No. 1 Virginia (49-9, 22-8 in the ACC)
11th appearance (seventh straight), automatic, Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season and tournament champion, No. 1 national seed
No. 2 East Carolina (39-19, 14-10 in C-USA)
25th appearance (last in 2009), at-large, third place in Conference USA
No. 3 St. John’s (35-20, 18-8 in Big East)
33rd appearance (second straight), at-large, second place in Big East
No. 4 Navy (33-23-1, 12-8 in Patriot League)
Eight appearance (last in 2002), automatic, Patriot League regular-season and tournament champion
Virginia spent most of 2010 at or near the top of the national rankings, but it fell one win short of its second consecutive CWS trip, getting upset by Oklahoma in a super regional. The Cavs lost a host of stalwarts to the draft after the season, but they had an abundance of talent waiting in the wings, and players such as David Coleman (the team’s leading hitter at .374), Kenny Swab (.313), Chris Taylor (.293) and John Barr (.290) have thrived in everyday roles this spring, helping UVa. win two more games than it did in 2010 and its second ACC tournament title in three years. The lineup is less powerful than it was a year ago, but it is deep, athletic and versatile, and it still has a pair of power threats in juniors John Hicks (.338 with six homers and 50 RBIs) and Steven Proscia (.333 with seven homers and 53 RBIs). Virginia wears out the gaps, ranking sixth nationally in doubles per game (2.34) and 17th in scoring (7.1 runs per game). But the team’s true strength is its ability to prevent runs better than any team in college baseball—UVa. has allowed just 2.7 runs per game and has outscored opponents by 4.4 runs per game, both tops in the nation. ACC pitcher of the year Danny Hultzen (10-3, 1.59, 136-16 K-BB in 96 IP) fronts a pitching staff that leads the country in strikeouts per nine innings (9.9), ranks second in ERA (2.34), third in fewest hits per nine (6.8) and fifth in fewest walks per nine (2.3). UVa. also ranks sixth with a .980 fielding percentage. In sum: Virginia is one of the nation’s most complete teams and one of the leading contenders for the national title.
East Carolina has the pitching to go toe-to-toe with Virginia—and the Pirates did just that in February, winning one out of three in Charlottesville and losing another game by just a run. ECU’s staff ERA ranks seventh nationally (2.58) and is loaded with depth and experience. The rock-solid weekend rotation features an emergent power arm in Mike Wright (6-3, 2.84), whose fastball touches 96 mph; a bulldog senior with solid stuff across the board in Seth Maness (9-3, 1.88); and a junior lefty whose stuff plays up because of his deception and angle in Kevin Brandt (7-3, 2.26). The bullpen has one of the best one-two punches anywhere in senior righties Brad Mincey (9-3, 1.88, three saves) and Seth Simmons (6-2, 2.56, six saves), who both reach the low 90s and have swing-and-miss breaking balls. More quality arms like Zach Woods (2-2, 3.29) and Shawn Armstrong (3-1, 4.22) give the Pirates insurance in case they fall into the loser’s bracket. Davenport Field is a pitcher’s park, and East Carolina is a pitching team, which makes it very dangerous in this regional. The offense lacks ECU’s usual thunder, but has a quality senior catalyst in Trent Whitehead (.332/.418/.478 with 16 steals) and a pair of solid run producers in juniors Corey Thompson (.330 with five homers and 45 RBIs) and Zach Wright (.278 with 13 homers and 39 RBIs).
After pushing Virginia to a decisive final game in the 2010 Charlottesville Regional, St. John’s entered 2011 with high expectations—and a No. 23 preseason ranking. The Red Storm played its first 13 games on the road, getting off to a 5-8 start that included a series win at Georgia Southern and a single win at Georgia Tech. Despite getting swept twice in Big East play (by UConn and South Florida), St. John’s finished second in the regular season and reached the finals of the Big East tournament to snag one of the last at-large bids. St. John’s is led by one of the nation’s best all-around shortstops in junior Joe Panik (.402/.513/.645 with nine homers, 56 RBIs and 21 steals in 25 tries), a likely top-three-rounds pick in the upcoming draft. Outfielder Jeremy Baltz captured first-team All-America honors as a freshman, and while he hasn’t hit for nearly as much power as a sophomore, he remains a dangerous run producer in the middle of the lineup, hitting .312 with six homers and 58 RBIs. Veterans Matt Wessinger (.274 with six homers and 42 RBIs) and Paul Karmas (.319 with five homers and 40 RBIs) make this a dangerous heart of the order for pitchers to navigate, and the lineup is filled with tough outs up and down the order. The pitching staff is bookended by talented sophomores Kyle Hansen (8-6, 2.70, 105-39 K-BB in 103 IP) and Matt Carasiti (2.52, seven saves), with veteran strike-throwers in between.
Navy had to replace its top three hitters from 2010, accounting for a quarter of its RPI production. A pair of sophomores stepped into the void, as Greg Dupell (.322 with seven homers and 35 RBIs) and Dave Milanes (.304 with 48 RBIs) made huge leaps forward in their second seasons in the program. Navy is built to take advantage of the spacious gaps at Davenport Field, as it ranks 17th nationally with 22 triples, and five regulars have 10 or more doubles, led by Dupell, Milanes and stalwart center fielder Alex Azor with 14 apiece. But pitching carried the Midshipmen through the Patriot League tournament—they allowed just two runs in three games against Bucknell in the semifinals, then held Army to three runs in each of the two games they won in the championship series. Ace righthander Ben Nelson (6-5, 4.64) followed up his stellar freshman year with a solid sophomore season as the staff workhorse. The bullpen is the biggest strength of the pitching staff, as Joel Rinehart (1.88, six saves), Preston Gainey (2.40, four saves) and Wes Olson (7-1, 2.51, two saves) form a very reliable relief trio.
No. 1 UCLA (33-22, 18-9 in Pac-10)
17th appearance (second straight), automatic, Pacific-10 Conference champion
No. 2 Fresno State (40-14, 17-7 in WAC)
32nd appearance (last in 2009), automatic, Western Athletic Conference regular-season co-champion and tournament champion
No. 3 UC Irvine (39-16, 16-8 in Big West)
Seventh appearance (sixth straight), at-large, second place in Big West Conference
No. 4 San Francisco (31-23, 16-5 in WCC)
Second appearance (last in 2006), automatic, West Coast Conference champion
UCLA went all the way to the College World Series Finals in 2010, and with co-aces Gerrit Cole and Trevor Bauer back in the fold for 2011, the Bruins entered the spring ranked second in the nation. As expected, UCLA’s pitching staff has been one of the nation’s very best, ranking fourth nationally in ERA (2.45) and second strikeouts per nine innings (9.7) and hits allowed per nine innings (6.57). Bauer (12-2, 1.27) has been a sensation, carrying a streak of eight consecutive complete games into the postseason and leading the nation in strikeouts (189 in 127 innings) by more than 50 over second-place Danny Hultzen. Cole (6-7, 3.28, 108-23 K-BB in 107 IP) has not been as dominant despite a fastball that topped out in the triple digits this season and a filthy slider and changeup, but he has pitched better down the stretch after struggling with his fastball command during a rough four-week patch in the middle of the season. Cole and Bauer are likely to be two of the top six or seven picks in the draft, and they are capable of carrying UCLA all the way to the national title—and heralded freshman Adam Plutko (6-4, 2.16) has been a stalwart in the No. 3 starter spot. The bullpen is not as deep nor as dominant as it was a year ago, however, and the offense has been much less potent in 2011, though it has performed better down the stretch, helping the Bruins surge to their first Pac-10 title in more than a decade with a series win at Arizona State in the final weekend. UCLA has just 14 home runs and is hitting .264 as a team, and it needs to execute coach Rick Vanderhook’s aggressive small-ball style in order to manufacture offense.
Fresno State is constructed similarly to its 2008 national title team—loaded with experience on the mound and in the lineup. In fact, two key veterans from the ’08 championship team remain in leadoff man Danny Muno (.340 with 13 steals) and slugger Jordan Ribera (.249 with eight homers). Ribera, the national home run leader a year ago, has recovered from a brutally slow start to join with Dusty Robinson (.318 with 16 homers and 54 RBIs) to form a powerful pair in the middle of the lineup. The Bulldogs sustained a major blow when talented, experienced catcher Trent Garrison suffered a season-ending knee injury in the first game of the season, but sophomore Austin Wynns (.337) has filled in ably behind the plate and given Fresno more offense than it could have hoped for. Coach Mike Batesole says this is his best defensive team at Fresno, and it helps to have sure-handed upperclassmen in the middle infield (shortstop Garrett Weber and Pat Hutcheson). Both are capable offensively as well—there is no glaring hole in this lineup. The pitching staff has excellent depth and a quality anchor in senior righty Greg Gonzalez (11-0, 1.43), who lacks overpowering stuff but dominates by hitting his spots and never giving in. The pitching staff is versatile, with a number of quality arms that have pitched in a variety of roles (Josh Poytress, Derek Benny and Tyler Linehan). It also has a stellar one-two bullpen punch in Taylor Garrison (1.38, three saves) and Charlie Robertson (3.41, 12 saves). The Bulldogs are the best offensive team in this regional, and they might also be the most complete team.
UC Irvine returns to the Los Angeles Regional as the third seed for the second straight year. The Anteaters, like UCLA, are not powerful, with just 11 home runs as a team. But their lineup is loaded with upperclassmen who handle the bat well and know how to win, like seniors Brian Hernandez (.354), Drew Hillman (.347), Sean Madigan (.296) and Ronnie Shaeffer (.254), and juniors D.J. Crumlich (.283) and Jordan Fox (.356). Scouts heap praise on coach Mike Gillespie and his staff for instilling this team with rock-solid fundamental skills, and it’s no surprise that the Anteaters are a sterling defensive team with a .980 fielding percentage (fourth in the nation). It is a little more of a surprise how good they are on the mound after losing stalwarts Daniel Bibona, Eric Pettis and Christian Bergman. Even so, Irvine ranks among the nation’s top 20 teams in ERA (2.97), hits allowed per nine (7.89) and walks allowed per nine (2.64). Converted center fielder Matt Summers (10-2, 1.74) has made the transition from thrower with arm strength to bona fide ace, and he threw a no-hitter last week against Long Beach State. Summers is the only Anteater who works consistently in the 90s, but the rest of the staff is filled with strike-throwers who will force opponents to beat them by putting balls in play, and putting the game in the hands of Irvine’s sure-handed defenders.
San Francisco entered the final weekend of the regular season tied with Gonzaga for first place in the WCC (which does not have a conference tournament). The teams went head-to-head in that last weekend and split the first two games, and USF won the final game on the final day of the season to capture its second WCC title, and its first since 2006. Now the Dons head back to Jackie Robinson Stadium, where they were swept by the Bruins in a low-scoring series in February. But the team that returns to UCLA has a different look, as ace senior lefthander Matt Lujan—the winningest pitcher in USF history—was lost for the season with an undisclosed injury on May 7. Kyle Zimmer (5-4, 4.14) replaced him ably in the No. 1 starter spot, and Matt Hiserman (6-3, 4.01) gives the rotation another very experienced veteran. Even with Garrett Luippold (2.83) also sidelined, USF has a reliable bullpen, led by the steady trio of Jonathan Abramson (3.00, four saves), Jordan Remer (3.86, four saves) and Cameron Love (2.83, two saves). The Dons are a historically good defensive team, posting a .984 fielding percentage that ranks second in the nation—just a point behind the all-time D-I record set by West Virginia in 1971 and equaled by Stony Brook this year. Offensively, USF doesn’t have a single fearsome slugger with more than four home runs, but it has occasional pop up and down the lineup, producing 31 long balls as a team (more than twice as many as UCLA). Pete Lavin (.350/.430/.493 with 16 stolen bases) makes the offense go.
No. 1 Texas Christian (42-17, 20-3 in MWC)
10th appearance (eighth straight), at-large, Mountain West Conference regular-season champion
No. 2 Oklahoma (41-17, 14-11 in Big 12)
33rd appearance (fourth straight), at-large, 3rd place in Big 12 Conference
No. 3 Dallas Baptist (39-17)
Second appearance (last in 2008), at-large, independent
No. 4 Oral Roberts (36-20, 21-7 in Summit)
23rd appearance (14th straight), automatic, Summit League regular-season and tournament champion
Texas Christian entered the season ranked third in the nation after making its first trip to the College World Series in 2010. The Horned Frogs dominated the Mountain West and earned a home regional for the third straight year, but it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Two-thirds of the weekend rotation—2010 national Freshman of the Year Matt Purke (5-1, 1.51) and senior righty Steven Maxwell (5-1, 3.13)—each missed several weeks down the stretch with injuries. Junior righty Kyle Winkler (8-2, 1.40) has developed a hard slider to go with his quality fastball and changeup, helping him transform into a legitimate ace atop the rotation, but neither Purke nor Maxwell has regained his best stuff heading into the postseason. Power-armed freshman Andrew Mitchell (5-1, 3.13) has thrived while shuffling between three roles—relief, midweek starter and weekend starter, becoming TCU’s second-most reliable pitcher for most of the season. Junior Erik Miller (7-6, 4.62) has found a home in the rotation after struggling in the bullpen early, but the ‘pen is not nearly as deep nor as experienced as it was a year ago; freshman Stefan Crichton (6-3, 2.06 with five saves) has become its most reliable arm. TCU’s lineup certainly misses the power and leadership of departed stalwarts Bryan Holaday and Matt Curry, but the Frogs still have a balanced, dangerous offense, built around juniors Jason Coats (.332 with eight homers and 56 RBIs) and Taylor Featherston (.336 with 41 RBIs). Sophomore Josh Elander (.344 with five homers and 38 RBIs), junior Brance Rivera (.329 with seven homers) and senior Joe Weik (.305 with eight homers) have also taken steps forward this spring, and the Frogs have plenty of quality options on the bench. Featherston’s defense at shortstop is one key to watch—he made strides as a defender during his 2010 sophomore season, but he has 27 errors this spring (.901 fielding percentage).
