cavs this week, because he is scheduled to pitch the opener against St. John’s. But Ole Miss coach Mike Bianco has shown in the past he’s not afraid to bring his ace back on short rest in the postseason, and Pomeranz has come up big in those situations in the past. He’ll likely need to pitch twice if Mississippi is to win this regional, because the rest of the staff has been inconsistent. Sr. RHP Aaron Barrett (7-4, 4.16), who pitches heavily off his slider but also has an 88-92 mph fastball, has been up and down this spring. The No. 3 starter spot has been a black hole all season; So. RHP David Goforth (1-5, 8.41) settled into that role in the second half, and though he has a good 93-94 mph fastball, he walks too many and has been way too hittable (35 walks and a .363 opposing average in 56 innings). The Rebels will need to lean heavily on their bullpen, which features a quality lefthanded long man in Matt Crouse (5-1, 3.12) and a reliable closer in Fr. RHP Brett Huber (2.54 ERA, 12 saves). Ole Miss is a solid defensive club, led by sure-handed shortstop Kevin Mort (.977 fielding percentage), and the lineup is filled with grinders, but it is not exactly explosive. There is some pop in the middle with Matt Smith, Matt Snyder and Taylor Hashman, who combined to hit 31 homers.
St. John’s rode its hot pitching to a perfect run through the Big East tournament, allowing just 10 runs in four games. By capturing the league’s automatic bid, St. John’s made its fifth regional since 2004, and it has faced two of the other teams in this regional in its past trips (Virginia and St. John’s both played in the 2005 Corvallis Regional, while VCU and St. John’s faced off in the 2007 Myrtle Beach Regional). The Red Storm features a quality core of upperclassmen like, Greg Hopkins (.367 with 55 RBIs), Jimmy Parque (.352 with 44 RBIs), Paul Karmas (.329 with eight homers and 52 RBIs) and Sr. RHP Bruce Kern (6-5, 5.91), who impressed in a Big East tournament win against Louisville, attacking hitters with a lively 89-92 mph fastball. But the best players on the team are part of the talented freshman class. Fr. OF Jeremy Baltz (.393/.471/.741 with 20 homers and 74 RBIs) had a four-homer game against Louisville in May en route to the school’s single-season home run record. The crown jewel of last year’s banner recruiting class was Fr. RHP Kyle Hansen (8-1, 3.09), the younger brother of former St. John’s All-American Craig Hansen. Kyle replaced Kern in the No. 1 starter role in the last three weeks and has thrived thanks to his deceptive, lively fastball and aggressive approach. He gives the Johnnies a fighting chance against Pomeranz, and hard-throwing closer Daniel Burawa (2.78 ERA, 11 saves), who works at 93-95 mph, is a weapon in close games.
After posting losing seasons in each of the last two years for the first time since coach Paul Keyes’ first season in 1995, Virginia Commonwealth rebounded to win the CAA tournament and make regionals for the eighth time since 1998. The conference title game against UNC Wilmington was a classic, as VCU forced extra innings with a run in the eighth, then won it on Jr. 3B Joe Van Meter’s two-run homer in the 12th. Van Meter (.433/.476/.671 with 10 homers, 72 RBIs and 14 stolen bases), who redshirted at Arizona State in 2007 before transferring to VCU, is the primary run producer in the middle of the lineup and the best overall player on the team. VCU ace righty Seth Cutler-Voltz threw 108 pitches in a complete-game win last Thursday, then came back on one day’s rest and threw four more innings in the title game against UNCW. If that workload took a toll on him, VCU could be in trouble this week. Like UVa., the Rams have a reliable one-two punch in the bullpen that they lean heavily upon in closer Robbie Andrews (3.18 ERA, nine saves) and righty Jonathan Watson (4-2, 2.78 in 55 innings over 29 appearances). VCU will be a huge underdog against the top-ranked Cavaliers.
|L. Dale Mitchell Park, Norman, Okla. (Host: Oklahoma)|
|No. 1 Oklahoma (42-17)
32nd appearance, at-large, second place in Big 12 Conference. Coach: Sunny Golloway.
No. 2 California (29-23)
No. 3 North Carolina (36-20)
No. 4 Oral Roberts (35-25)
After getting off to a 6-8 start in Big 12 play, Oklahoma got hot in the second half, winning nine of its final 11 conference games to finish in second place and host a regional for the second straight year. This team has a few holdovers from last year’s hosting team—notably big league progeny Garrett Buechele (.393/.463/.679 with 15 homers and 61 RBIs) and Cameron Seitzer (.330/.440/.639 with 14 homers and 51 RBIs) on the infield corners—but the Sooners lost many of their key players from a year ago. Fortunately, they reloaded with a strong 19-member recruiting class that ranked 16th in the nation. Junior-college transfers Zach Neal (8-4, 4.52) and Bobby Shore (8-3, 4.52) pound the strike zone and have settled comfortably into the weekend rotation. Another JC transfer, Danny Black (.331/.398/.538), has provided rock-solid defense at second base and a spark in the lineup, while Fr. OF Max White (.318/.376/.636 with 14 homers) assumed a starting role and provided another power source. Oklahoma expected talented freshman Chad Kettler to step immediately into the shortstop job, but when he started the season injured, sophomore Caleb Bushyhead (.327/.375/.480) seized the job and never let go. Oklahoma’s biggest advantage over the other teams in this regional is its bullpen, anchored by closer Ryan Duke (3.00, 11 saves) and senior strike-thrower Jeremy Erben (7-1, 4.10).
After reaching the College World Series each of the last four years, North Carolina squeaked into regionals despite missing the ACC tournament this spring, as it finished strong with three series wins in its last four weekends. The Tar Heels have struggled against the elite teams on their schedule, going 1-11 against Virginia, Georgia Tech, Florida State and Miami, but they were competitive in most of those games. The problem was they often struggled to extend leads due to an offense that lacks punch without mainstays Dustin Ackley and Kyle Seager around to anchor it, and their bullpen was unreliable without Brian Moran; all three are now Mariners farmhands. Still, North Carolina has an edge in its opener because it has the best pitcher in this regional in Jr. RHP Matt Harvey (7-3, 3.10, 93-32 K-BB in 90 IP), a likely first-round pick thanks to a plus fastball and plus slider. Behind Harvey, Jr. RHPs Colin Bates (6-2, 3.94, mostly in relief) and Patrick Johnson (6-3, 3.44) might both have had their best outings of the season when it mattered most against Virginia Tech, and Fr. RHP Chris Munnelly (2-2, 5.40) did a solid job in the Saturday starter role down the stretch. His emergence allows UNC to leave Bates in the ‘pen, where he can be a stopper. The other good news for UNC heading into regionals is the strong finishing kick of So. 3B Levi Michael (.355/.487/.580 with eight homers and 50 RBIs), who has once again become a threat in the middle of the lineup after getting off to a slow start. The lineup features solid speed that plays on the basepaths and in the field, and UNC seems to have come to grips with its scratch-and-claw offensive identity just in the nick of time. The Tar Heels are far less talented than they were in the last four years, but they are a real threat to make some noise in this regional.