Oklahoma wound up in Fort Worth as the No. 2 seed even after going 2-0 against TCU during the regular season, sweeping a four-game series against New Mexico (which beat TCU twice in the MWC tournament) two weeks ago and finishing just three spots behind the Frogs in the RPI. But this committee placed a heavy value on conference play, and the Frogs went 20-3 in the MWC while the Sooners went just 14-11 in the Big 12—going 3-5-1 in conference series. Still, Oklahoma is a dangerous postseason team, loaded with key veterans from last year’s Omaha club. The lineup is physical and deep, though its power production dipped dramatically after a torrid start. On-field general Garrett Buechele (.322 with eight homers and 62 RBIs) cooled way down in the second half of the season but is still dangerous, as are fellow juniors Cameron Seitzer (.363 with 41 RBIs) and Tyler Ogle (.349 with nine homers and 44 RBIs). Oklahoma’s coaches have taken full advantage of the roster’s depth, spending the entire season tinkering with the lineup, trying to find the most effective combinations—just Seitzer, Ogle and Buechele have started more than 42 of the team’s 48 games, and 13 different players have started 18 or more games. The Sooners will hope to ride the hot hands in the postseason. The pitching staff has been considerably more consistent than the lineup, posting a 2.99 staff ERA, but ace Michael Rocha (10-3, 1.79) has struggled in recent weeks, and hard-throwing Burch Smith (10-3, 3.62) has become Oklahoma’s best pitcher of late. The staff is deep enough to cover for Rocha if he continues to struggle, but the Sooners need him to be at his best if they are to be at their best.
Dallas Baptist snagged an at-large bid as a Division I independent for the season time in four season thanks in large part to midweek wins against Oklahoma State, Texas Christian (twice), Rice, Oklahoma and Texas Tech. In many of those midweek wins, the Patriots threw senior righthander Brandon Williamson (9-3, 4.13), who recovered from offseason hip labrum surgery to blossom into a quality ace after scrapping his cutter in favor of a true slider. He works in the 88-92 range with good angle, and throws his changeup to righties as well as lefties. Jared Stafford (7-4, 3.11) teams with Williamson to give the Patriots a quality one-two punch atop the rotation, and Chris Haney (4-2, 2.59, 12 saves) has reached 94 mph as the team’s closer. So the Patriots are solid on the mound, but they are one of the nation’s best offensive teams, ranking second in the country in scoring (8.7 runs per game), 12th in batting (.316), sixth in home runs (60), 10th in doubles per game (2.3), sixth in walks (295) and third in slugging (.495). The lineup is deep and balanced, but it is anchored by one of college baseball’s most productive hitters in senior outfielder Jason Krizan (.431/.517/.738 with 10 homers and 76 RBIs), who shattered the single-season Division I record for doubles with 37 this spring.
After holding its own against a fairly challenging nonconference slate, Oral Roberts finished well, winning 11 of its final 13 games and seven straight on its way to the Summit League regular-season title and its 14th consecutive league tournament championship. Senior outfielders Nick Baligod (.358/.435/.555 with seven homers and 15 steals) and Chris Elder (.330 with 10 homers and 51 RBIs), as well as junior Brandon King (.314 with eight homers and 47 RBIs) provide a physical presence in the heart of ORU’s lineup. A major question facing the Golden Eagles coming into the season was who would take over in the middle infield, but shortstop Cam Schiller (.345 with six homers and a .955 fielding percentage) and second baseman Spencer Barnett (.962 fielding percentage) have formed a reliable keystone combination. The pitching staff found a true anchor in freshman righthander Alex Gonzalez (8-5, 2.61), an unsigned 11th-round pick out of a Florida high school who captured Summit League pitcher of the year honors this spring. Gonzalez gives the Golden Eagles a fighting chance in the opener against TCU.
No. 1 Rice (41-19, 16-8 in C-USA)
17th appearance (17 straight), automatic, Conference USA regular-season co-champion and tournament champion, No. 8 national seed
No. 2 Baylor (29-26, 13-14 in Big 12)
17th appearance (third straight), at-large, sixth place in Big 12 Conference
No. 3 California (31-20, 13-13 in Pac-10)
12th appearance (second straight), at-large, sixth place in Pacific-10 Conference
No. 4 Alcorn State (27-28, 19-4 in SWAC)
First appearance, automatic, Southwestern Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament champion
Rice’s young pitching staff was thrown into the fire immediately during the Owls’ challenging nonconference schedule, as ballyhooed freshmen righthanders Austin Kubitza (6-4, 2.33) and John Simms (3-2, 3.32) each took turns in the weekend rotation when the Owls opened against Stanford. Those young power arms matured in conference play, helping lead the Owls to a share of their fifth CUSA title in the six seasons since they joined the league, as well as their fourth CUSA tournament title. The pitching staff really came together once lefthander Tony Cingrani (4-2, 1.76 with 12 saves) harnessed his mid-90s fastball at the back of the bullpen, and Tyler Duffey (8-1, 2.50) emerged as a stellar setup man. That has allowed the Owls to shift lefty Abe Gonzales (7-2, 3.03) to a swing role, and he pitched very well in a start against Central Florida in the conference tourney. Rice has withstood key season-ending injuries to two-way talent Chase McDowell and outfielder Jeremy Rathjen, as well as nagging injuries to mainstays Michael Fuda (who missed 19 games with a pulled hamstring) and Anthony Rendon (who was relegated to DH duties most of the season by a shoulder strain, though he played second base twice last week). The offense is not dynamic, but everybody else benefits by having the reigning national Player of the Year in the middle of the lineup. Rendon (.327/.523/.535 with six homers, 35 RBIs, 78 walks and 32 strikeouts) has gotten little to hit, but he’s constantly on base, and Michael Ratterree (.322/.387/.473 with six homers and 51 RBIs) is a quality RBI man behind him. First-year starters Shane Hoelscher, Ryan Lewis, Derek Hamilton and Keenan Cook are solid athletes who handle the bat well but do not inspire fear in opposing pitchers.
After losing four straight conference series in April, Baylor rebounded to win its final three series—including back-to-back sets against Oklahoma State and Oklahoma in the last two weekends—to surge to a No. 2 regional seed. Baylor ranked 16th in the preseason thanks to an offense that was expected to be one of the best in the state of Texas. It hasn’t been: The Bears rank 203rd in the nation in scoring (5.1 runs per game) and 226th in batting (.268), but they are well stocked with grinders who battle for every at-bat. Max Muncy (.329/.433/.526, nine HR, 43 RBI) is the only Bear hitting above .300 for the season, and he is also the team’s most dangerous power threat. But its most valuable player might be junior outfielder/righthander Brooks Pinckard (.295 with 32 stolen bases in 34 tries), a dynamic catalyst atop the lineup who also owns the team’s biggest arm off the mound. After spending most of his career as a reliever, Pinckard (5-2, 3.81) moved into a starting role down the stretch this spring and thrived, helping spark the team’s turnaround. He can run his fastball into the mid-90s and has made strides with a power slider at 82-84. Junior righthander Logan Verrett (6-5, 2.81) also came on down the stretch, not allowing an earned run in his final 21 regular-season innings before losing in the conference tournament. He and sophomore lefty Josh Turley (3-5, 3.63) have good feel for quality three-pitch mixes. The emergence of sophomore righty Max Garner (2.74, seven saves) in the closer role made it easier to move Pinckard into the rotation.
California has endured a volatile season. In September, the school’s administration announced its intention to cut the program after the season, and the school’s chancellor repeated rejected furious fund-raising efforts to save the program as insufficient to save the program. The players rallied around the circumstances, and eventually the program was reinstated in early April. Cal had weathered the distractions to go 19-7 before reinstatement, but since that time it is just 12-13 with four series losses in five weekends. Even so, Cal is one of the most dangerous No. 3 seeds in this tournament, loaded with athleticism in the diamond and power arms on the mound. The Bears are stellar up the middle, led by sophomore second baseman Tony Renda (.330/.364/.448 with three homers, 38 RBIs and nine stolen bases), a winning ballplayer whose intangibles helped him win Pac-10 Player of the Year honors. Junior shortstop Marcus Semien (.972 fielding percentage) is one of the most improved defensive players in the conference, and Chadd Krist (.297 with 22 doubles) does a good job controlling opposing running games, throwing out about a third of basestealers this year. On the mound, righties Erik Johnson (6-3, 2.08) and Dixon Anderson (4-3, 4.04) both work in the low 90s and own power sliders, while lefty Justin Jones (7-6, 3.33) can be dominant when his curveball and changeup are on. Closer Matt Flemer (2.40, five saves) leads a decent but not terribly deep bullpen.
Alcorn State dominated the SWAC in the regular season, going 19-4, then took a break from conference action to play seven road games against Arizona and Dallas Baptist before the conference tournament. They lost all seven, but they rebounded to outscore their opponents 51-11 in a perfect 4-0 run through the SWAC tournament, securing the school’s first trip to regionals. Alcorn State’s speed makes it dangerous—it will give veteran Rice catcher Craig Manuel a test in the opener. The Braves rank third in the nation with 133 stolen bases and 2.42 steals per game, led by senior outfielder Brandon Hollins (37 steals in 45 tries). When Hollins gets on base in the leadoff spot, other Braves get better pitches to hit, and senior Kilby Perdomo (.357/.444/.626 with 10 homers and 49 RBIs) has benefited in a big way in the No. 3 hole, hitting 10 homers for the second straight season. Pitching, though, is a major issue for the Braves, who rank 258th in the nation with a 6.12 staff ERA.
Dick Howser Stadium at Mike Martin Field, Tallahassee, Fla. (Host: Florida State)
No. 1 Florida State (42-17, 19-11 in ACC)
49th appearance (34th straight), at-large, Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division champion, No. 5 national seed
No. 2 Central Florida (38-21)
10th appearance (last in 2004), at-large, tied for fourth place in Conference USA
No. 3 Alabama (33-26, 14-16 in SEC)
19th appearance (fourth straight), at-large, seventh place in Southeastern Conference
No. 4 Bethune-Cookman (36-23, 18-0 in MEAC)
12th appearance (sixth straight), automatic, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference regular-season and tournament champion
Longtime Florida State coach Mike Martin calls this team one of his favorites because of its toughness. Pitching has been an adventure for the Seminoles all season long, but that hasn’t stopped them from racking up 15 wins against the top 25 in the RPI (including three against rival and SEC champion Florida) and snagging a national seed. Junior lefthander Sean Gilmartin (11-1, 1.52, 116-18 K-BB in 106 IP) bounced back strong from a disappointing sophomore season, learning to command the inner half of the strike zone and doing a much better job putting hitters away in advantage counts, making him a true ace atop the rotation. But Florida State has searched all season for consistency from its other starters; senior two-way star Mike McGee (3-3, 4.33), who dominated as a closer last year, moved back into a starting role down the stretch, with mixed results. With a quality three-pitch mix and loads of competitiveness, he’s certainly capable of turning in quality starts for the Seminoles in the postseason. Slider specialist Hunter Scantling (3-2, 3.64) also needs to be on top of his game for FSU to make a run at a national title. Thirteen Seminoles have pitched at least 12 innings this year, a reflection of the team’s ability to piece together its pitching. Sidearmer Daniel Bennett (3-1, 2.19 with 14 saves) has been very steady as the closer, allowing McGee to move into a starting role. Offensively, the ‘Noles are characteristically disciplined, leading the nation with 346 walks. Their 54 home runs don’t seem like a lot but are actually the 13th-most in the nation, and FSU ranks eighth with 133 doubles, a product of its gap-to-gap offensive approach. McGee (.333, 10 HR, 51 RBI) and James Ramsey (.350, 10 HR, 62 RBI) anchor the middle of the lineup, while Devon Travis (.330, 22 doubles) has capably filled Tyler Holt’s shoes in the leadoff spot.
When Terry Rooney left Louisiana State to become the head coach at Central Florida, he said he wanted to build the Knights around power bats and power arms. After a pair of strong recruiting classes, Rooney’s formula has paid dividends, as UCF bashed its way into regionals for the first time since 2004 in just his second season at the helm. Jonathan Griffin (.332/.382/.634) found his power stroke down the stretch as a junior in 2010, and he carried his momentum over into 2011, leading C-USA and ranking eighth nationally with 18 home runs. DH D.J. Hicks (.343/.424/.574, 13 HR, 62 RBI), who redshirted with a collapsed lung in 2010, blossomed into a second significant power source in the middle of the lineup this spring. But the Knights aren’t just a bunch of boppers; they have plenty of athleticism and good overall team speed. They are very sound defensively up the middle, with standouts behind the plate (Beau Taylor), at shortstop (Darnell Sweeney), at second base (Travis Shreve) and in center field (Ronnie Richardson, who has 21 steals in 25 tries). UCF is an offensive team, and Dick Howser Stadium is an offensive park—seemingly a good fit for their style of play. The Knights also have better depth on the mound than they have in recent years, but they lack a true ace, and the weekend rotation has been volatile, much like Florida State’s. If UCF is to win this regional, its bats are likely to do the heavy lifting.