Oral Roberts loosened its iron grip on the Summit League briefly this spring, finishing tied for first place in the regular season and startlingly earning the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. But the natural order was restored in the tournament, as ORU went 3-0 (including two blowout wins over top-seeded South Dakota State) to reach regionals for the 13th straight year. After losing its entire dominating weekend rotation and its closer from a year ago, this team is less of a threat to win a regional than most ORU teams over the last decade, but it has a chance to slug its way through thanks to the most powerful lineup in this regional. Physical Sr. DH Seth Furmanek (.317/.429/.698 with 22 homers and 64 RBIs) has benefited from the arrival of two powerful junior-college transfers, Nick Baligod (.396/.494/.655 with 11 homers and 53 RBIs) and Summit player of the year Tyler Saladino (.381/.472/.678 with 17 homers and 73 RBIs). Furmanek is also an innings eater in the rotation, which is anchored by surprise ace Bryce Smolen (9-3, 4.26), who struck out 11 in a complete-game win against Centenary in the Summit tourney.
|Carolina Stadium, Columbia, S.C. (Host: South Carolina)|
|No. 1 South Carolina (43-15)
26th appearance, at-large, third place in Southeastern Conference. Coach: Ray Tanner.
No. 2 Virginia Tech (38-20)
Ninth appearance, at-large, sixth place in Atlantic Coast Conference. Coach: Pete Hughes.
No. 3 The Citadel (42-20)
No. 4 Bucknell (25-33)
Ranked No. 10 in the preseason, South Carolina‘s spring got off to an inauspicious start when star center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. broke his hamate bone in spring practice, and returning slugger Nick Ebert was sidelined with academic issues, contributing to South Carolina’s early series losses to Clemson and East Carolina. Ebert returned to the lineup but never recaptured his stellar junior year form, settling into a first-base platoon with Jeffery Jones (.308/.431/.606 with eight homers). Bradley recovered from his injury more quickly than anyone expected, and by the second half of the season he was his usual dynamic self, leading the team in batting (.372) and OBP (.472) while also contributing power, speed and strong defense. Junior right fielder Whit Merrifield (.329/.409/.521 with 12 homers and 12 steals) has contributed similarly in all of those areas. Coach Ray Tanner’s teams are almost always defensively sound, and this bunch is no exception, fielding at a .975 clip. But this team breaks from the South Carolina tradition by relying more on pitching than on power bats. The Gamecocks lead the SEC and rank 10th nationally in ERA (3.62); they rank fifth nationally in strikeouts per nine innings (9.0) and third in hits allowed per nine innings (7.68). The deep, versatile staff features a wealth of righthanded and lefthanded options from various arm slots and with various repertoires, but it is highlighted by starters Blake Cooper (10-1, 2.94) and Sam Dyson (5-5, 3.92), plus hard-throwing freshman closer Matt Price (2.83, seven saves).
Virginia Tech lived up to its preseason sleeper billing, winning marquee series against Georgia Tech, Miami and Florida State en route to its first regionals appearance in a decade. The Hokies are the most offensive team in this regional, with an experienced, balanced lineup headlined by preseason All-America outfielder Austin Wates (.373/.486/.593 with eight homers, 51 RBIs and 17 steals), senior catcher Steve Domecus (.371/.433/.646 with 12 homers and 58 RBIs) and sophomore corner infielder Ronnie Shaban (.355/.450/.577 with eight homers and 63 RBIs). When the Hokies were playing their best back in April, they also had a top-flight weekend rotation with lefthander Justin Wright (8-4, 3.59) and power-armed righties Mathew Price (7-3, 4.59) and Jesse Hahn (5-4, 3.86). Wright and Price have been a bit less consistent in the last month, and Hahn missed about a month with complications resulting from kidney stones and elbow soreness. He had a 2.83 ERA before the layoff; his ERA in three starts since is 8.93. Virginia Tech is talented enough to make an Omaha run, but in order to do so it needs Hahn to regain his first-round form. It also needs to play better defense, after kicking the ball around repeatedly against North Carolina two weeks ago, then making nine errors in its last two games in the conference tournament.
The Citadel won the SoCon’s regular-season and tournament championships, yet still wound up with a No. 3 seed while second-place College of Charleston (which dropped a home series against the Bulldogs in early May) netted a No. 2. The Citadel plays in one of the most pitcher-friendly ballparks in the SoCon, so it usually builds around pitching and defense, but last year it relied more on the big bats of Sonny Meade, Richard Jones and Chris McGuinness. That trio put up big numbers, and the Bulldogs have not replaced them in the lineup, but instead they have returned to their pitching-and-defense roots. The two biggest threats in the lineup are also athletic up-the-middle players: center fielder/leadoff man Nick Orvin (.341 with seven homers and 22 steals) and second baseman/cleanup hitter Bryan Altman (.329 with 13 homers, 66 RBIs and 15 steals). Like the rest of the team, that duo plays with energy and fights for every at-bat. The Citadel’s biggest star, though, is junior righthander Asher Wojciechowski (12-2, 3.25 with 144 strikeouts in 119 innings), a physical power pitcher in the Curt Schilling mold. Wojciechowski proved his mettle against top competition with Team USA last summer, learning to pitch with his excellent fastball, which jumped into the 90-96 range this spring. He came back on short rest in the SoCon title game and might not be available in the regional opener, but he gives The Citadel an advantage whenever he does pitch. The Citadel also has a solid bullpen anchored by lefthanded closer Drew Mahaffey (seven saves), whose 86-90 mph fastball plays up due to his deceptive, herky-jerky delivery.
Bucknell won its second Patriot League title in three years as the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament. The Bison got off to a strong start to the season in their Florida road trip, then slumped through the middle part of the year, then came on strong down the stretch, riding the power surge of seniors Ben Yoder (.393/.447/.659 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs) and Andrew Brouse (.368/.475/.691 with 17 homers and 52 RBIs) plus junior Doug Shribman (.364/.426/.737 with 20 homers and 60 RBIs). Brouse would have set the Patriot League’s single-season home run record this year if Shribman hadn’t out-done him. But Brouse is the best overall player on the team, a line-drive hitter with speed, instincts and a strong outfield throwing arm. Carolina Stadium is an offensive park, and Bucknell might be well suited to slug its way to a win or two this week.
|Myrtle Beach Regional|
|BB&T Coastal Federal Field, Myrtle Beach, S.C. (Host: Coastal Carolina)|
|No. 1 Coastal Carolina (51-7)
10th appearance, automatic, Big South Conference regular-season and tournament champion, No. 4 national seed. Coach: Gary Gilmore.
No. 2 College of Charleston (42-17)
No. 3 North Carolina State (38-22)
No. 4 Stony Brook (29-25)
Coastal Carolina went 25-0 in Big South play, becoming the second team in conference history to complete an undefeated regular season, then cruised unbeaten through the conference tournament. One of the most complete teams in the nation, Coastal ranks eighth nationally in scoring (9.2 runs per game), fifth in home runs (99), fourth in stolen bases (146), fifth in sacrifice bunts (65), fourth in ERA (3.19) and fifth in fewest hits allowed per nine innings (8.05). It’s also a good defensive team (.969 fielding percentage) with athletes all over the field. Speed demons Rico Noel (51 steals) and Scott Woodward (48 steals) give opponents fits at the top of the lineup, while veterans Jose Iglesias, Tommy La Stella, Adam Rice, Chance Gilmore and Daniel Bowman provide power—each hit at least nine home runs this year. Coastal’s deep pitching staff is fronted by power righthander Anthony Meo (13-1, 1.80) and ultra-competitive lefty Cody Wheeler (10-0, 4.05), a Team USA alumnus. The bullpen, anchored by hard-throwing Sr. RHP Austin Fleet (6-1, 1.83 with eight saves), features power arms, sidewinders and strike-throwers from both sides. In short, good luck finding a weakness in this team, which has a better chance than ever to make its first trip to Omaha.