Few evaluators expected much from Alabama coming into the season after the Crimson Tide lost the entire starting infield as well as the ace from last year’s super regional team. Alabama pieced together its offense and rode solid pitching and defense into the top 25 after winning a series from Arkansas in April, but it went just 1-8 against SEC East foes over the next three weekends. The Tide is a resilient bunch, though, and it rallied around the community after devastating tornadoes ravaged Tuscaloosa in late April. Undersized, hard-nosed players set the tone for Alabama: junior center fielder Taylor Dugas (.345/.458/.547 with six homers, 19 doubles, 41 walks and 20 strikeouts) has put together a strong follow-up to his 2010 first-team All-America campaign. Neither he nor ace righthander Nathan Kilcrease (7-4, 3.16) stands taller than 5-foot-7, but few players have a bigger impact on their teams. Alabama’s offense is much less potent than the others in this regional, ranking 212th in the nation in scoring (5.0 runs per game), 203rd in batting (.273) and 224th in homers per game (0.34). But newcomers Jared Reaves (.336, four HR, .966 fielding percentage at shortstop) and Austin Smith (.291, 4 HR, 39 RBI) have helped plug the gaps in the infield, and Alabama battles for every out. Bama does not have a stellar bullpen, so it needs starters Kilcrease, Adam Morgan (5-6, 4.14) and Jonathan Smart (4-3, 2.48) to pitch deep into games to have a chance. Morgan is a Sean Gilmartin type with a little more velocity but less feel for pitching, while Smart gives hitters a much different look, topping out in the low 80s and mixing in a very slow curveball.
In recent years, Bethune-Cookman has dominated its conference like no other team in college baseball. The Wildcats went 18-0 in MEAC play this year to stretch their incredible conference winning streak to 46 games, counting conference tournament action. The Wildcats bludgeoned their opponents 35-8 in a perfect three-game run through the conference tournament, their sixth straight tournament title and 11th in coach Mervyl Melendez’s 12 years at the helm. First-team preseason All-American Peter O’Brien led the way, going 8-for-14 with eight RBIs in the conference tournament to capture MVP honors. O’Brien (.309, 13 HR, 68 RBIs) has some of the best raw power in college baseball, and if he’s hot, the Wildcats could make some serious noise in Tallahassee. Senior first baseman Ryan Durrence (.280 with eight homers) has 37 homers in the last three years at B-CU, giving O’Brien a physical partner in crime. Junior-college transfer Brashad Johnson (.330) has made a major impact, leading the team in hitting and teaming with Alejandro Sanchez to form a slick double-play tandem. Another newcomer, freshman Scott Garner (9-2, 2.07), has made a similarly significant impact in the rotation, which also includes aggressive righty Gabriel Hernandez (7-0, 3.44) and righty Patrick Goelz (8-3, 3.17), who improved his fastball and secondary stuff to become an impact arm for the Wildcats. A balanced team loaded with NCAA tournament veterans, Bethune-Cookman is one of the tournament’s most dangerous No. 4 seeds, as usual.
No. 1 Texas A&M (42-18, 19-8 in Big 12)
27th appearance (fifth straight), automatic, Big 12 Conference regular-season co-champion and tournament champion
No. 2 Arizona (36-19, 15-12 in Pac-10)
32nd appearance (second straight), at-large, fourth place in Pacific-10 Conference
No. 3 Seton Hall (33-23, 14-13 in Big East)
16th appearance (last in 2001), automatic, Big East Conference tournament champion
No. 4 Wright State (36-17, 16-7 in Horizon)
Fourth appearance (last in 2009), automatic, Horizon League regular-season co-champion and tournament champion
Texas A&M tied Texas for the Big 12 regular-season title and swept through the conference tournament, but the Aggies failed to land a national seed in part because of a season-ending shoulder injury to ace John Stilson (5-2, 1.68), which was revealed during the conference tournament. Stilson was a likely first-rounder and one of the nation’s best pitchers, so his loss is a significant blow—but not a mortal blow. Even without Stilson, the Aggies have one of the best one-two pitching punches in the field of 64 in righthanders Michael Wacha (7-3, 2.37, 104-22 K-BB in 103 IP) and Ross Stripling (12-2, 2.41, 94-14 K-BB in 101 IP). Wacha is a likely first-round pick next year, a power pitcher who reaches the mid-90s and features a plus changeup. Stripling is a bulldog who attacks hitters with an 88-92 fastball, downer curveball and solid changeup. Expect freshman Derrick Hadley (0-0, 4.11) to move into the No. 3 starter role, and don’t be surprised if Wacha and Stripling come back on short rest if needed. A&M’s quality bullpen—led by Nick Fleece (6-1, 1.55) and Joaquin Hinojosa (2-2, 2.48)—will be critical, particularly with an unproven third starter. Texas A&M’s offense is much better than it was a year ago, as outfielder Tyler Naquin (.379/.449/.528, 42 RBIs) made the expected leap to stardom as a sophomore, winning Big 12 Player of the Year honors. He and freshman Krey Bratsen (.339, 26 SB) give the Aggies enviable speed in the outfield and at the top of the lineup, where they really make the offense go. This is not a home run-hitting outfit, but veterans Matt Juengel (.3-4, five HR, 42 RBIs) and Jacob House (.300, 42 RBIs) bring some physicality. Catcher Kevin Gonzalez, shortstop Kenny Jackson and second baseman Andrew Collazo make this a very strong defensive unit up the middle.
Arizona heads to the Lone Star State for regionals for the second straight year—it was the No. 3 seed in Fort Worth with a very young team in 2010. Arizona’s large, talented sophomore class is now a year older, and the Wildcats really hit their stride in May, going 10-3 (with all three losses by one run) to climb to fourth in the Pac-10. The Wildcats have a deep, athletic lineup stocked with quality line-drive hitters and good runners, so it shouldn’t be a major surprise that they rank third in the nation in hitting (.322) and eighth in triples (26). Wrist and hamstring injuries have limited last year’s leading hitter, Steve Selsky, to just 15 starts (he’s hitting just .215), but Arizona hasn’t missed a beat, getting solid contributions from freshman Johnny Field (.313, 15 doubles) and senior Bobby Rinard (.456), who has been on fire down the stretch. Arizona is athletic all over the diamond, particularly in the outfield and the middle infield, where Alex Mejia (.346) and Bryce Ortega (.328, 24 SB) form a very smooth double-play tandem—and make things happen at the plate. Outfielders Joey Rickard (.360, 15 steals) and Robert Refsnyder (.323, six homers, six triples, 53 RBIs) are dynamic all-around players. On the mound, ace Kurt Heyer (8-3, 2.32) is relentless and deceptive, while Kyle Simon (10-3, 2.93) pumps the strike zone with a heavy sinker that induces tons of ground balls for Arizona’s sound infield defense to gobble up. Freshman Konner Wade (2-0, 3.62) has found a home in the rotation down the stretch, allowing former Sunday starter Tyler Hale to help strengthen the bullpen. That relief core was the major question facing the Wildcats early in the year, but it has come together nicely, as flame-throwing lefty Bryce Bandilla (5-3, 3.65) has done a better job commanding the zone, and Matt Chaffee (6-3, 4.65, seven saves) has earned coach Andy Lopez’s trust.
Seton Hall was most of the way through a bland, mediocre season on May 1, sitting 20-21 overall and 7-11 in the Big East. That’s when the Pirates caught fire, winning 13 of their next 15 games and finishing the season on a seven-game winning streak—including an improbable 4-0 run to their first conference tournament title since 2001. Seton Hall upset Big East juggernaut Connecticut twice during the conference tourney, then beat St. John’s 4-2 in the title game. Ace senior righty Joe DiRocco threw seven strong innings in SHU’s tournament opener against West Virginia, then bounced back on three days’ rest to throw six innings of one-run ball against the Red Storm, helping him capture tournament MVP honors. DiRocco (8-1, 1.68), who has excellent command of a 90-91 mph fastball and solid secondary stuff, also won at North Carolina back in February and will have to come up big again for Seton Hall to make some noise in this regional. Pitching as a whole is a strength for this team, however—its 2.61 ERA ranks eighth in the nation. Sophomore righty Jon Prosinski (6-4, 2.11) gives the Pirates a second reliable starter, and Ryan Harvey (5-2, 2.47, seven saves) anchors a strong, deep bullpen—five Pirates have made 15 or more appearances and logged ERAs of 3.02 or better. Offensively, Seton Hall leans heavily on small ball, as it is hitting just .248 as a team (275th in the nation) but is 19th in sacrifice bunts (66).
Wright State has a much different composition than Seton Hall, relying on its potent offense more than its pitching staff, though the Raiders are solid enough on the mound. Wright State ranks second in the nation in batting (.329), 11th in slugging (.466) and 21st in scoring (seven runs per game). Eight Raiders earned all-Horizon League honors, led by player of the year Jake Hibberd (.412/.452/.618 with nine homers and 56 RBIs) and newcomer of the year Corey Davis (.317/.401/.552 with eight homers and 40 RBIs). But Wright State’s pitching led it to a pair of 4-3 wins against Valparaiso in its final two games at the Horizon tournament. The bullpen came up particularly huge, as submariner Michael Schum (9-2, 1.42, nine saves, 51 IP) worked a scoreless inning Saturday for the save, then went three hitless innings Sunday for the win. Setup man Jordan Marker (2-2, 1.80) went 3 1/3 shutout frames Saturday and another 1 2/3 solid innings Sunday. That dynamic duo has formed the backbone of Wright State’s pitching staff all season; Schum and Marker will likely have to come up big again for the Raiders to pull off an upset against Texas A&M.
No. 1 Clemson (41-18, 17-13 in ACC)
36th appearance (third straight), at-large, sixth place in Atlantic Coast Conference
No. 2 Connecticut (41-17-1, 22-5 in Big East)
17th appearance (second straight), at-large, Big East Conference regular-season champion
No. 3 Coastal Carolina (41-18, 20-7 in Big South)
11th appearance (fifth straight), automatic, Big South Conference regular-season and tournament champion
No. 4 Sacred Heart (34-21, 23-9 in NEC)
Second appearance (last in 2006), automatic, Northeast Conference tournament champion
Clemson, ranked 10th in the preseason, had a rocky first half, losing four series in five weekends in March and April, including sweeps at the hands of Virginia and North Carolina. The Tigers lost their best arm—junior righthander Kevin Brady—for more than two months with a forearm strain in early March, and it took some time for the pitching staff to coalesce. The Tigers had a 3.87 ERA after getting swept by UNC on April 3, but they lowered that mark to 3.12 by season’s end, as Dominic Leone (6-2, 3.38), Justin Sarratt (7-2, 2.40) and Jonathan Meyer (5-2, 3.31) found homes in the weekend rotation and projected ace Scott Weismann (3-4, 4.94 with seven saves) adapted to a move to the back of the bullpen. Brady’s return in late May gave the staff another boost. As the pitching came together, Clemson caught fire, winning series down the stretch against Georgia Tech and at Florida State to surge into regional hosting position. Clemson’s offense earned a 65 grade on our preseason 20-80 scale, and it has lived up to its billing as one of the nation’s most potent units, ranking sixth nationally in batting (.319) and 17th in scoring (7.1 runs per game). As usual, Clemson has a disciplined team approach, drawing 280 walks (12th in the nation). It also has outstanding team athleticism and speed, and the Tigers are not afraid to run on the basepaths, stealing 101 bases (14th). Clemson once again has a very lefthanded-leaning lineup, filled with experienced line-drive hitters like ACC player of the year Brad Miller (.419/.523/.598, five homers, 46 RBIs, 21 SB), speedy Will Lamb (.344), Jeff Schaus (.326), John Hinson (.320, 7 HR) and Chris Epps (.290, 10 HR). Sophomore Richie Shaffer (.295, 11 HR, 50 RBIs) has replaced Kyle Parker as Clemson’s critical righthanded threat in the middle of the order.
A year after winning 48 games and hosting a regional, Connecticut entered this spring one a spot ahead of Clemson in the rankings (No. 9), and it heads to the postseason ranked four spots behind (18th) the Tigers. Typical of a cold-weather club from the Northeast, UConn needed some time to find its groove, starting 8-9-1—all on the road, of course. But the Huskies dominated the Big East, winning the regular-season crown by 3 1/2 games to sew up an at-large berth. Casual fans are familiar with five-tool outfielder George Springer (.361/.462/.644, 12 HR, 74 RBI, 31 SB) and righthander Matt Barnes (11-3, 1.12, 105-28 K-BB in 112 IP), who could both be drafted in the top half of the first round next week. But the Huskies are loaded with other talented veterans, including run-producing senior first baseman Mike Nemeth (.351 with 46 RBIs) and athletic shortstop Nick Ahmed (.327, 21 SB), who returned to action in the Big East tournament after missing a month with a collapsed lung. The lineup is loaded with speed, and the Huskies are aggressive on the basepaths, stealing 122 bases (fifth in the nation). UConn has more reliable veterans on the mound behind Barnes, as senior lefty Greg Nappo (9-2, 2.71) is a steady No. 2 starter and junior righty Kevin Vance (0.98, 13 saves) has been untouchable in the closer role.
Coastal Carolina had to replace a host of mainstays from last year’s super regional team, and the offense did not start coming together until April. Four key lineup pieces from 2010 returned, and that quintet forms the backbone of the lineup. Big South player of the year Tommy La Stella (.391/.471/.641, 11 homers, 63 RBIs) and Daniel Bowman (.275, 12 HR, 56 RBI) provide power in the heart of the order, while senior center fielder Scott Woodward (.363/.496/.533 with 30 steals in 34 tries) and shortstop Taylor Motter (.285, 21 SB) bring speed, athleticism and strong defense to the middle of the diamond. Coastal’s offense might not be as high-powered as it was a year ago, but it can still beat opponents a lot of different ways, ranking 16th nationally in stolen bases (99), 24th in homers (47) and seventh in sacrifice bunts (77), meaning it will test Connecticut’s sometimes-shaky infield corners in the opener. Coastal’s pitching staff has been a strength all season long, and it sets up very well for this regional. Likely first-rounder Anthony Meo (9-3, 2.21, 108-29 K-BB in 102 IP), who owns a mid-to-upper-90s fastball and a vicious slider, threw a no-hitter in the Big South tourney last week and gives the Chanticleers an answer for Matt Barnes in the first game. If Coastal wants to throw a lefty in a potential matchup with lefthanded-leaning Clemson, it has a good one in Matt Rein (9-2, 1.78), who is cut from the same cloth as South Carolina’s Tiger-killer, Michael Roth. And sophomore Josh Conway (8-1, 2.49) gives the Chanticleers a second power righty in the rotation, with even better command of his secondary stuff than Meo has. Coastal’s bullpen, meanwhile, is the deepest in coach Gary Gilmore’s tenure, loaded with various different arm slots and styles from the right and left sides.
Sacred Heart allowed just four runs in its perfect 3-0 run through the NEC tournament, and it heads to regionals riding a seven-game winning streak—and an 11-game winning streak against NEC opponents. Sacred Heart has some experience in big-time college baseball settings, having played four games in March at Louisiana State and Mississippi State (and going 1-3 in those games). The Pioneers also won their only meeting this season against in-state power UConn, 5-4 on March 15. Though the Pioneers got great pitching in the NEC tournament, they are an offensive club (and they scored 25 runs in three games in the conference tourney). Sacred Heart ranks 18th in the nation in batting (.311), led by seniors J.J. Edwards (.380), M.J. Schifano (.337) and Steve Tedesco (.335), who comprise the top third of the batting order. The weekend rotation, by contrast, features three underclassmen: sophomore Troy Scribner (9-2, 3.69) and freshmen Nick Leiningen (7-3, 3.68 with seven complete games) and Kody Kerski (2-4, 4.76), who threw a complete game in the NEC title game against Monmouth.
No. 1 South Carolina (45-14, 22-8 in SEC)
27th appearance (12th straight), at-large, Southeastern Conference regular-season co-champion, No. 4 national seed
No. 2 Stetson (41-18, 23-7 in A-Sun)
16th appearance (last in 2007), at-large, Atlantic Sun Conference regular-season champion
No. 3 North Carolina State (34-25, 15-15 in ACC)
24th appearance (second straight), at-large, seventh place in Atlantic Coast Conference
No. 4 Georgia Southern (36-24, 18-12 in SoCon)
13th appearance (last in 2009), automatic, Southern Conference tournament champion
Defending national champion South Carolina has a few notable things in common with last year’s club: mental toughness, resilience and a stellar bullpen. The Gamecocks had to replace workhorses Blake Cooper and Sam Dyson in the weekend rotation, and exceedingly crafty lefthander Michael Roth (11-3, 1.17) has built on his College World Series star turn by improving his stuff and becoming one of the nation’s best Friday starters. Behind him in the rotation, sophomore righthander Colby Holmes (6-3, 3.60) and Forrest Koumas (6-1, 3.13) have been solid, which is all the Gamecocks need from them, because the bullpen is once again among the nation’s best. Ultra-aggressive righty Matt Price (5-3, 2.47 with 15 saves) gives South Carolina a power-armed bullpen anchor with a serious competitive streak, and sidewinders John Taylor (4-1, 1.08) and Jose Mata (3-0, 1.86) highlight a supporting cast that features various looks from both sides. South Carolina has kept on winning even after losing its best all-around player—first-team preseason All-America outfielder Jackie Bradley—to a torn tendon in his wrist in late April. The team’s best athlete, fellow outfielder Adam Matthews (.276), has been limited to 29 games by a hamstring injury, so the Gamecocks have patched together the outfield, often relying on Steven Neff (really a pitcher by trade) and freshman DeSean Anderson (.191). Fortunately, the Gamecocks still have a pair of dynamic offensive players in slugging first baseman Christian Walker (.357/.435/.561 with nine homers and 57 RBIs) and new center fielder Evan Marzilli (.307), who has come on very strong down the stretch. Marzilli also plays a sound center field, keeping the Gamecocks solid up the middle—Scott Wingo is a premium defender at second base, and junior-college transfer Peter Mooney has capably replaced Bobby Haney at shortstop.
Stetson came out of the gates ablaze, sweeping a season-opening three-game series from Georgia and spending much of the season in the Top 25. The Hatters looked on track to host a regional before faltering down the stretch, losing eight of their final 12 games, including three straight against Belmont. Even so, Stetson won the three-bid A-Sun by four games and easily landed an at-large bid. The Hatters sorely miss ace Kurt Schluter (8-0, 1.40), who was named A-Sun pitcher of the year even though he suffered a season-ending muscle tear in his torso in late April. Junior righty Lindsey Caughel (6-2, 4.40) is a capable No. 1 starter, with an 88-91 fastball at his best and advanced feel for pitching. Fellow junior righty Will Dorsey (7-5, 4.02) works in the 86-88 range but has very good command of his breaking ball, and while hard-throwing sinkerballer Tucker Donahue (2-3, 3.84) gives coach Pete Dunn a versatile swing arm. The lineup is led by junior catcher Nick Rickles (.353/.415/.621 with 12 homers and 60 RBIs), one of the toughest players to strike out in college baseball (23-8 K-BB in 232 AB). He’s also learned to pull the ball with more authority this year, leading to more power production. Jeff Simpson (28 SB), Mark Jones (.339 with 17 steals in 18 tries) and Spencer Theisen (.281 with 13 SB) bring very good speed. Jones also has some strength in his swing; the team’s best athlete, Jones chose a Stetson baseball scholarship over a West Virginia football scholarship out of high school.
North Carolina State has had to reshape its identity in the era of BBCOR bats. Traditionally a home run-hitting team under coach Elliott Avent, the Wolfpack ranked 10th in the nation in home runs per game (1.58) last year, but even with most of its sluggers back it ranks 112th in homers per game this year (0.56). Andrew Ciencin, Harold Riggins, Pratt Maynard and Chris Schaeffer all slugged double-digit homers in 2010, but none hit more than five long balls in 2011. Instead, the Wolfpack has turned to doubles, ranking 22nd in the nation with 123 of them, led by line-drive machine Maynard’s 21. It also defends much better (its fielding percentage has skyrocketed from .958 a year ago to .976 this spring), led by reliable keystone combination Matt Bergquist (.966) and Chris Diaz (.977). The Wolfpack’s rotation is fronted by the biggest power arm in this regional: junior righthander Cory Mazzoni (5-6, 3.38, 125-28 K-BB in 107 IP) sits at 90-94 and touches 97, and his power breaking ball can be plus at times. At the other end of the staff, Chris Overman (6-2, 2.54 with six saves), who made just six appearances as a freshman last year, has gone from virtual unknown to quality closer. In between, the staff has been up and down, but senior righty Rob Chamra (8-2, 4.13), who dealt Virginia ace Danny Hultzen his first loss, has pitched well down the stretch.
Georgia Southern had a roller-coaster season, winning three straight SoCon series against league powers College of Charleston, The Citadel and Elon in the middle part of the season, then losing three of its final four conference series to enter the SoCon tournament as the fifth seed. The Eagles went 4-1 in the conference tournament, capped by a brilliant three-hit shutout from sophomore ace Chris Beck in a 1-0 win against Samford in the title game. Beck (9-4, 3.21) wore down late in his 2010 freshman season, but he added strength in the offseason and has held up much better down the stretch this year. He’s a power pitcher with a 91-92 fastball and a much-improved slider, and when he has that pitch going he is tough to beat—giving the Eagles a legit chance against South Carolina. Georgia Southern’s lineup isn’t nearly as powerful as its 2009 regionals team, but it does have the nation’s runaway home run leader in sophomore outfielder Victor Roache (.327/.440/.789 with 30 homers and 83 RBIs). A Michigan product with huge raw power, Roache has dramatically improved his pitch recognition and selection as a sophomore, allowing him to make the most of his power potential. Carolina Stadium is a good park for home run hitters like Roache. No other Eagle has more than six homers, but for Georgia Southern to succeed, Steve Cochrane (.332 with six homers and 56 RBIs) must provide protection behind Roache, and catalysts Shawn Payne (.319/.437/.515 with six homers and 32 steals in 35 tries) and Eric Phillips (.398/.472/.529 with 25 steals in 30 tries) must get on base ahead of him. That has been a winning formula for Georgia Southern this year.
No. 1 Florida (45-16, 22-8 in SEC)
appearance (fourth straight), automatic, Southeastern Conference regular-season co-champion and tournament champion, No. 2 national seed
No. 2 Miami (36-21, 19-10 in ACC)
40th appearance (39th straight), at-large, fifth place in Atlantic Coast Conference
No. 3 Jacksonville (36-22, 19-11 in A-Sun)
13th appearance (last in 2009), at-large, second place in Atlantic Sun Conference
No. 4 Manhattan (34-17, 20-2 in MAAC)
Third appearance (last in 2006), automatic, Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference regular-season champion
No. 1 Florida heads to the postseason perched back atop the national rankings after tying South Carolina and Vanderbilt for the SEC regular-season title and then winning the conference tournament title. One of college baseball’s most complete teams, Florida stands out most for its absurd pitching depth. Middle relievers like Nick Maronde (1.72), Anthony DeSclafani (5-3, 3.77) and Steven Rodriguez
(3-1, 1.53) all have plus stuff and would be staff aces for many—if not
most—programs in college baseball. Florida’s ace, sophomore righty Hudson Randall (9-3,
2.25), lacks the overpowering fastball velocity that is prevalent elsewhere on the staff, but he’s a dogged competitor with superb command
who gets ground balls by the truckload. Two-way talent Brian Johnson
(8-3, 3.66) is the No. 2 starter, but his status this weekend is in question after an errant throw by catcher Mike Zunino hit him in the head last week, giving him a concussion. If he doesn’t go, electric-armed Karsten Whitson (7-0, 2.53) should slide seamlessly into the No. 2 starter role, and the Gators can choose between DeSclafani, Maronde, Tommy Toledo (4-3, 3.31) and Alex Panteliodis
(5-2, 4.11) to fill the No. 3 spot. Austin Maddox (2-0, 0.74 with five saves) has settled into the primary closer role thanks to a fastball that reaches the mid-90s and a wipeout power breaking ball, and he also brings power potential (.283 with six homers) to the lineup, though he has not put together the kind of offensive season he posted as a freshman. As expected, though, power has been a major asset for the Gators, who lead the SEC and rank 13th nationally with 54 homers, led by
SEC player of the year Zunino’s 15 and Preston Tucker’s 10. The deep lineup is stacked with veterans of last year’s Omaha run, and the defense up the middle is top-shelf, as Zunino, shortstop Nolan Fontana and second baseman Josh Adams are as dependable as they come, and Bryson Smith
has done a good job taking over for graduated defensive standout Matt den Dekker in center field. The corners are more suspect, and the Gators
have sacrificed offense of late to get their best defender in the lineup at third base in Cody Dent
(.163), while putting Maddox at first instead of third. That’s the closest thing to a chink that you’ll find in Florida’s armor; the Gators
are one of the strongest favorites to win the national title.
had to replace its entire weekend rotation from a year ago and its top two run producers in the lineup, so it shouldn’t be a major surprise that the Hurricanes had an up-and-down season, generally feasting on the
lower half of the ACC but struggling against the top half (except for North Carolina). The Hurricanes are plenty familiar with Florida, having
lost to the Gators in last year’s super regionals and getting swept in Gainesville back in March. Athleticism and solid pitching are the hallmarks of this Miami team, which lacks the offensive thunder of other
recent Miami teams. Just one Hurricane—Rony Rodriguez (12)—has more than three homers this spring, as junior Harold Martinez (.303/.390/.399)
has seen his power numbers shrink dramatically with the new bats, though he hit for better average in the second half of the season after a
rough first half. The undersized duo of Zeke DeVoss (.335/.487/.460 with 32 steals in 41 tries) and Nathan Melendres
(.322/.407/.452 with 23 steals in 26 tries) provides blazing speed in the outfield and at the top of the lineup, and the key to beating Miami is keeping those two off base. Miami ranks in the bottom half of the ACC
in most offensive categories, but it can manufacture offense with its basestealing and small ball prowess—the ‘Canes lead the ACC and rank 20th nationally with 65 sacrifice bunts. The pitching staff features four strike-throwing starters in righties Eric Whaley (7-5, 2.55) and hard-throwing E.J. Encinosa (5-5, 2.90), plus lefties Bryan Radziewski (9-2, 3.30) and Steven Ewing (7-2, 2.77). Typical of a Jim Morris-coached team, Miami has a reliable bullpen, anchored by low-slot lefthander Daniel Miranda (3-1, 2.79, 14 saves).