If any team can slow down the Chanticleers, maybe it is College of Charleston, which has been Coastal’s nemesis of sorts recently. The Cougars won two midweek games against CCU this season and have won five straight against the Chants overall. The Cougars were an older team in 2009, and they returned just three everyday starters this spring. One of them, Ryan Daniels, broke his leg before a game was played and missed the season; another, star infielder Joey Bergman, was sidelined early in the season with inflammation in his hands resulting from hamate surgery. But newcomers like JC transfer Jose Rodriguez (.346/.424/.627 with 15 homers and 64 RBIs) helped patch holes, and the Cougars got breakout years from catcher Rob Kral (.342/.479/.618 with 14 homers) and third baseman Matt Leeds (.325/.430/.697 with 20 homers and 81 RBIs a year after taking a medical redshirt). The end result is a characteristically potent CofC offense, though its power potential will be suppressed by spacious Coastal Federal Field, the pitcher-friendly home of the high Class A Myrtle Beach Pelicans. But Charleston has a chance because it also has a nice stable of power arms, though they can be inconsistent. Starters Kevin Decker (7-0, 3.79), David Peterson (8-3, 5.03) and Christian Powell (7-4, 6.63) can all run their fastballs in the low 90s, and closer Heath Hembree (5-2, 6.75 with four saves) reaches the mid-to-upper 90s, though he’s surprisingly hittable. If those power pitchers do what they are capable of, Charleston will be very dangerous in this regional and beyond.
North Carolina State followed up its 2008 super regional with a supremely disappointing 2009, but it bounced back in 2010, winning huge series against Virginia and Georgia Tech en route to its seventh regionals trip in the last eight years. A home run-hitting club with a shaky defense, the Wolfpack does not seem a great fit for the pitcher’s park in Myrtle Beach. N.C. State ranks sixth in the nation in scoring (9.4 runs per game) and seventh in home runs (97), but just 201st in fielding percentage (.958). The balanced Wolfpack offense features six hitters with double-digit home runs, headlined by cousins Dallas Poulk (.358/.441/.598 with 11 homers and 59 RBIs) and Drew Poulk (.357/.402/.600 with 13 homers and 69 RBIs). Of course, that duo also has combined for 43 of NCSU’s 156 doubles, and the ‘Pack should be able to wear out the spacious gaps at Coastal Federal Field. The Wolfpack is solid but unspectacular on the mound, led by ultra-competitive righthander Jake Buchanan (8-5, 3.65). So. RHP Cory Mazzoni (7-3, 5.20) can dominate at times with a fastball that reaches 93-94 mph, and Sr. LHP Alex Sogard (2-2, 5.26) has come on strong in recent weeks, giving the ‘Pack three talented starters. The bullpen has been inconsistent aside from deceptive lefty Grant Sasser (3.64 ERA, five saves). It’s worth noting that starting catcher Chris Schaeffer will not play this weekend after suffering a concussion in the ACC tournament when he and Florida State’s James Ramsey collided.
Stony Brook made a perfect 3-0 run through the America East tournament to reach regionals for the third time ever, and the second time in the last three years. The Seawolves have a fighting chance against juggernaut Coastal Carolina thanks to sophomore ace Nick Tropeano (8-3, 2.36 with 101-27 K-BB in 92 IP), who struck out 11 over six innings in his final regular-season start against Binghamton, then gave up just one run over eight innings in the AEC tournament against Maine. A loose-armed 6-foot-4 righty, Tropeano ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Atlantic Collegiate League last summer thanks to his projection and his feel for outstanding secondary stuff, including a biting breaking ball and a good changeup. Perhaps Stony Brook’s most valuable overall player is freshman two-way talent William Carmona, who led the team with a .398 average and also served as the team’s closer, racking up four saves. Jr. OF Michael Stephan (.335/.457/.598 with 10 homers) is the biggest threat in the middle of the balanced lineup.
|UFCU Disch-Falk Field, Austin (Host: Texas)|
|No. 1 Texas (46-11)
54th appearance, at-large, Big 12 Conference regular-season champion, No. 2 national seed. Coach: Augie Garrido.
No. 2 Rice (38-21)
No. 3 Louisiana-Lafayette (37-20)
No. 4 Rider (36-21)
Texas has been the favorite to win the 2010 national title since the final out was recorded in the 2009 College World Series Finals, in which Louisiana State beat the Longhorns in three games. Texas returned an embarrassingly talented pitching staff and the core of the lineup, creating sky-high expectations for this spring. So far, the ‘Horns have lived up to those expectations; their 21-game winning streak from April 1 to May 4 included a Big 12-record 17 consecutive conference victories. With one of the great pitching staffs college baseball has ever seen and a top-shelf defense, no team in the nation is better at run prevention than the Longhorns. They led the nation in ERA (2.51) and fewest hits allowed per nine innings (7.24), and they rank third in fielding percentage (.979). The rotation features a pair of future first-round picks in righties Taylor Jungmann (6-3, 2.16) and Brandon Workman (11-1, 3.77). Cole Green (10-1, 2.64) was more dominant than either during a midseason stretch, but he was knocked around a bit in the last two weeks, raising the question of whether the workload has gotten to him. Texas also has one of the nation’s elite closers in Jr. RHP Chance Ruffin (6-1, 0.77 with 13 saves), who followed in Austin Wood’s footsteps as a former starter who volunteered to close for the good of the team, and thrived in the role. Pitching and defense are Texas’ strengths, of course, but the ‘Horns also have hit a school-record 73 home runs, led by 13 apiece from Kevin Keyes and Kevin Lusson. The Longhorns will score more than enough to win with their elite pitching and defense.
Rice entered the season ranked in the top 10 on the basis of its lineup, which was supposed to be one of the nation’s best offensive and defensive units. It took some time, but the Owls wound up meeting those expectations. After scoring 53 runs in their first three games at the CUSA tournament, the Owls rank 10th in the nation in scoring (9.1 runs per game), and their fielding percentage has climbed to .972 after preseason All-America shortstop Rick Hague recovered from his first-half struggles. Of course, Rice’s lineup is built around the nation’s best overall player, So. 3B Anthony Rendon (.393/.532/.787 with 23 home runs, 78 RBIs and a 62-21 walk-strikeout mark). The lineup around Rendon has solid power, speed and depth—there are no easy outs. Pitching was a huge question early, but it gelled after Sr. RHP Mike Ojala (5-2, 3.80) worked his way back from Tommy John surgery and joined So. LHP Taylor Wall (5-5, 4.65) and Sr. RHP Jared Rogers (8-1, 4.10) in the rotation. The Owls are unlikely to out-pitch rival Texas, but they can win this regional if they take what the Texas pitchers give them and make ample use of the spacious gaps at Disch-Falk Field. And Hague must continue his improved play at short.
Louisiana-Lafayette’s season was a tale of two halves. The Ragin’ Cajuns dropped five straight weekend series in the first half, then finished with seven straight series wins to snag an at-large NCAA tournament bid even after going 0-2 in the Sun Belt tournament. The key to UL-L’s surge was its strike-throwing pitching staff, which ranks seventh in the nation in fewest walks per nine innings (2.67) and sixth in ERA (3.39) despite playing in the hitter-happy Sun Belt Conference. Sr. RHP Zach Osborne (8-4, 2.56 with 108-19 K-BB in 113 IP) gives Lafayette an ace with a chance to keep the high-powered Rice offense in check. Osborne pounds the bottom of the strike zone with an 87-90 mph sinker and a workable slider. The best arm on the staff belongs to So. RHP Dayton Marze (5-4, 3.10), who pitches at 90-93 with sink in Lafayette’s loaded bullpen, which is anchored by junior-college transfer Joey Satriano (3-0, 2.53, five saves). The Cajuns aren’t exactly explosive on offense, but they have a pair of power threats in Chad Keefer (.333 with 15 homers and 57 RBIs) and Jordan Poirrier (.330 with 12 homers and 56 RBIs). The Cajuns’ defense benefited this year from their new turf surface, which is similar to what they’ll play on at Texas. They have excellent defenders up the middle in scrappy shortstop Greg Fontenot (.968 fielding percentage) and speedy center fielder Kyle Olasin.