rode its potent offense to an at-large berth, its fourth trip to regionals in the last six years. The Dolphins rank 16th in the country in batting (.313) and sixth in scoring (7.6 runs per game), and few offenses in the nation feature a duo as talented as sophomore outfielders Adam Brett Walker (.416/.495/.697, 13 HR, 72 RBI, 14 SB) and Daniel Gulbransen
(.360/.475/.541, 6 HR, 49 RBI, 12 SB). The hulking Walker provides huge
power potential, while Gulbransen (46 BB, 22 K) gives the Dolphins quality at-bats every time up. The lineup also has a table-setter with plus speed in freshman Taylor Ratliff (.338, 24 SB) and another good bat handler with good speed in No. 2 hitter Jonathan Murphy (.309, 18 SB), younger brother of the Mets’ Daniel Murphy. Third baseman Kevin Lehane
(.337, 8 HR, 43 RBI) protects Walker, giving Jacksonville a stellar top
five. Jacksonville scores runs in bunches, so all it asks of its pitchers is to minimize big innings. Sometimes they have succeeded, and sometimes they have not. Injuries hit the staff hard: No. 1 starter Steve Eagerton (8-0, 4.23), a groundball artist, missed time with a concussion after taking a line drive off the head against Mercer. Senior Chris Kaminski
(2-2, 5.52) is pitching with a tear in his shoulder, but that didn’t stop him from throwing six shutout innings over two days in relief at the A-Sun tournament. It took freshman closer Chris Anderson
(4-2, 3.91, 11 saves) some time to recover from a broken hand, but his velocity has gradually climbed throughout the season. And Matthew Tomshaw
(8-3, 3.78) is coming off a complete game against East Tennessee State in the conference tournament, allowing just an unearned run. The Dolphins pitched very well in that tournament, but their bats went quiet. Still, their best chance to make a postseason run is to slug their way through, because they don’t figure to win pitching duels against Florida and Miami.
raced out to a 16-0 start to MAAC play en route to a 22-2 record, good enough to win the regular season title by 4 1/2 games over Rider. Manhattan’s offense is carried by a core of four quality seniors: Chad Salem (.340/.443/.592, 9 HR, 50 RBI), Mike McCann (.365/.447/.556, 6 HR), Austin Sheffield (.311, 3 HR) and quintessential pest Mark Onorati
(.337, 6 HR, 15 SB, 22 HBP). McCann is the team’s best pure hitter, with a smooth lefthanded stroke and a nice gap-to-gap approach. The pitching staff is stocked with strike-throwers and has a reliable anchor
in sophomore righty John Soldinger
(10-2, 2.34), who pitches downhill with an 85-87 fastball and locates his curveball and slider very well. There are no power arms on Manhattan’s staff, so it’s imperative that the pitchers hit their spots and the infielders continue to provide sound defense. The Jaspers rely on underclassmen in the middle infield—sophomore shortstop Nick Camastro (.933 fielding percentage) and freshman second baseman Yoandry Galan (.986),
whose standout defense has made him an everyday mainstay despite a .184
average. Manhattan is a very heavy underdog in this regional, but that’s just what it was in its last regional trip in 2006, when Jaspers lefthander Chris Cody threw a complete game to beat Joba Chamberlain and No. 6 national seed Nebraska.
No. 1 Georgia Tech (40-19, 22-8 in ACC)
27th appearance (fourth straight), at-large, Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season co-champion
No. 2 Southern Mississippi (39-17, 16-8 in C-USA)
12th appearance (ninth straight), at-large, Conference USA regular-season co-champion
No. 3 Mississippi State (34-23, 14-16 in SEC)
29th appearance (last in 2007), at-large, sixth place in Southeastern Conference
No. 4 Austin Peay State (33-22, 17-6 in OVC)
Fourth appearance (last in 2007), automatic, Ohio Valley Conference regular-season and tournament champion
Tech lost seven everyday players and the Friday starter off last year’s
47-win team, but the Yellow Jackets got immediate returns from their seventh-ranked recruiting class, helping to plug holes. Of the 34 players on the roster, 17 are freshmen. The young lineup went through its growing pains at times but was surprisingly consistent on the whole,
and the experienced pitching staff formed the backbone of a team that tied Virginia for the ACC’s regular-season title. Freshman center fielder Kyle Wren (.352, 7 3B, 14 SB) quickly developed into a disruptive catalyst atop the lineup, while fellow freshmen Mott Hyde (.288, 46 RBIs) and Daniel Palka (.283, 10 HR, 47 RBI) became key regulars. Palka and junior Matt Skole (.348,
9 HR, 57 RBI) provide most of the thump in a lineup that is not nearly as powerful as it was a year ago, when seven players reached double figures in home runs and two reached the 20-homer mark. But the Yellow Jackets don’t have to bludgeon opponents, because their four-man rotation is one of college baseball’s best. Mark Pope (11-4, 1.77) has excellent command of his solid four-pitch mix, helping him make the leap to bona fide Friday ace. Lefthander Jed Bradley
(6-3, 3.59) has faded a bit down the stretch but still has the talent to be drafted in the top 10 overall picks. He has tended to struggle against top competition in his career, and Tech needs him to elevate his
game in order to make a deep postseason run. Third and fourth starters Buck Farmer (10-3, 2.99) and Matt Grimes (7-3, 4.30) also have power stuff, as does closer Luke Bard
(2.98, eight saves), the younger brother of Red Sox righty Daniel Bard.
Georgia Tech’s pitching blows away the other staffs in this regional, making the Jackets a heavy favorite.
Southern Mississippi could have competed with Georgia Tech on the mound before losing No. 2 starter Geoffrey Thomas (10-3, 3.09) and No. 3 starter Jonathan Thompson
(7-1, 3.49) to academic ineligibility before the Conference USA tournament. The Golden Eagles had held out hope that Thomas—the biggest power arm on the staff—would be able to return for the NCAA tournament, but coach Scott Berry confirmed this week that neither he nor Thompson will return this season. Without two-thirds of its rotation, Southern Miss is not the same team as the one that captured a share of the C-USA regular-season title, and it’s worth noting that even with its rotation intact, USM dropped its final two weekend series against Houston and Rice. Southern Miss rallied in the face of doubters during its 2009 College World Series run, and it will have to do so again this year, because it carries very little momentum into regionals. The good news is
that seniors Todd McInnis (8-2, 2.61) and Collin Cargill (6-4,
1.05, eight saves) are still there to bookend the staff. McInnis is as fierce a competitor as you’ll find in college baseball, and he commands a
quality four-pitch mix. Cargill is a classic Southern Miss sidearm/submarine reliever with a long track record of coming up big in tight spots. The Golden Eagles used Boomer Scarborough (1-1, 2.89) and Josh Thomason
(2-2, 3.07) as starters in the conference tournament, and that pair of righties will have to be their best for the Eagles to win this regional.
Of course, Southern Miss is also a good offensive team, with a balanced
lineup that does not give away outs. B.A. Vollmuth (.303, 12 HR, 48 RBI) and Marc Bourgeois (.352, 7 HR, 38 RBI) deliver most of the power, while outfielders Kameron Brunty (.300, 5 HR) and athletic Tyler Koelling (.367, 4 HR, 46 RBI) provide occasional pop and quality at-bats.
coach John Cohen’s third year at the helm, Mississippi State broke through to the SEC tournament and to regionals for the first time since its 2007 Omaha run. The coaching staff loaded up on versatile athletes and two-way players in back-to-back strong recruiting classes, and their
efforts have paid dividends this spring, as the Bulldogs were one of the SEC’s bigger surprises, though they still won just three of 10 conference series. Senior third baseman Jarrod Parks (.383/.530/.532)
has become one of the league’s best all-around players, a mature offensive player with a quick line-drive bat, and a sound defender at the hot corner. He’s the centerpiece of a lineup that has more athleticism than offensive polish. Middle infielders Jonathan Ogden (.268, 8 HR) and Nick Vickerson (.310, 7 HR, 25 SB) and outfielder Jaron Shepherd
(.294, 4 HR, 10 SB) elevated their games as seniors in their second seasons since transferring from junior colleges. Freshman center fielder
C.T. Bradford (.295, 10 SB) has
the speed, arm strength and instincts to be a dynamic player, and he sets the tone atop the lineup. After three rough seasons, the Bulldogs are a hungry bunch, and they play hard. The biggest question for Mississippi State is how its pitching will hold up. Sophomore righty Chris Stratton
(5-7, 5.21) has good stuff and plenty of experience, but he lost his way down the stretch, causing MSU to experiment with soft-tossing Luis Pollorena (6-5, 4.44) in the No. 1 starter spot. After returning from offseason elbow surgery, junior lefty Nick Routt (2-3, 4.15) never rediscovered his once-superb changeup, taking away his biggest weapon. Devin Jones
(2-5, 4.45) has the best stuff on the staff but has never been able to harness it consistently. A number of those arms will have to step forward if the Bulldogs are to make noise in this regional.
Peay State clinched the OVC’s regular-season title with a week still to
play in the regular season, then allowed just five runs in a perfect 3-0 run through the conference tournament to reach regionals for the first time since 2007. Austin Peay is a balanced club with an all-lefty weekend rotation. Ace Jeremy Dobbs
(9-2, 3.43) has matured on and off the mound, running his fastball up to 93 mph at times and throwing his slider and changeup for strikes much
more consistently as a junior this spring. Jack Snodgrass
(3-6, 3.72) induces loads of ground balls with his high-80s two-seamer,
and Zach Toney (6-2, 4.33) pitches heavily off an 88-91 fastball that plays up because he hides the ball well. Closer Ryne Harper
(6-2, 4.06, eight saves) gives the Governors a power arm at the back of
the bullpen, with a fastball that touches 94 and a swing-and-miss slider. Harper’s little brother Reed
(.332, 4 HR, 43 RBI, 17 2B, 11 SB) is Austin Peay’s starting shortstop and one of its most dynamic players. While the Governors have a very sound pitching staff, the biggest strength of the team is its offense, which ranks 29th nationally in scoring (6.9 runs per game). This is a young team that relies on a host of talented underclassmen, led by freshman Jordan Hankins (the team’s leading hitter at .361) and sophomores Reed and John Hogan (.317, 13 HR, 62 RBI). But it also has a pair of key upperclassmen in third baseman Greg Bachman (.318, 7 HR, 45 RBI) and speed merchant Michael Blanchard (.339 with 28 steals). Few No. 4 seeds in this tournament are as complete and as dangerous as Austin Peay.
No. 1 Arizona State (39-16, 17-10 in Pac-10)
35th appearance (12th straight), at-large, tied for second place in Pacific-10 Conference
No. 2 Arkansas (38-20, 15-15 in SEC)
24th appearance (10th straight), at-large, Southeastern Conference Western Division champion
No. 3 Charlotte (42-14, 17-7 in A-10)
Fifth appearance (last in 2008), automatic, Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season and tournament champion
No. 4 New Mexico (20-39, 10-14 in MWC)
Third appearance (second straight), automatic, Mountain West Conference tournament champion
the second straight year, Arizona State had to overcome major adversity
and potential distractions off the field. In December, the NCAA banned the Sun Devils from the 2011 postseason for rules violations that had led to the 2010 dismissal of coach Pat Murphy, and Arizona State played the entire season without knowing if it would be eligible for the postseason, as its appeal was pending. That appeal was heard on May 16 but was not ruled upon before selection day, making the Sun Devils eligible for the postseason (although they could be forced to sit out the 2012 postseason if their appeal is later denied). An even bigger blow was the loss of electric freshman outfielder Cory Hahn
to a major spinal injury after a collision at second base in February. But the Sun Devils rallied around Hahn, who rehabbed in Southern California and attended ASU games at Cal State Fullerton and USC, giving
ASU emotional lifts. Toughness and resilience are Arizona State’s greatest assets, but this is also a very talented team. Although third baseman Riccio Torrez (.314, 3 HR, 46 RBI) and preseason All-Americans Zack MacPhee (.272, 25 SB), Zach Wilson (.265, 6 HR, 42 RBI), Deven Marrero (.320) and Johnny Ruettiger
(.329, 21 SB) did not have huge seasons, they are all talented, seasoned, athletic players. Marrero and MacPhee form a slick double-play
tandem, and catcher Austin Barnes is another standout up the middle. The team’s biggest surprise has been the development of sophomore DH Joey DeMichele
(.371/.416/.647, seven HR, 39 RBI) from little-used reserve to the team’s most dangerous hitter. His seven homers lead the team—this offense is much more geared toward using the gaps than hitting the ball over the fence. The pitching staff is deeper than it has been in recent years, and it has a pair of marquee talents in sophomore righties Brady Rodgers (8-4, 2.90) and Jake Barrett (7-4, 4.14), plus a crafty strike-thrower in Kramer Champlin (8-3, 3.13). Lefthander Mitchell Lambson (5-3,
4.32, eight saves) has long been the linch-pin of the ASU bullpen—a changeup artist with outstanding command and poise. Righties Trevor Williams (2.02) and Alex Blackford (4-1, 2.70) form a strong supporting cast in the ‘pen.