Rider played its best baseball down the stretch, winning 16 of its final 18 games, including a 3-0 run through the MAAC tournament. The Broncs head to regionals for the second time in three years after going 14 years between their previous appearances. Jr. 2B A.J. Albee earned conference tournament MVP honors with six runs, five hits and four RBIs in the three games; he set Rider single-season records this year for runs (62), RBIs (60) and assists (173). The Broncs don’t have a ton of firepower in the lineup, but they are loaded with pesky outs who make good contact and work counts—as a team, Rider has nearly as many walks (293) as strikeouts (299). But for the Broncs to pull off an upset against Texas, they’ll need a career day from ace Mike Thomas (9-2, 3.59), who allowed seven runs over 7 1/3 innings in his last start against Marist in the conference tourney. If Rider can keep it close, it has a chance; although he’s not exactly Chance Ruffin, closer Tyler Smith (6-4, 2.77, nine saves) has been very dependable late in games this season.
|Fort Worth Regional|
|Lupton Stadium, Fort Worth (Host: Texas Christian)|
|No. 1 Texas Christian (46-11)
Ninth appearance, automatic, Mountain West Conference regular-season and tournament champion. Coach: Jim Schlossnagle.
No. 2 Baylor (34-2)
No. 3 Arizona (33-22)
No. 4 Lamar (32-24)
Texas Christian won its first regional in 2009 and returned several key pieces of a loaded pitching staff, which got a further boost by the nation’s No. 4 recruiting class. The crown jewel of that haul was Fr. LHP Matt Purke, an unsigned first-round pick who almost immediately became the staff ace, going 12-0, 3.34 with 113 strikeouts and 25 walks in 89 innings. Of course, there’s no dropoff behind him, as So. RHP Kyle Winkler (10-1) and Jr. RHP Steven Maxwell (10-1, 2.73) also have power stuff, giving TCU one of the nation’s best rotations. The loaded bullpen is highlighted by hard-throwing So. RHP Kaleb Merck (1.12, three saves) and crafty Sr. RHP Tyler Lockwood (6-2, 2.00, four saves). Pitching is TCU’s main strength—it ranks ninth nationally in ERA (3.54)—but the Frogs are also a strong offensive club that scores 8.8 runs per game (17th in the nation), and an athletic defensive team. The lineup is very physical, led by slugging Sr. 1B Matt Curry (.359 with 17 homers), So. OF Jason Coats (.369 with 13 homers and 62 RBIs) and the team’s undisputed leader, Sr. C Bryan Holaday (.357 with 12 homers). It’s hard to find a chink in TCU’s armor, and the Frogs are better suited than ever to finally break through to Omaha.
Baylor appeared to be on the wrong side of the NCAA tournament bubble as recently as May 2, when it sat just 7-12 in the Big 12. But the Bears won nine of their next 11 games, including a run to the Big 12 title game, and easily returned to regionals. Baylor is a hard-nosed, balanced offensive team, but its real strength is its pitching, which ranks 20th in the nation in ERA (3.93). Veterans Willie Kempf (8-2, 3.11), Craig Fritsch (2-3, 3.50) and Shawn Tolleson (2-6, 5.30 with 82 strikeouts in 73 innings) have had up-and-down careers, but all have quality arms, and all have been generally reliable this spring. So. RHP Logan Verrett (5-3, 3.09 with 95 strikeouts and 22 walks in 87 innings) is a true power pitcher capable of dominating as a starter (his role for most of the season) or a reliever (his role in the Big 12 tournament). Two-way talent Brooks Pinckard (2.15, 10 saves; .316 average with 18 steals) is a premier athlete in the outfield with a mid-90s fastball out of the bullpen. That talented collection of arms gives Baylor a chance in this regional, but it also needs its bats to show up. The lineup doesn’t have a ton of firepower, but Max Muncy (11 HR) and Logan Vick (10 HR) have made huge impacts as freshmen.
Lamar finished its roller-coaster season in seventh place in the Southland, but the Cardinals caught fire in the conference tournament, going 4-0 to capture their first regional berth since 2004. Lamar’s strength is its strike-throwing weekend rotation, which includes steady veterans Matison Smith (10-3, 4.54) and Eric Harrington (8-3, 4.94) and exciting freshman Jonathan Dziedzic (5-5, 4.86 with 106 strikeouts in 87 innings). The lineup lacks punch, as just one Cardinal hit more than five home runs—center fielder Anthony Moore, who has 10. Lamar had to rebuild its entire infield after last year, and everything fell into place around junior-college transfer Aaron Buchanan (.349/.466/.476 with a .968 fielding percentage), a 5-foot-6, 135-pound shortstop who leads the team in batting from the leadoff spot.
|Dodd Stadium, Norwich, Conn. (Host: Connecticut)|
|No. 1 Florida State (42-17)
48th appearance, automatic, Atlantic Coast Conference tournament champion. Coach: Mike Martin.
No. 2 Connecticut (47-14)
No. 3 Oregon (38-22)
No. 4 Central Connecticut State (33-21)
Despite battling inconsistent pitching all season, Florida State kept winning series and looked like a lock to host a regional heading into the final weekend of the regular season. But the Seminoles were swept in that final set at Clemson, losing the Atlantic Division title on the final day of the season, and even rebounding to win the ACC tournament wasn’t enough to salvage FSU’s hosting hopes. That could loom large, because as usual Florida State is much better at Dick Howser Stadium (26-8) than on the road (11-8). The pitching has been a disappointment on the whole for Florida State, especially at the top of the rotation, where ace So. LHP Sean Gilmartin (7-7, 4.80) has looked decidedly unlike an ace in the second half. Fellow lefties Brian Busch and John Gast have been inconsistent behind him, putting extra pressure on the FSU bullpen. Fortunately, preseason All-American Mike McGee has taken to the closer role, going 4-0, 0.41 with nine saves after spending last season in the rotation. McGee also leads the team with 14 home runs and 64 RBIs, making him one of just two Seminoles with double-digit home runs. The Seminoles haven’t put up nearly the gaudy offensive numbers they usually do, but they have an experienced core of winning players (like McGee, Holt, Stuart Tapley and Stephen Cardullo) who have knacks for getting big hits. And as always, the Seminoles drive opponents crazy and drive up pitch counts with their patience: they have 364 walks, second-most in the nation. The Seminoles haven’t won pretty this year, but they have won nonetheless. Historically, they seem to play well with a chip on their shoulder, and getting shipped to Connecticut might serve that end.