expected to host a regional after going 17-15 against the top 50 in the
RPI this season, but the Hogs were hurt by their .500 conference record
and the fact that they won just four of 10 SEC series, so they head to Tempe as one of the tournament’s strongest No. 2 seeds. After losing stars Zack Cox, Brett Eibner, Andy Wilkins and Drew Smyly off last year’s team, Arkansas embraced a blue-collar identity this spring, but it still has some star power. Freshman Dominic Ficociello
(.351/.378/.490, four HR, 49 RBI) has been appropriately dubbed “Fic the Stick” after leading the team in hitting. A switch-hitter, he has a loose swing from both sides, but he’s much more dangerous from the left side. James McCann (.309, six HR, 33) is one of the top all-around catchers in college baseball, a general behind the plate with arm strength and pop in his bat. Junior-college transfer Kyle Robinson
(.293, nine HR, 45 RBI) got off to a torrid start against Arkansas’ fairly soft nonconference schedule, then slumped badly in SEC play, but he seemed to be heating up again in the conference tournament. Center fielder Collin Kuhn (.285, seven HR, 21 SB) and second baseman Bo Bigham (.290, 17 SB) are athletic grinders with speed and good instincts. The Hogs would like to get more out of OF Jarrod McKinney (.278), 3B Matt Reynolds (.245) and SS Tim Carver (.241), but all three are strong defenders and good athletes. The pitching staff has just one star—sophomore righty D.J. Baxendale
(9-2, 1.75), who has a rubber arm and could bounce back on short rest if needed. A pair of freshmen have electric stuff and will be stars in time: righties Ryne Stanek (3-2, 4.25) and Nolan Sanburn (2-4,
3.73, eight saves) both can reach the mid-90s and have power breaking balls. Stanek is a great X-factor for Arkansas: He turned in the best outing of his career in the SEC tournament, but it’s unclear how far coach Dave Van Horn will trust him if his control starts to waver. Lefties Cade Lynch (4-4, 3.18) and Randall Fant
(3-4, 3.74) also must pitch better in regionals than they did in the conference tournament, where neither reached the third inning.
A-10 power Charlotte went 17-7 in league play to win the regular-season
title for the second straight year, then swept through the conference tournament unbeaten to make regionals for the third time in five years. Senior second baseman Corey Shaylor
(.310, five HR, 41 RBI), the team’s biggest power threat, caught fire in the A-10 tourney, hitting .636 to win Most Outstanding Player honors.
Shaylor is the only 49er with more than two home runs this season, as Charlotte’s offense relies on execution, athleticism and speed (it ranks
12th nationally with 106 stolen bases). In Shane Brown (who was limited
to 20 games by a thumb injury), Cory Tilton (.299, 31 SB) and Justin Wilson
(.338, 24 SB), Charlotte has three outfielders who run the 60-yard dash
in 6.5 seconds or better and cause havoc in the top third of the lineup. Coach Loren Hibbs called his team “offensively challenged” midway through the season, but the 49ers still rank a very respectable 42nd in the nation in batting (.302) and 36th in scoring (6.8 runs per game). But pitching is Charlotte’s calling card—its 2.43 ERA is third-best in the nation, and its 7.14 hits allowed per nine innings ranks fourth. Charlotte lacks big-time power arms, but starters Andrew Smith (9-4, 1.85), Tyler Barnette (9-1, 1.96), Corey Roberts (7-3, 3.18) and Joe Yermal (6-2,
2.34) all pound the strike zone and keep hitters off balance with varied repertoires. Smith recovered from Tommy John surgery to win the A-10 pitcher of the year award, and he has developed his slider into an out pitch. Yermal, the former staff ace, missed all of last season with a shoulder injury but has gotten stronger as the season has progressed,
and he earned the victory in the A-10 tournament clincher. Closer Bryan Hamilton
(3.63, four saves) has gone through his own arm issues, but his funky delivery gives him good deception, and he has excellent poise in tight spots.
year after winning 38 games and landing an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament—breaking a 48-year regionals drought—New Mexico had to replace two-thirds of its weekend rotation and eight everyday starters this spring, and it struggled mightily against a challenging schedule. The exceedingly young Lobos got off to a 3-15 start to the season, getting swept by Arizona State, Creighton and Oklahoma State in the first month. The Lobos earned the sixth and final seed in the MWC tournament, carrying a seven-game losing streak into the tourney—their fifth losing streak of five or more games in 2011. But they caught fire at the perfect time, beating juggernaut TCU twice en route to the MWC title. UNM’s .339 winning percentage is the worst for a regional team since Texas Southern carried a 16-32 record (.333) into the 2008 tournament. But the Lobos are playing with a lot of confidence now. They
got quality starts in the conference tournament from Rudy Jaramillo (4-8, 4.42), Richard Olson (3-7, 6.45) and Austin House
(1-2, 5.92), and they’ll need more of the same to have any chance in this loaded regional. The lineup does not stand out for its power or speed—no Lobo has more than five stolen bases, and just D.J. Peterson (.324, six HR, 48 RBI) and Luke Campbell
(.301, five HR) have more than two home runs. Last week’s run to the Mountain West tournament was one of the season’s most improbable stories; now New Mexico is one of the NCAA tournament field’s biggest underdogs. Of course, that means New Mexico has nothing to lose this week, and it could pull off another stunner if it keeps playing loose.
No. 1 Texas (43-15, 19-8 in Big 12)
55th appearance (13th straight), at-large, Big 12 Conference regular-season co-champion
No. 2 Texas State (40-21, 24-9 in Southland)
Fifth appearance (last in 2009), automatic, Southland Conference regular-season and tournament champion
No. 3 Kent State (43-15, 21-5 in MAC)
11th appearance (third straight), automatic, Mid-American Conference regular-season and tournament champion
No. 4 Princeton (23-22, 15-5 in Ivy)
11th appearance (last in 2006), automatic, Ivy League regular-season and tournament champion
usual, Texas is one of the nation’s premier run-prevention outfits, allowing just 2.8 runs per game (second-best in college baseball behind Virginia’s 2.7). And after setting a school record with 81 home runs a year ago, Texas has returned to full-scale Augie Ball—leading the country in sacrifice bunts (89) and hitting just 13 home runs as a team (258th in the nation). The lineup is not intimidating, but combined with
UT’s top-flight pitching and defense, it was good enough for Texas to win the Big 12 regular-season title for the third straight year. Unexpected freshmen have given Texas a huge boost, as third baseman Erich Weiss (.368/.510/.563, four HR, seven 3B, 38 RBI) leads the team in most offensive categories, and righthander Corey Knebel
(2-2, 1.32, 16 saves) has been a dynamo at the back of the bullpen thanks to his fearlessness and outstanding command of a plus fastball. Texas has perhaps the nation’s most reliable middle-infield tandem in shortstop Brandon Loy (.976 fielding percentage) and second baseman Jordan Etier (.975), helping the Longhorns rank third nationally with a .982 fielding percentage. The stellar defense gives ace Taylor Jungmann
(13-0, 0.95, 116-27 K-BB in 123 innings) and the rest of the staff the peace of mind to pound the strike zone and let hitters put the ball in play. Jungmann, a sure-fire first-round pick, has strikeout stuff and has been remarkably efficient, recording five complete games and leading
the nation in wins and ERA. The deep staff also features another key member of Texas’ 2009 CWS Finals run, senior righthander Cole Green (7-3, 3.20), and two talented lefties in Hoby Milner (6-4, 2.58) and Sam Stafford (5-2, 1.70).
State won the Southland Conference regular-season crown by four games and rode its hot bats to five straight wins in the conference tournament
after losing its opener. The Bobcats lack the pitching depth of Big 12 clubs, helping explain why they went just 2-10 against the top 50 RPI teams in the regular season, mostly in midweek action. But they’re a dangerous team on weekends, thanks in large part to ace righthander Carson Smith (9-3,
1.98, 124-46 K-BB in 104 innings), the two-time SLC pitcher of the year. Built like a Clydesdale, Smith is a ferocious competitor who attacks hitters with a sinking 90-93 fastball, a swing-and-miss slider and good changeup, and he has kept on dominating even while dealing with
significant shoulder issues. Righty Mitchell Pitts (5-3, 3.84) and lefty Colton Turner (9-2, 4.39) have been rotation workhorses for Texas State, and the bullpen has a two-headed monster in Jeff McVaney (2.08,
nine saves) and Joseph Dvorsky (3-0, 2.95, six saves). McVaney, a former football fullback, doubles as a power-hitting outfielder (.332/.443/.522, 10 HR, 47 RBI, 12 SB), but he’s not Texas State’s biggest home run threat. That would be first baseman Casey Kalenkosky
(.328/.409/.664, 21 HR, 69 RBI), a righthanded slugger who broke the Texas State single-season home run record. Junior third baseman Kyle Kubitza
(.314/.450/.555, nine HR, 61 RBI, 15 SB), the older brother of Rice ace
Austin Kubitza, is a patient hitter who provides pop from the left side
of the plate. But the man who makes the Bobcats go is junior second baseman Tyler Sibley (.354/.444/.502, 6 HR, 20 SB), a quintessential undersized scrapper with speed and outstanding plate discipline (36-17 BB-K).
State is built much more like Texas than like Texas State. The Golden Flashes rank in the nation’s top 10 in ERA (2.56), strikeouts per nine innings (8.4) and fielding percentage (.979), and they seem well suited to succeed at spacious UFCU Disch Falk Field. The Flashes dominated the MAC, going 21-5 in the regular season and allowing just 10 runs in five games en route to the conference tournament title. Kent State’s boffo pitching staff has a blue-chip ace in lefthander Andrew Chafin
(7-1, 1.90, 97-21 K-BB in 80 IP), who recovered from Tommy John surgery
to establish himself as a likely first-round or supplemental pick in the upcoming draft. Chafin, who threw a complete-game shutout against Eastern Michigan in last week’s MAC tournament, owns a 90-95 fastball, one of the nation’s best sliders and a dramatically improved changeup. Two more lefties with even more experience fill out the rotation: senior
Kyle Hallock (10-4, 1.91) bumps 90 mph and locates a good slider and solid changeup, while junior David Starn
(9-2, 1.95) keeps hitters off balance with softer stuff thanks to his superb feel for pitching. Then Kent State can run in an electric righthanded closer with a 90-94 fastball and a wipeout slider in the mid-80s—Kyle McMillen (2.03, 17 saves). The staff has the depth to make a run through the loser’s bracket if necessary. The lineup is centered around four veterans of Kent State’s three straight NCAA tournament teams: hitting machines Ben Klafczynski (.368/.450/.597, 10 HR, 54 RBI) and Travis Shaw (.316/.412/.575, 14 HR, 51 RBI), smooth shortstop Jimmy Rider (.969 fielding percentage) and catcher David Lyon (.318/.386/.543, eight HR, 49 RBI).
going 12-30 a year ago and finishing in the Ivy league basement (6-14),
Princeton turned over much of its roster in the offseason, and its young talent matured as the 2011 season progressed. The Tigers got off to a 5-13 start against a challenging nonconference schedule—including a
three-game set at Louisiana State, where they won the Sunday game. But the early trials made them stronger in conference play, and they finished with the Ivy’s best conference record (15-5), then toppled defending champion Dartmouth in the Ivy title series to earn their first
trip to regionals since 2006. Early in the season, Princeton realized it could throw strikes at the top of the zone even against the power-conference teams, and the result would be a lot of flyball outs. That could be a winning approach at cavernous Disch Falk, and strike-throwers Mike Ford (5-3, 3.98), Zak Hermans (5-1, 2.85) and Matt Bowman (2-7, 5.05) execute it well. Princeton also has a freshman closer with poise beyond his years in A.J. Goetz (3-1,
1.33, three saves). Bowman, the team’s best overall prospect, doubles as Princeton’s starting shortstop, hitting .314. But junior catcher Sam Mulroy
(.324/.371/.547, seven HR, 39 RBI, 13 SB), one of just two upperclassmen in the everyday lineup, sets the tone for the offense. A former football standout, Mulroy is an outstanding athlete with a quiet leadership presence.
No. 1 Vanderbilt (47-10, 22-8 in SEC)
10th appearance (sixth straight), at-large, Southeastern Conference regular-season co-champion
No. 2 Oklahoma State (35-23, 14-12 in Big 12)
38th appearance (last in 2009), at-large, fourth place in Big 12 Conference
No. 3 Troy (42-17, 21-9 in Sun Belt)
Fifth appearance (last in 2007), at-large, Sun Belt Conference regular-season champion
No. 4 Belmont (36-24, 17-13 in A-Sun)
First appearance, automatic, Atlantic Sun Conference tournament champion
can stake a strong claim to being the nation’s most complete team. Like
Florida, Vandy’s pitching staff is embarrassingly deep, with middle relievers that could be Friday starters on other staffs. The SEC pitcher
of the year, lefthander Grayson Garvin (12-1, 2.35), is the No. 2 starter on this staff, which is anchored by junior righty Sonny Gray
(10-3, 2.12, 112-39 K-BB in 102 IP), a Team USA alumnus with a plus fastball, a devastating power curve and a dramatically improved changeup. Garvin isn’t as overpowering, but his fastball jumped into the
low 90s and topped out in the mid-90s on occasion this spring, and he commands it exceedingly well. Senior righty Taylor Hill
(4-1, 3.00) is an accomplished and talented third starter, and the bullpen has an enviable collection of power arms from both sides surrounding electric closer Navery Moore (4-2,
1.21). The ‘pen proved vulnerable in Vandy’s two series losses this season (to SEC co-champs South Carolina and Florida), but the unit seemed to find its stride again in the conference tournament, leaving Vanderbilt without any significant question marks. The lineup is balanced and relentless, with a dynamic leadoff man in SEC freshman of the year Tony Kemp (.335/.435/.417, 15 SB), a prototypical No. 2 hitter in Anthony Gomez (.341, just 13 strikeouts in 249 at-bats), a pair of power hitters that are also tough outs in Aaron Westlake (.356/.473/.620, 13 HR, 44 RBI) and Jason Esposito
(.352/.419/.543, seven HR, 21 2B, 51 RBI), and quality line-drive hitters throughout the rest of the order. A year after falling to Florida State in super regionals, Vanderbilt looks destined to finally break down the door to the College World Series.