Connecticut has more than lived up to its preseason sleeper status, putting together easily its best season in the last two decades by winning a school-record 47 games and cruising to its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1994. In the process, UConn earned the right to host New England’s first regional since Maine hosted in 1991. UConn’s talented lineup features the nation’s hardest player to strike out in leadoff man Pierre LePage (three strikeouts in 234 at-bats); a five-tool talent with first-round potential next year in So. OF George Springer (.336/.490/.664 with 17 homers, 60 RBIs and 32 steals in 34 tries); and two mashers on the infield corners in juniors Mike Nemeth (.380 with 14 homers and 80 RBIs) and Mike Olt (.313 with 21 homers and 68 RBIs). The top draft-eligible prospect in New England, Olt is also an excellent defender at third base, which is critical against bunt-happy Oregon. The Huskies have another potential 2011 first-rounder in hard-throwing So. RHP Matt Barnes (8-2, 3.87), but he wasn’t as effective down the stretch, and neither was ace Jr. LHP Elliot Glynn (7-3, 2.66), a dogged competitor with excellent command. If that duo can revert to midseason form, UConn is talented enough to make an Omaha run.
There aren’t many college baseball stories in 2010 that are more amazing than UConn, but Oregon might be one of them. The Ducks were just about the worst offensive team in the nation in 2009, their first season since the program was resurrected from a 28-year hiatus. They went just 4-23 in the Pac-10 and 14-42 overall last year, but Year Two has been a completely different story, starting with a stunning season-opening win at Cal State Fullerton. Oregon improved by 24 wins overall and nine wins in conference play, highlighted by back-to-back road series wins at Stanford and UCLA in April. Oregon is still not exactly potent offensively (it averages just six runs per game, 228th in the nation), but it is considerably improved. And its pitching is top-notch, with a 3.28 ERA that ranks fifth in the nation. Oregon will go as far as its arms carry it. The Ducks have a rock-solid ace in So. LHP Tyler Anderson (7-4, 2.76 with 101-31 K-BB in 95 IP), whose greatest assets are his command and competitiveness. Sr. RHPs Justin LaTempa (5-3, 3.81) and Zack Thornton (9-0, 3.54) have power stuff behind him, as do bullpen stalwarts Scott McGough (4-2, 2.60, four saves) and Drew Gagnier (3.54, four saves).
Central Connecticut State bashed its way through the NEC tournament to reach regionals for the first time since 2004—which was the last of three straight regionals appearances, the only three in school history until this year. The Blue Devils boast a potent offense that ranks 10th nationally in batting (.345) and 21st in scoring (8.6 runs per game). NEC player of the year Sean Allaire (.432/.490/.753 with 13 homers and 72 RBIs) and fellow veteran Pat Epps (.425/.510/.790 with 18 homers and 73 RBIs) do much of the heavy lifting in the lineup, though five Blue Devils are hitting .374 or better. But CCSU is not great on the mound, with a 6.23 team ERA, so its bats will likely have to be locked in to have a chance at pulling off an upset against high-scoring opponents like Florida State and Connecticut.
|Jim Patterson Stadium, Louisville (Host: Louisville)|
|No. 1 Louisville (48-12)
Fifth appearance, at-large, Big East regular-season champion, No. 7 national seed. Coach: Dan McDonnell.
No. 2 Vanderbilt (41-17)
No. 3 Illinois State (31-22)
No. 4 Saint Louis (33-27)
Louisville lost the two biggest stars from last year’s super regional team—slugger Chris Dominguez and ace Justin Marks—but returned most of the other key pieces of its physical, explosive lineup. Five Cardinals have at least a dozen home runs, led by Jr. 3B Phil Wunderlich (.357/.435/.697 with 20 homers and 58 RBIs), who also helps provides excellent veteran leadership. The Cards also have quality athletes at key positions in super sophomore 2B Ryan Wright (.366/.413/.643 with 15 homers and 77 RBIs), Sr. SS Adam Duvall (.336 with 12 homers), and outfielders Josh Richmond and Drew Haynes. The deep pitching staff is anchored by Jr. RHP Thomas Royse (9-1, 2.91), who can dominate at times with a low-90s fastball and quality slider. The bullpen also has a dominator in Sr. RHP Neil Holland (8-0, 2.10 with 16 saves), who pounds the strike zone with a deceptive, lively fastball from a funky low-three-quarters arm slot. Lately, the Cardinals have been relying upon freshmen Matt Koch (2-0, 3.55) and Justin Amlung (5-1, 4.01) in the rotation after Royse, but their experienced bullpen gives them plenty of insurance. Louisville will be without coach Dan McDonnell for the first three games while he serves a suspension for an altercation with umpires in the Big East tournament, but assistants Roger Williams and Chris Lemonis are more than capable of steering this veteran team in McDonnell’s absence.
Vanderbilt got off to a 14-1 start against a soft nonconference schedule and cruised into regionals with 41 wins overall, but the Commodores won just two series against regional teams—against Auburn and at LSU. When Vandy’s power arms are on their games, the Commodores are very tough to beat. So. RHP Sonny Gray (9-4, 3.18 with 100-41 K-BB in 93 IP) has emerged as a bona fide ace, as expected, thanks to mid-90s fastball velocity that he holds deep into games and a ridiculous power curve at 82-85. Jr. RHP Taylor Hill (5-5, 3.96) and So. RHP Jack Armstrong (7-3, 4.19) can also pitch in the low 90s and have been overpowering at times. Vandy also has a quality swingman in Jr. RHP Chase Reid (4-1, 3.55), but closer Russell Brewer (3.07, six saves) is a question mark after sitting out the last two weeks with arm soreness. In the lineup, Vandy has a mix of exciting young players (like sophomore third baseman Jason Esposito and dynamic freshmen Anthony Gomez and Connor Harrell) and steady if unspectacular veterans (like Aaron Westlake, Andrew Giobbi and Brian Harris). The Commodores are solid defensively up the middle and on the corners, but they need to avoid slugfests against a more physical Louisville team, should the regional come down to those two teams, which seems likely. That means the onus is on the arms to pitch up to their talent.
On paper, Illinois State is the weakest No. 3 seed in the field of 64, but the Redbirds have been defying expectations all season, tying for the Missouri Valley regular-season title and upsetting perennial MVC power Wichita State in the conference tournament title game. First-year coach Mark Kingston pointed out down the stretch that his team was not leading the Valley in pitching or hitting or defense. “We’re just a solid ballclub,” he said. Indeed, the Redbirds ranked in the middle of the MVC pack in just about every major statistical category, but they do boast the conference’s batting champion in redshirt sophomore 2B Kevin Tokarski (.429/.551/.702 with seven home runs and 33 stolen bases in 39 tries). Tokarski had three wrist surgeries in the offseason, and at one point Kingston did not know if he’d even be able to play again, but he has emerged as the catalyst in the ISU offense. Redshirt junior 3B Ryan Court (.301 with 10 homers) is the biggest threat in the middle of the lineup, which is packed with gamers who grind out at-bats. Likewise, the pitching staff lacks prospects who light up radar guns, but it is fully stocked with competitive strike-throwers. The biggest weapon on the staff is sophomore lefty Kenny Long (4-3, 1.37 with nine saves, 67 strikeouts and 19 walks in 59 innings), who came out of nowhere to become a shut-down closer. Long never throws harder than 81-82 mph, but he varies his arm slots and employs three different breaking balls effectively.
Saint Louis made a huge leap forward in coach Darin Hendrickson’s third year at the helm, winning a school-record 33 games and advancing to regionals for the first time since 2006 (and just the second time since 1966). Saint Louis announced it would be a factor this year by sweeping a doubleheader against Kansas in March, just days after the Jayhawks won a series at LSU. The Billikens gained momentum again in the last two weeks, sweeping a series against Dayton and beating top-seeded Charlotte twice in a 4-0 run through the A-10 tournament. Saint Louis has an experienced team, with eight returning starters from a year ago, headlined by Sr. 1B Danny Brock (.361/.470/.648 with 17 homers and 73 RBIs). Jr. 3B Jon Myers (.367/.413/.641 with 15 homers and 70 RBIs), who played in just 14 games a year ago before suffering a season-ending injury, lends Brock protection in the lineup. The Billikens have a 6.43 team ERA, but they will try to sneak up on heavily favored Louisville behind ace Sr. RHP Bryant Cotton (9-4, 3.97).
|Los Angeles Regional|
|Jackie Robinson Stadium, Los Angeles (Host: UCLA)|
|No. 1 UCLA (43-13)
16th appearance, at-large, second place in Pacific-10 Conference, No. 6 national seed. Coach: John Savage.