State’s pitching imploded in 2010, causing it to miss regionals for the
first time since 2003. The Cowboys improved dramatically on the mound this spring, and they made some noise in the first half of the Big 12 season, winning four straight conference series, bookended by sets against Nebraska and Oklahoma. But the Cowboys were swept by Texas A&M in mid-April, the beginning of a swoon that saw them lose four of their final series and go 1-2 in the conference tournament. Pitching is once again a major concern heading into regionals, as OSU’s starting pitchers have lasted five innings just once in the last eight games, and
no Cowboy has made it through six innings since May 13 against Baylor, when ace lefty Mike Strong (5-1,
3.61) struck out 14 over eight shutout frames. When Strong’s sharp downer curveball is on, he can be dominant, but he has been erratic on the road. No. 2 starter Brad Propst (7-5, 3.66) is a converted shortstop
who seemed to wear down in the second half this season. Collectively, the Cowboys jumpstarted too many opposing rallies in the Big 12 tournament, issuing 14 walks and playing ragged defense. Righthander Chris Marlowe
(3-3, 4.43) is a major key for the Cowboys; with a fastball that reaches 97 and a devastating power curve at 83-84, Marlowe can be utterly overpowering in the bullpen, as illustrated by his 15.67 strikeouts per nine innings. But his control has wavered down the stretch. Offensively, Oklahoma State excels at driving the gaps, ranking12th in the nation in doubles (130) and 21st in triples (22). Zach Johnson (.358, 13 HR, 62 RBI), Mark Ginther (.297, 10 HR) and Jared Womack (.286, eight HR, 45 RBI) bring home run power, too.
identity of Troy’s program has been built around power hitting for years now, but pitching and defense helped the Trojans break into Baseball America’s Top 25 rankings this spring for the first time ever, en route to the Sun Belt regular-season title. But the Trojans did not pitch or defend nearly as well in the second half of the season; they had a 2.78 ERA and a .984 fielding percentage on April 3, and they head to the postseason with a 3.73 ERA and a .975 fielding percentage. Sun Belt pitcher of the year Tyler Ray (11-0,
2.39) has been the one constant from start to finish, carving hitters up by hitting his spots with an 88-91 fastball, an improved slider and changeup, and a curveball. Ray, a former football quarterback for famous
Hoover (Ala.) High, relishes the spotlight and figures to be at his best in regionals. But for Troy to make a deep run in this regional, it needs lefthanders Jimmy Hodgskin (3-6, 4.56) and Ryan Sorce
(5-4, 5.23) to pitch better than they did in the conference tournament.
Hodgskin, perhaps the highest-profile recruit ever to show up at Troy, flashes three very good pitches but must stay within himself and command
his quality stuff. Fortunately, Troy’s offense successfully reinvented itself in the second half, transforming from a home run team to a doubles team. Troy leads the nation with 146 doubles, led by standout shortstop Adam Bryant (.339/.403/.580, 11 HR, 25 2B, 66 RBI) and sweet-swinging third baseman Tyler Hannah (.369/.480/.595, seven HR, 27 2B, 49 RBI). That duo also makes the Trojans rock-solid on the left side
of the infield, and the right side is just as strong with second baseman T.J. Rivera (.980 fielding percentage) and first baseman Logan Pierce (.990). Catcher Todd McRae (.316) is also a good defender, making the Trojans very good up the middle.
is a sneaky-dangerous No. 4 seed. The Bruins are battle-tested, having played five games against SEC competition (winning two of them). They are riding a wave of momentum, having beaten A-Sun powers Stetson and Mercer five times in the last two weeks (in a series at Stetson and the conference tournament). After starting conference play just 3-8, Belmont
won 18 of its next 23 conference games, counting the tournament. The Bruins needed to win their final two games at Stetson just to earn the sixth and final seed in the A-Sun tourney, where they went 4-0 to secure
their first regional appearance. The turning point in the season was in
late March, when North Florida scored 39 runs in the final two games of
a sweep against Belmont, prompting coach Dave Jarvis to shake up his weekend rotation behind sophomore lefthander Chase Brookshire (5-4, 3.52). Junior righthander Matt Hamann
(9-1, 2.22) has been a revelation as a starter, and fellow righty Josh Davis (5-1, 6.26) has been a stabilizer as well. But Belmont’s greatest asset in this regional is its power potential. The Bruins rank fifth in the nation with 62 home runs, led by seniors Nate Woods (.347/.434/.601, 12 HR, 61 RBI) and Tim Egerton (.287/.373/.537, 12 HR, 53 RBI), plus junior Derek Hamblen (.322/.393/.554, 11 HR, 36 RBI, 26 SB). Hamblen is hot—he hit two homers and drove in five to win A-Sun tourney MVP honors.
No. 1 Oregon State (38-17, 17-0 in Pac-10)
12th appearance (third straight), at-large, tied for second place in Pacific-10 Conference
No. 2 Creighton (44-14, 15-6 in MVC)
Ninth appearance (last in 2007), automatic, Missouri Valley Conference regular-season and tournament champion
No. 3 Georgia (31-30, 16-14 in SEC)
10th appearance (last in 2009), at-large, fifth place in Southeastern Conference
No. 4 Arkansas-Little Rock (24-32, 10-20 in Sun Belt)
First appearance, automatic, Sun Belt Conference tournament champion
State was picked to finish eighth in the Pac-10 by league coaches in the preseason, but the Beavers were one of college baseball’s great surprises this spring, winning their first 10 weekend series—including sweeps of Arizona State and at Stanford, as well as road series against Arizona and UCLA—and climbing to No. 2 in the BA rankings. Even when OSU’s most dangerous hitter—preseason All-America catcher Andrew Susac (.325/.461/.567, 5 HR, 31 RBI)—and starting second baseman Jake Rodriguez
(.288) both had hamate surgery on the same day, the Beavers kept on winning. Even without two of their best arms—Taylor Starr and Adam Duke—for most of the season, the Beavers kept winning. The Beavers went 12-3 against the Pac-10’s other five NCAA tournament teams, but they finally stumbled in the final two weeks against Southern California and Oregon, scoring just eight runs in their final five games—all losses. Oregon State does not have gaudy offensive numbers, but for most of the season it was a good offensive team because it grinded out at-bats as well as any team in the country. OSU has responded to adversity all season, and it must find a way to get its offense going again to reverse
its late swoon. Oregon State’s biggest strength is the one-two pitching
punch of Sam Gaviglio (11-2, 1.95, 1-2-25 K-BB in 106 IP) and Josh Osich
(6-4, 3.57). The unflappable Gaviglio has exceptional feel for pitching, while Osich—who threw a no-hitter at UCLA in late April—has a premium fastball and good changeup. Sophomores Tony Bryant (3-2, 1.59, 10 saves) and Matt Boyd (1.55, four saves) make for a formidable bullpen tandem.
Oregon State, Creighton’s greatest asset might be is resilience. Coach Ed Servais says his team never panics when it falls behind, and of course it excels at protecting leads thanks to a characteristically airtight defense (fifth in the nation with a .980 fielding percentage) and a stellar bullpen anchored by Kurt Spomer
(3-3, 1.93, 13 saves). That bullpen is deep and versatile, with five dependable options—two from the left side, three from the right—who offer a variety of arm slots and styles. Like Oregon State, Creighton has an outstanding one-two punch atop the rotation in senior righthander
Jonas Dufek (11-1, 2.17) and sophomore lefty Ty Blach
(10-2, 2.72). Dufek, who will get the start in the opener, works in the
88-91 range and has a swing-and-miss slider. Blach works in the same range and bumps 93 mph, and his changeup is excellent. Offensively, Creighton has one bat that scares opponents: do-it-all senior outfielder
Trever Adams (.392/.465/.680, 14 HR, 57 RBI, 14 SB). Creighton’s offense is designed to score five runs per game by any means possible, as the Bluejays have won 82 percent
of their games in the Servais era when they score five runs (this year’s team averages 5.3 runs per game, 175th in the nation). Creighton relies heavily on the sacrifice bunt (80, fifth-most in the nation), the
hit-and-run and situational hitting. In short, Creighton is a lot like Oregon State—but hotter, having won nine of its last 10 games.
has been hit hard by tragedy over the last two years. Its 2010 season was torpedoed before it began when projected starting second baseman Chance Veazey was paralyzed in an offseason scooter accident, helping to
sink the team into a funk from which it never recovered. Its 2011 season got off to a 3-8 start, and tragedy struck again, as outfielder Johnathan Taylor was paralyzed in an outfield collision with Zach Cone
on March 6. But this time, Georgia rallied around its fallen comrade, digging out of its early hole to post the SEC’s fourth-best record in the regular season. Georgia was adamant that it did not want to be the “sympathy team,” that it wanted to earn respect, and it did just that, winning three games in the SEC tournament (including games against top-five teams South Carolina and Florida) to finish with a winning overall record and gain eligibility for an at-large berth. Georgia’s junior class arrived on campus as perhaps the most ballyhooed recruiting
class in program history, and while the ultra-athletic Cone (.284, 12 SB) and the physical Chase Davidson
(.276, seven HR) never developed into superstars as anticipated, they have become solid college players. A third big name from that recruiting
class, righthander Michael Palazzone
(10-4, 3.20), has transformed himself from a power arm with suspect command into more of a finesse pitcher with good command and plenty of competitiveness. He and lefthander Alex Wood (5-7, 4.53) must pitch deep
into games and must be sharp if Georgia is to make a deep postseason run. The third starter spot has been a problem all year, but lefthander Blake Dieterich
(3-3, 3.44) performed well in his third start of the season in the SEC tournament, an encouraging sign. The bullpen has gelled around setup man
Bryan Benzor (2-0, 3.50) and closer Tyler Maloof (7.92 ERA, 18 saves), who reaches the low 90s and relies heavily on a swing-and-miss breaking ball.
Rock is one of the NCAA tournament’s heaviest underdogs. The Trojans went just 18-32 in the regular seasons and 10-20 in the Sun Belt, but they caught fire in the conference tournament, beating SBC powers Troy, Western Kentucky, Florida Atlantic and Florida International to become the first No. 8 seed ever to win the event. UALR reliever Garrett Graziano
(6-9, 6.41) allowed just one run in 5 2/3 innings of relief over three appearances to earn tournament MVP honors. UALR’s 5.84 ERA (247th in the
nation) is glaring in this regional filled with outstanding pitching staffs, but it should be noted that the Trojans allowed just four runs per game during their 4-0 run through the conference tournament, so they
are peaking at the right time. Senior ace Calvin Drinnen
(6-6, 4.82) is wily enough to at least keep the Trojans in the game against Oregon State. Offensively, UALR has a bit of pop, led by DH Nick Rountree
(.287, seven HR, 34 RBI), part of a large group of junior-college transfers that have bolstered the overall talent level on UALR’s roster in coach Scott Norwood’s third season. In his second season, the Trojans
jumped from 16 to 29 wins; now they are in regionals for the first time
ever. That’s progress.