No. 2 Louisiana State (40-20)
No. 3 UC Irvine (37-19)
UCLA opened the season with a 22-game winning streak and climbed to No. 1 in the rankings after winning its first two conference series against Stanford and Oregon State. The Bruins then went through a bit of a rough patch, capped when they were swept at home by Arizona State, but they rebounded to win their last four series and earn their first national seed. The Bruins have one of the nation’s most dominant pitching staffs: They lead the nation in strikeouts per nine innings (10-2) and rank second in ERA (3.02) and fewest hits per nine (7.3). The weekend rotation features three straight aces in sophomore righties Gerrit Cole (9-2, 3.27) and Trevor Bauer (9-2, 2.84) plus junior lefty Rob Rasmussen (9-2, 2.89). All of them work in the 90s—in Cole’s case, the mid- to upper 90s—and all of them have swing-and-miss secondary stuff. Cole will start the opener against Kent State. And there’s no dropoff in the bullpen, where Dan Klein (5-0, 2.13 with nine saves) emerged this spring as an elite closer and the supporting cast is excellent. With that pitching staff, the Bruins don’t have to hit a ton to win, but they hit enough. The lineup got a boost this year from hard-nosed newcomers with line-drive swings: Dean Espy (.359/.416/.599), Beau Amaral (.343), Cody Keefer (.318) and Cody Regis (.303).
Louisiana State’s national title defense got off to a solid enough start. Even with ace Anthony Ranaudo sidelined with an elbow injury for several weeks early, the Tigers jumped out to a 12-0 record against a soft nonconference schedule and won four of their first five conference series. That’s when the wheels fell off: LSU lost 13 of 15 games from April 24 to May 18 as its pitching collapsed. Ranaudo struggled to recapture last year’s championship form, and closer Matty Ott was repeatedly hammered as he battled mechanical issues. But LSU regrouped in the conference tournament, making a perfect 4-0 run to its third straight SEC crown and rediscovering its swagger in the process. Ranaudo’s return to form was a major boost; the junior righthander showed excellent stuff in a tourney-opening win against top-seeded Florida, reaching 95 mph with his fastball and buckling knees with a devastating power curve. He returned to throw three scoreless innings of relief in the title game, and the Tigers will hold him back until Saturday this week, opting instead to start Jr. RHP Austin Ross (5-4, 5.07) in the opener against UC Irvine. If Ross can avoid the one big inning that has plagued him in many of his starts this year, he can win. It helps that the Tigers suddenly seem likely to give him plenty of run support, as mainstays Micah Gibbs (.392/.467/.591), Blake Dean (.344/.432/.541 with 11 homers and 69 RBIs), Tyler Hanover (.336/.411/.438) and Mikie Mahtook (.335/.437/.639 with 14 homers) are all talented hitters playing with abundant confidence, and the lineup has plenty of depth.
UC Irvine has not been quite the juggernaut it was a year ago, when it cruised to the Big West title by five games and spent six weeks atop the rankings heading into the postseason. Still, Irvine’s roster is loaded with veterans with postseason experience—in fact, several notable holdovers remain from the UCI team that lost in heartbreaking fashion to LSU in the 2008 Baton Rouge Super Regional. The biggest strength of the team is the all-senior rotation of lefthander Daniel Bibona (9-2, 2.10) and righties Christian Bergman (8-3, 3.82) and Eric Pettis (9-3, 3.37). None of the three reaches 90 mph, but all pitch with movement and command, and all are fiercely competitive. Bibona missed the last month with a ribcage injury but is expected to return in time for the opener against LSU. In his absence, the Anteaters developed a nice insurance policy in Fr. RHP Evan Brock (5-4, 2.96). The rubber-armed Pettis has 15 starts and six saves, as he is capable of pitching in relief on a Friday and bouncing back to start two days later. But Sr. RHP Kyle Necke (4.61, seven saves) will also be counted on in the ‘pen. In the lineup, the ‘Eaters miss last year’s offensive sparkplug and defensive leader Ben Orloff at shortstop, but they still have a skilled group of veterans who can handle the bat and move runners around. The centerpiece of the lineup is Sr. 1B Jeff Cusick (.379/.458/.579 with eight homers and 56 RBIs), a smooth line-driver hitter with sneaky pop. Irvine is the least offensive team in this regional, but it can win if it executes the way it is capable of doing.
After losing its conference tournament opener, Kent State mashed its way to five straight wins to reach regionals for the third time in the last four years. The Golden Flashes have a reputation for developing quality arms, and they have another solid ace this year in Jr. RHP Robert Sabo (6-4, 4.08), who attacks hitters with a lively fastball and good slider. He’ll give Kent State a real shot against UCLA, but so will the physical, athletic lineup, which is headlined by veteran outfielders Anthony Gallas (.367/.446/.664 with 17 homers and 81 RBIs), Ben Klafczynski (.365/.450/.603 with nine homers and 59 RBIs) and Jared Humphreys (.324/.411/.479 with 11 steals). The Flashes also have a breakout star in So. 3B Travis Shaw (.341/.460/.641 with 15 homers and 60 RBIs), who teams with sparkplug Jimmy Rider to form a rock-solid left side of the infield—an asset in this regional against two West Coast teams. In fact, Kent State is the best defensive team in this group, with a .974 fielding percentage that ranks 20th in the nation. One of the most dangerous No. 4 seeds in the tournament, Kent is capable of winning a game or two, and maybe even making a run at winning the regional.
|Goodwin Field, Fullerton, Calif. (Host: Cal State Fullerton)|
|No. 1 Cal State Fullerton (41-15)
32nd appearance, automatic, Big West Conference champion. Coach: Dave Serrano.
No. 2 Stanford (31-23)
No. 3 New Mexico (37-20)
No. 4 Minnesota (30-28)
Cal State Fullerton entered the season with unfinished business after last year’s disappointing 0-2 showing in the College World Series. Ranked in the top five in the preseason, the Titans have not breezed through the season as expected, perhaps, but they have overcome injuries and a slow start to find themselves in their customary spot as a national title favorite heading into the postseason. The pitching staff has been hit hardest: ace Daniel Renken (11-2, 3.95) struggled through the first half before finding his stride down the stretch; So. RHP Noe Ramirez (10-1, 2.50) missed time with a broken hand in his non-throwing hand suffered during practice; and So. RHP Tyler Pill (4-4, 3.36) has been unable to pitch due to elbow soreness, though he has contributed at DH. Pill has been cleared to play the outfield but not to pitch yet, though he has been throwing bullpens. But the injuries have created an opportunity for highly touted Fr. RHP Dylan Floro (7-0, 2.84) to emerge as yet another quality Titan starter. Floro, who will start the opener against Minnesota, has a low three-quarters arm slot that helps him generate excellent life on his fastball. Fullerton’s pressure offense is keyed by preseason All-Americans Christian Colon (.347/.436/.606 with 14 homers and 58 RBIs) and Gary Brown (.438/.485/.695 with six homers and 31 stolen bases) out of the top two spots in the order, and the Titans suffered a major blow when Brown broke his left middle finger sliding into a base on May 13. He’ll remain sidelined this weekend, but so far the Titans have succeeded in his absence with infielder Joey Siddons manning center field and energetic 5-foot-6 Fr. 3B Richie Pedroza moving up to the No. 2 hole.
Stanford has had Fullerton’s number in the postseason over the years, but it’s anyone’s guess which Cardinal team will show up this weekend. Stanford’s season has been a rollercoaster ride—not terribly surprising given the amount of freshmen playing key roles. Fortunately, those youngsters are very talented (Stanford’s recruiting class ranked No. 2 in the nation last year), led by the ultra-athletic trio of third baseman Kenny Diekroeger (.351/.384/.486 with five homers and 39 RBIs) and outfielders Tyler Gaffney and Jake Stewart, plus sweet-swinging first baseman Stephen Piscotty (.321/.382/.440). With quality athletes all over the diamond, Stanford is a solid defensive team, but its offense is very inconsistent, and it averages just six runs per game (225th in the nation). Pitching has been similarly inconsistent, but power-armed So. LHP Brett Mooneyham (3-6, 4.74) started to get a handle on his erratic command, posting a 3.38 ERA over 56 innings in his last nine appearances. He and Fullerton’s Floro were teammates at Buhach Colony High in Atwater, Calif. The most reliable starter on the staff has been So. RHP Jordan Pries (4-3, 3.86), who relies on his competitiveness and savvy more than overpowering stuff. Stanford is loaded with young talent, but it seems a year away from being ready to make a deep postseason run.
New Mexico broke through to regionals for the first time since 1962 after a 37-win campaign that included a season-opening series win at Texas—the only series the Longhorns lost all year. As usual, New Mexico is an offensive club. It ranks fourth in the nation in batting (.350) and eighth in doubles (157), led by breakout star Sr. 1B Justin Howard (.455/.505/.712 with 10 homers, 72 RBIs and 32 doubles), who ranks second in batting and doubles. Jr. C Rafael Neda (.369/.438/.604 with 10 homers and 63 RBIs) gives the lineup another power threat. The Lobos excel at using the gaps, especially to the opposite field, and they make consistent contact up and down the lineup. The pitching staff is still far from elite, but it continues to make progress. The Lobos now have nine pitchers who can reach 90 mph, led by Sr. RHP Willy Kesler (6-3, 3.78), a bulldog with a low-90s heater.
Minnesota was just 14-23 overall and 4-5 in the Big Ten after losing to South Dakota State on April 20, but the Golden Gophers went 13-4 in May to capture the Big Ten’s regular-season and tournament titles. This is the fourth different decade in which coach John Anderson has won a Big Ten title. The most talented No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament, the Gophers could topple Cal State Fullerton if ace Jr. RHP Seth Rosin (8-4, 5.02) lives up to his potential. Rosin pounds the strike zone with a 91-94 mph fastball and a high-70s slider, and he will keep the Gophers in the game. If it’s close late, Minnesota can turn to closer Scott Matyas (4-1, 2.59 with seven saves), who attacks hitters with a high-80s fastball and a good slider. The Gophers also have an emerging ace in Fr. RHP T.J. Oakes (4-3, 3.71), the son of pitching coach Todd Oakes. Minnesota is fundamentally sound, as usual, and features standout defenders up the middle in SS A.J. Pettersen and C Kyle Knudson. The offense is built around switch-hitting Jr. RF/C Michael Kvasnicka (.350/.462/.562 with seven homers and 46 RBIs) and powerful So. 1B Nick O’Shea (.339 with 13 homers and 59 RBIs).
|Coral Gables Regional|
|Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field, Coral Gables, Fla. (Host: Miami)|
|No. 1 Miami (40-17)
39th appearance, at-large, fourth place in Atlantic Coast Conference. Coach: Jim Morris.
No. 2 Texas A&M (40-19)
No. 3 Florida International (36-23)
No. 4 Dartmouth (26-17)
Miami is making its record 38th consecutive appearance in regionals and is hosting for the 23rd time despite losing all five series it played against ranked teams in 2010. But the Hurricanes took care of business against the softer part of their schedule and finished with 40 wins overall, 20 in conference play. Miami is not as offensive as it has been in recent years, but it does have a superstar anchoring the lineup in ACC player of the year Yasmani Grandal (.422/.545/.754 with 14 homers and 56 RBIs), a three-year starter at catcher with Omaha experience. So. 3B Harold Martinez (.298/.377/.601 with 19 homers and 60 RBIs) has big-time power but can be beaten by quality fastballs—and he’ll see plenty of them if the Hurricanes run into Texas A&M. The rest of the lineup features quality athletes with good speed but moderate offensive skills. The weekend rotation is experienced even without Sr. LHP Eric Erickson (4-1, 2.52), a Tommy John survivor who won’t pitch again this year due to elbow soreness. The Hurricanes have a reliable ace in Jr. LHP Chris Hernandez (8-3, 3.02), a cutter specialist who was the 2008 national Freshman of the Year. After Hernandez, the rotation is filled out with competitive senior righties with fringy or below-average stuff—Jason Santana (5-3, 5.88) and David Gutierrez (5-1, 4.75). As usual for a Jim Morris-coached team, the bullpen is a strength, led by quick-armed So. LHP Daniel Miranda (5-2, 3.43 with five saves). Morris himself is one of Miami’s best assets; one of the best coaches in college baseball, Morris knows how to win regionals.
Texas A&M lost three straight series in April but rebounded to win its final four sets heading into the Big 12 tournament, where it made a perfect 4-0 run to capture the championship. Power pitching is the name of the game for the Aggies, who rank third nationally in strikeouts per nine innings (9.2) and eighth in ERA (3.48). After bone chips in his elbow torpedoed his sophomore year, Jr. RHP Barret Loux (10-2, 2.53 with 126-32 K-BB in 96 IP) came back strong this spring, overpowering hitters with 90-95 mph fastballs. He blossomed into a front-line ace, and the Aggies found a premium closer in JC transfer John Stilson (8-1, 0.87 with nine saves and 106-20 K-BB in 72 IP), whose four-pitch repertoire is highlighted by a 94-98 mph fastball and a filthy changeup. Another newcomer, Fr. RHP Michael Wacha (8-2, 2.42), throws strikes with his quality own four-pitch mix, though he’s not as electric. The rotation also features steady veterans in Ross Stripling (6-3, 3.80) and Clayton Ehlhert (4-6, 5.21), plus multiple different looks in the bullpen. The lineup returned three starters from a year ago, including one of the nation’s best seniors in SS Brodie Greene (.392/.461/.661 with 12 homers, 50 RBIs and 23 stolen bases), who started the year in center field before stabilizing the infield. A&M isn’t particularly powerful on offense, but as usual it applies plenty of pressure on opposing defenses with its speed and aggressiveness.