No. 1 Cal State Fullerton (40-15, 19-5 in Big West)
33rd appearance (20th straight), automatic, Big West Conference champion
No. 2 Stanford (32-20, 14-12 in Pac-10)
30th appearance (second straight), at-large, fifth place in Pacific-10 Conference
No. 3 Kansas State (36-23, 12-14 in Big 12)
Third appearance (third straight), at-large, sixth place in Big 12 conference
No. 4 Illinois (28-25, 15-9 in Big Ten)
Ninth appearance (last in 2000), automatic, Big Ten Conference regular-season co-champion and tournament champion
State Fullerton heads into the postseason ranked exactly where it was in the preseason—No. 8. The Titans had to overcome a number of notable injuries en route to their ninth Big West title in the last 13 years. Key players like sparkplug shortstop/third baseman Richy Pedroza (.346), Big West freshman of the year Michael Lorenzen
(.350, 19 SB) and ace Noe Ramirez (8-3, 1.74) all missed chunks of time
over the course of the season, but the Titans head to regionals largely
at full strength. This Fullerton team lacks the high-powered offense of
its recent Christian Colon/Gary Brown teams, but as usual the lineup is
filled tough outs with good bat control and strong fundamental skills. The Titans rank ninth in the nation in sacrifice bunts (75), but their good overall team speed and gap power is reflected by their 24 triples (11th in the nation). Fullerton is not a home run-hitting team, however—Big West player of the year Nick Ramirez (.285,
nine HR, 45 RBI) has more than half of the team’s 17 long balls, and no
other Titan has hit more than two. For the third straight season, Ramirez also moonlights as Fullerton’s closer (1.12 ERA, 16 saves), with
stellar command of a quality four-pitch mix highlighted by an outstanding changeup. That’s a common theme among Fullerton’s pitchers; Noe Ramirez
owns one of college baseball’s very best changeups, a plus to plus-plus
offering on the big league scale. His three-pitch repertoire also includes an 88-92 fastball and solid slider; his tenacity and feel for pitching have made him a big-game pitcher for three years, during which he has gone 29-5. Fullerton’s deep pitching staff also features another two-way star with advanced feel for a four-pitch mix in Tyler Pill (6-1, 2.08) and three versatile power righties who can start or relieve in Colin O’Connell (7-3, 2.42), Jake Floethe (6-3, 3.82) and Dylan Floro (4-2, 4.23).
back-to-back recruiting classes that ranked among the nation’s two best, Stanford headed into the spring with an extremely talented but young roster and a No. 13 preseason ranking. Stanford’s top seven hitters are underclassmen, but the Cardinal did not exactly ease into the meat of its schedule, opening the season with three straight road trips to Rice, Vanderbilt and Texas—all of whom wound up earning national seeds. Stanford held its own against that rigorous slate, going
6-5 in the first three weeks (including midweek wins against Cal and Santa Clara), but it sustained a blow when projected ace lefty Brett Mooneyham was lost for the season with a finger injury. Righty Mark Appel (5-6,
3.02) made a successful transition from the bullpen as a freshman to the Friday starter role as a sophomore; he has overpowering stuff and is
an early leading candidate to go No. 1 overall in the 2012 draft. Jordan Pries
(5-5, 3.53) lacks Appel’s size and prospect cachet, but he’s a classic bulldog with good command of a solid mix. Soft-tossing senior righty Danny Sandbrink
(3-1, 3.50) has joined that pair in the weekend rotation down the stretch, with mixed results. The bullpen is anchored by power lefthander
Chris Reed (6-2, 2.61, eight saves), a likely top-two-rounds pick who flashes mid-90s heat and an excellent slider and changeup at times, and effectively wild lefty Scott Snodgress. Stanford is an exciting team to watch, and it can beat anyone when its talent performs. First-team preseason All-American Kenny Diekroeger
had a strong first half but slumped to .298 in the second half, and the
Cardinal needs him to get going again. Pac-10 freshman of the year Brian Ragira (.321, four HR, 41 RBI) and fellow tool shed Austin Wilson
(.313, four HR) have provocative power potential but are still learning
to tap into it. You won’t find a more athletic outfield anywhere than Wilson, Jake Stewart and Tyler Gaffney
(also a running back on the football team). But Stanford’s speed is not
a major factor on the basepaths—the team has just 29 stolen bases (270th in the nation). As anticipated, Stanford’s season has been up and
down, but when the Cardinal is on, it is extremely dangerous.
State had never made a regional in school history before 2009. This year the Wildcats scrapped and clawed their way to their third consecutive at-large berth, a testament to the players’ commitment to coach Brad Hill’s blue-collar approach. Center fielder Nick Martini (.326/.446/.433,
24 SB) has been Kansas State’s engine for three seasons, reaching base in an NCAA-record 93 consecutive games until going 0-for-5 on April 17. His speed is a major asset in the outfield and on the basepaths, and his
plate discipline makes him an on-base machine. Brothers Jason King
(.333, 10 HR, 57 RBI) and Jared King (.314, eight HR, 40 RBI) provided most of the thump in the lineup this season, but Jared was missed the Big 12 tournament after getting struck in the face with a foul ball, and
his status for regionals was in doubt. He was K-State’s best hitter in Big 12 play, so his loss is significant. Mike Kindel
(.246, seven HR, 41 RBI), a heralded recruit from Ohio two years ago, has also developed into a good run producer but has had an up-and-down season. The Wildcats force the action offensively—Martini leads a group of six KSU players who have stolen 14 or more bases this season, helping
the team rank fourth nationally with 123 steals. They’re also efficient, succeeding on 81 percent of their stolen-base attempts. Kansas State has a pair of veteran workhorse starters in lefthander Kyle Hunter (5-4, 4.26) and righty Matt Applegate (5-4, 4.31), but the strength of the pitching staff is unquestionably the bullpen. Closer James Allen (3-1, 1.35, 17 saves, 45-11 K-BB in 40 IP) has outstanding command and a fastball that reaches 92 mph. Fellow righty Evan Marshall
(5-5, 1.71, 50-15 K-BB in 58 IP) teams with him to form one of the nation’s premier bullpen duos. Marshall has a pair of plus pitches in a 93-94 fastball that tops out at 96 and a hard slider.
flew under the radar in the Big Ten all season. The Illini stood at 12-21 overall and 4-6 in the Big Ten after losing the opener of a series
against conference front-runner Michigan State on April 23, but it rebounded to win that series and each of its next five. A five-game winning streak to close the season helped Illinois surge to a share of the Big Ten regular-season title on the season’s final day, and Illinois
stretched that winning streak to eight win a perfect run through the conference tournament, allowing just six runs in three games—including two more against the Spartans. The scrappy Illini stand out most for their team speed (they stole a league-best 1.79 bases per game, 16th in the nation). Illinois is outstanding up the middle, with an athletic, reliable double-play tandem in shortstop Josh Parr and second baseman Pete Cappetta, excellent speed in center field in Willie Argo
(25 SB), and a catcher with a strong arm and quick release in Adam Davis. Davis (.300, five HR, 33 RBI) also hits in the No. 3 hole, joining with Brandon Hohl (.311, five HR, 38 RBI) and Matt Dittman (.259, six HR, 35 RBI) to form a solid heart of the order. Parr’s younger brother Justin
leads the team in hitting (.333) and has been particularly good in conference play (.411). Though Illinois pitched well in the conference tournament, its staff is clearly the weakest in this regional, ranking 174th in the nation with a 4.84 ERA. The staff ace is sophomore righty Kevin Johnson (2-6, 4.33), who competes hard and has an out pitch in his breaking ball.
No. 1 North Carolina (45-14, 20-10 in ACC)
26th appearance (10th straight), at-large, fourth place in Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 3 national seed
No. 2 Florida International (40-18-1, 20-9-1 in Sun Belt)
10th appearance (second straight), at-large, second place in Sun Belt Conference
No. 3 James Madison (40-17, 21-9 in CAA)
Eighth appearance, automatic, Colonial Athletic Association regular-season and tournament champion
No. 4 Maine (32-22, 18-6 in AEC)
16th appearance, automatic, America East Conference tournament champion
Carolina was one of the nation’s biggest surprises in 2011. UNC’s four-year Omaha run came to an end in 2010, when the team failed to make
the ACC tournament but still got an at-large bid to regionals, and the Tar Heels had to replace ace Matt Harvey (the No. 7 overall pick) and talented outfielder Brian Goodwin (who was dismissed from the team for violating team rules and transferred to Miami-Dade JC), among others. But UNC started the spring with a 4-0 trip to the West Coast and finished the regular season with a sweep of top-ranked Virginia, helping
the Tar Heels finish atop the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index. There were bumps along the way—a road series loss to Wake Forest, a sweep at the hands of N.C. State, a bullpen meltdown in a winnable series at Georgia Tech—but the Tar Heels always bounced back strong. The offense has the biggest surprise, as even coach Mike Fox expected his offense to
struggle coming into the season. But Colin Moran
(.343/.451/.574, nine HR, 68 RBI) emerged as a leading candidate for national Freshman of the Year honors and the next cornerstone UNC player. Levi Michael (.313, five
HR, 48 RBI, 14 SB, .966 fielding percentage) handled the move to shortstop with aplomb despite nagging injuries. A switch-hitter with athleticism and bat speed, he figures to be the first college shortstop drafted next week. Veterans Tommy Coyle (.317, 17 SB) and Ben Bunting
(.270, 16 SB) give the Tar Heels a pair of undersized grinders with good speed, and Jacob Stallings is a standout behind the plate, making this team very good up the middle. The rotation lacks its usual first-round lock, but bulldog Patrick Johnson (11-1, 2.56) has blossomed into a steady Friday ace as a senior, and underclassmen Kent Emanuel (6-1, 2.88) and Chris Munnelly
(6-5, 3.99) have been solid. The bullpen is deeper and more versatile than any UNC ‘pen in recent years, giving Fox the ability to mix and match to his heart’s desire. Michael Morin (4-2, 4.97, eight saves) found a home as the closer, but senior Greg Holt (7-1, 3.09) is the moment-of-truth man.
International carried hoopla into the 2011 season, and not because it was returning the vast majority of an NCAA tournament team. Shortstop Garrett Wittels
entered the season with a 56-game hitting streak (and shadowed by an offseason arrest for rape in the Bahamas), just two shy of Robin Ventura’s Division I record. But he went hitless in the first game of the season, and the Golden Panthers got to work on making another run to
regionals. After taking their lumps against a road-heavy first-half schedule, the Panthers gelled in a big way down the stretch, putting together a 17-game unbeaten streak from April 16 to May 19. They finished a half-game behind Troy in the Sun Belt and as runner-up in the
conference tournament. FIU has a physical, experienced lineup with power throughout. It ranks in the nation’s top 10 in batting (.319), scoring (7.2 runs per game), doubles (137), home runs (59) and slugging (.476). Pablo Bermudez (.373/.489/.516, 17 SB) and Wittels (.348/.397/.449, 11 SB) are excellent table-setters at the top of the lineup, and Jeremy Patton (.371, seven HR, 53 RBI), Rudy Flores (.295, eight HR, 51 RBI) and DH Mike Martinez
(.295, 14 HR, 59 RBI) form a powerful heart of the order. The lineup does not let up in the lower half, either. The pitching staff is experienced but not overpowering. Ace Phil Haig
(9-3, 3.27), a transfer from Illinois who started a win against LSU in Baton Rouge during his Illini days, is a four-pitch lefthander who keeps hitters off
balance. R.J. Fondon (6-5, 2.76) is another pitchability lefty, and senior righty Daniel DeSimone (5-2, 4.24) has topped out at 93 mph at times. The team’s best arms are in the bullpen: lefthander Mason McVay (3.64) touches 94 and has a power slider in the low 80s, and tenacious closer Bryan Garcia (3-0, 3.45, four saves) has an 89-92 fastball and good breaking ball.
Madison rode of the nation’s most explosive, powerful offenses to the CAA regular-season and tournament title. Senior catcher Jake Lowery leads the nation with 83 RBIs, 76 runs and 187 total bases while ranking
second with 22 homers and fourth with eight triples. He also has a strong arm behind the plate and has thrown out 44 percent of basestealers. Senior shortstop David Herbek (.374/.456/.701,
15 HR, 74 RBI, 13 SB) gives the lineup a second stud, helping the Dukes
lead the nation in scoring (9.2 runs per game) and slugging (.527), and
rank fourth in batting (.321), triples (27) and home runs (78). Suffice
it to say, there could be offensive fireworks when JMU and FIU hook up in the opener. The pitching staff lags way behind, posting a 5.77 ERA that ranks 242nd in the nation, but the Dukes pitched very well in the last two weeks. If you throw out their 13-7 win against UNC Wilmington in the conference tournament, the Dukes have allowed just four runs their last six games. Ace Sean Tierney
(10-1, 2.79), who started his career as a high-profile recruit at Virginia before transferring to JMU, is coming off a complete-game shutout of Georgia State in the conference tournament and has allowed only one earned run in his last 27 innings.
Maine is one of the hottest teams in the field of 64, having won 16 of its last 17 games. The Black Bears finished four games behind juggernaut Stony Brook in the
America East, but they allowed just five runs in three games—including an 8-1 win against the Seawolves—to sweep through the conference tournament. Power-armed sophomores Jeffrey Gibbs
(6 IP, 1 H, 1 ER) and Stephen Perakslis (7.1 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 8 K) earned the wins in the final two games of the tournament, and if they continue pitching well in regionals, Maine will be formidable. That duo combined to shut down North Carolina in Chapel Hill as freshmen in February of 2010. Gibbs, the likely Game One starter, features a 92-96 mph fastball and a good power slider when he’s at his best. Junior righties Keith Bilodeau (10-2, 2.87) and A.J. Bazdanes (1-4, 4.66) give this staff a solid top four. Justin Leisenheimer
(.327/.406/.573, eight HR) leads an offense that scored runs by the bushel at times during Maine’s torrid finishing stretch. The Black Bears
could test UNC catcher Jacob Stallings, as Joey Martin (.325, 17 SB), Michael Francoso (.317, 17 SB) and Taylor Lewis
(.288, 20 SB) all are all basestealing threats. The speedy Lewis is a key to Maine’s success: he opened the season with an 18-game hitting streak, then slumped to .207 in league play before heating up again in the conference tournament, where he was named Most Outstanding Player. Lewis is capable of igniting the offense—he owns Maine’s career triples record (20) and has succeeded on 89 percent of his stolen base attempts in the last two years (41-for-46). Maine, which also played in Chapel Hill in its last regional appearance in 2006, is not backing down from the No. 3 national seed. “I guarantee they’re shaking in their boots right now because they know we have some good arms going down there,” coach Steve Trimper told the Bangor Daily News on Monday.