Coral Gables might be the field’s most intriguing regional thanks to Florida International‘s run to the Sun Belt tournament title and subsequent inclusion in this regional. So. SS Garrett Wittels carries a 54-game hitting streak into the regional, just four shy of tying former Oklahoma State star Robin Ventura’s famous Division I record. Not bad for a guy who was not expected to start heading into the spring and figured to make more of a contribution on the mound. There’s also the underlying mutual dislike between Florida International and Miami, plus the tension between Jim Morris and his former assistant Turtle Thomas, now FIU’s head coach. Lost in all those compelling storylines is Florida International’s strong play down the stretch, including five straight wins in the conference tourney after dropping its opener against South Alabama. The Panthers have three solid starters in ace lefty R.J. Fondon (5-3, 4.40) and righthanders Scott Rembisz (9-4, 4.75) and Aaron Arboleya (5-2, 4.73). Arboleya has the best stuff on the staff, with a low-90s fastball with good sink and a good slider, but Fondon has had success by locating his upper-80s fastball, excellent slider and improved changeup. Wittels leads the team in hitting (.412/.464/.536), but he’s not the only solid line-drive hitter in the lineup. He has good protection behind him in the order from sophomores Mike Martinez (.389/.460/.585 with eight homers and 54 RBIs) and Jeremy Patton (.375/.465/.585 with eight homers and 44 RBIs).
After breaking a 22-year regionals drought last year, Dartmouth repeated as Ivy League champion this spring, slugging its way past top-seeded Columbia in the championship series. Of course, that was back on May 9, and the Big Green has played just two tuneup games in the month and a half since, so rust could be a factor. Dartmouth is not flashy, but it does not beat itself. Its pitchers pound the strike zone better than any staff in the nation, walking just 1.89 batters per nine innings, fewest in the country. And Dartmouth’s .974 fielding percentage ranks 22nd in the nation. The Big Green has a star in the making in Fr. C Chris O’Dowd (.382/.489/.664 with six homers), and So. SS Joe Sclafani (.329/.436/.432) is a sparkplug atop the lineup. On the mound, Fr. LHP Kyle Hunter (2-0, 3.69) was the team’s hottest pitcher down the stretch and earned the win in the decisive game against Columbia, but Sr. LHP Robert Young (3-5, 6.79) and So. RHP Kyle Hendricks (4-5, 6.09) have experience starting in regionals.
|McKethan Stadium, Gainesville, Fla. (Host: Florida)|
|No. 1 Florida (42-15)
26th appearance, at-large, Southeastern Conference regular-season champion, No. 3 national seed. Coach: Kevin O’Sullivan.
No. 2 Florida Atlantic (35-22)
No. 3 Oregon State (31-22)
No. 4 Bethune-Cookman (35-20)
Florida established itself as a national contender in coach Kevin O’Sullivan’s second season in 2009, reaching super regionals before falling to upstart Southern Mississippi. The Gators rebounded from that disappointment with a remarkably consistent 2010 despite a roster loaded with underclassmen, many of them products of Florida’s No. 1-ranked ’09 recruiting class. The Gators have multiple contenders freshman All-America honors, led by powerful corner infielder Austin Maddox (.339 with a team-best 17 homers and 66 RBIs), rock-solid shortstop Nolan Fontana (.988 fielding percentage), sinkerballer Hudson Randall (7-3, 2.90) and two-way talent Brian Johnson (5-4, 4.41; .385/.453/.600). The Gators are one of the nation’s best defensive units thanks to premium defenders up the middle in Fontana, fellow freshman Mike Zunino behind the plate, Jr. 2B Josh Adams and Sr. OF Matt den Dekker. If there’s a weakness, it’s third base, where Maddox is still learning the position after converting from catcher, prompting O’Sullivan to try out freshman Cody Dent at the hot corner during the SEC tournament. Florida’s deep pitching staff makes use of its strong defense by inducing loads of ground balls, though the Gators also have an electric closer who can miss bats in Jr. LHP Kevin Chapman (3-0, 1.31 with 11 saves, 40 strikeouts and seven walks in 41 innings). Florida is deep, balanced, well coached and hungry, and anything less than an Omaha trip would be a disappointment.
Florida Atlantic made its first regional since 2005 in coach John McCormack’s second season as the head man. A strong group of junior-college transfers, led by slugging first baseman Dan Scheffler (.367/.483/.700 with 14 homers and 63 RBIs) and outfielder Andy Mee (.388/.430/.592 with eight homers), has meshed perfectly with key returnees to spark FAU’s surprise run to the Sun Belt’s regular-season title. Mee, a two-way player, also racked up 11 saves and posted a 2.96 ERA after incumbent closer and top prospect Glenn Troyanowski went down with labrum surgery. Mee doesn’t have Troyanowski’s stuff, but he competes with an 87-90 mph fastball and a very good slider. It helps that the Owls have experienced holdovers at key spots in Jr. SS Nick DelGuidice (.307/.353/.513 with nine homers, 52 RBIs and a .957 fielding percentage) and ace Mike Gipson (8-1, 3.40). They also have an ace in the making in Fr. RHP R.J. Alvarez (3-1, 4.74), who can run his fastball up to 95 mph.
Oregon State’s third-ranked 2007 recruiting class has still yet to win a regional, and a month it looked like it would not get another chance to do so. The Beavers lost 11 of 12 games from April 9 to May 2, falling to 4-11 in the Pac-10 and 21-17 overall and dimming their regional hopes. But OSU rebounded to win three of its next four series and return to regionals for the fifth time in the last six years. A few key members of that ballyhooed junior class have put together solid seasons—notably righthanders Kevin Rhoderick (2.93, four saves) and Greg Peavey (5-3, 3.69). So. RHP Sam Gaviglio, last year’s ace, started slow with a hamstring injury but once again came on strong down the stretch, capped by a 13-strikeout gem over 7 2/3 scoreless innings last weekend against Arizona. Jr. RHP Tyler Waldron (4-5, 5.22) has also pitched his best of late in a relief role, and Fr. LHP Matt Boyd (7-1, 1.90) has been a rock in the bullpen all season, giving the Beavers hope that their pitching can carry them through a regional. It will have to, because Oregon State is not a good offensive team, though it’s not as bad as it was during its midseason funk. The Beavers rank 279th in the nation in batting (.266) and 255th in scoring (5.6 runs per game). To make maters worse, the team’s leading run producer by far—Jr. 3B Stefen Romero (.326/.427/.603 with 13 homers)—broke his arm in the final week of the regular season. But the Beavers have shown admirable ability overcome adversity this season, and Sr. OF Adalberto Santos (.337/.441/.590 with 10 homers, 35 RBIs and 18 steals) had a good final weekend after moving into the No. 3 hole. Santos hit .435 in May with 13 extra-base hits in 17 games.
Teams in Florida have learned better than to take Bethune-Cookman lightly as a No. 4 seed. The Wildcats capped an 18-0 run through the MEAC regular-season schedule with a perfect run to the conference tournament championship, their 10th in the last 11 years. Coach Mervyl Melendez says this is the most powerful team he’s ever had at B-CU, thanks to a fearsome heart of the order. So. C Peter O’Brien (.392/.452/.763 with 20 homers and 56 RBIs) mashed his way to MEAC player of the year honors, and he’s an excellent defensive backstop to boot. O’Brien is buttressed in the lineup by two more long ball threats, Jr. 1B Ryan Durrence (.368/.429/.726 with 18 homers and 70 RBIs) and Jr. OF D.J. Leonard (.429/.458/.728 with 10 homers and 43 RBIs). Junior college transfer Leonard’s emergence has been particularly vital since the team’s best pure hitter, C.J. Lauriello, tore his labrum and rotator cuff, ending his season after just 28 games. Another JC transfer, 2B/RHP Juan Perez (.345/.421/.452 with 10 steals; 5.17 ERA, 10 saves) is both a catalyst in the No. 2 hole and a power-armed closer with a fastball that reaches 94 mph. Bethune-Cookman is certainly capable of bashing its way past Florida, but its chances of victory will increase considerably if So. RHP Ali Simpson (6-1, 4.66) can pitch like he did as a freshman last year, when he went 9-2, 3.23.