College coaches break down the super regional teams for the series that start on Saturday (on the left half of the bracket). Sources were given anonymity in exchange for their candor. All times are Eastern. Rankings indicate national seeds.
Saturday: 1 p.m. (ESPNUHD)
Sunday: 1 p.m. (ESPNUHD)
Monday: 1/4/7 p.m. (ESPN2HD/ ESPN2HD/ESPN2HD or ESPNUHD)
Coach: Mike Gillespie.
Postseason History: Third super regional appearance (last in 2008). Seeking second trip to Omaha (last in 2007).
Postseason Route: No. 3 seed in Los Angeles Regional. Won in three games, beating UCLA in the final.
“They have the Gillespie factor, and they’re a team that knows how to play baseball. They’re competitive. They play good defense. Their numbers have really picked up. Their staff is deeper than you think. They don’t have a whole lot of power arms. Summers has something to him, he’s pitching with his fastball. I heard the velocity was down last week but better before that. Summers has been really good. He did not seem that polished to me. I know he was coming on like gangbusters down the stretch. He can run it up to 94-95, pitch at 93, pretty consistent. He’s a short-armer, kind of a thrower—he’s never pitched out of a windup. His curve isn’t bad, he gets some bite on it, throws it pretty good for strikes. He has some feel for his stuff now, just those two pitches most of the time.
“Summers has the most power stuff on their team, and maybe Hernandez. Thurman’s got a pretty good arm, he’s OK, he’s a freshman. He’s an 88-90 arm, pretty good breaking ball, he’s going to be all right. He’s kind of a typical Irvine guy, throws strikes, walks are down, hits and strikeouts are a little less than innings. Whitehouse is pretty good, throws a lot of strikes, a slider for strikes, fastball for strikes. He’s pretty darn good, better than I anticipated, but no power stuff. They’ve got a lot of the same guys—competitive and they pound the strike zone.
“But they play with an edge. They’ve got coach Gillespie, and they put pressure on you. They’re not physical; they run well, they’re going to give you good at-bats. They struggle against velocity. You can wear them down with good velocity. But they really know how to play the game, and they’re disciplined. If you give them something, they’re going to take it. Look at the draft: there’s no high-end guys. I like Hillman quite a bit. Hillman can hit. Crumlich is a very solid shortstop. Hernandez is a very solid third baseman. I think they’re really good defensively; they’re not going to beat themselves. Shaeffer looked really good behind the plate—his release is exceptional. You won’t run on him; you’re not going to run on him. The way to beat Irvine is mano e mano. They’re an older offensive team, and they know how to play baseball. They’ll put pressure on you. They’ll move runners, slash, hit-and-run. They’ll do unconventional things at unconventional times. They know how to win.
“Leyland, I think he struggles with velocity. But he’s a dangerous guy if you don’t know what you’re doing or if you make a mistake. I don’t think Leyland will be much of a factor in a big park. Irvine was 24-4 at home, 15-12 on the road.
“You beat Irvine by handling Summers and attacking their hitters. Their pitchers coming out of the bullpen all throw strikes. Hernandez has a pretty good arm back there. The guy that can pitch is Litchfield—good changeup, and the fastball’s 82-83, but the guy really has deception, and tremendous feel to pitch. He’s kind of been one of their guys out of the bullpen.”
Coach: Brian O’Connor.
Postseason History: Third super regional appearance (third straight). Seeking second trip to Omaha (last in 2009).
Postseason Route: No. 1 seed in Charlottesville Regional. Won in three games, beating East Carolina in the final.
“They’re as well rounded a team as we saw all year—and as well rounded a team as I’ve seen in a long time in college, to be honest with you. Obviously they pitch, and every at-bat they put a lot of pressure on you, even in pitchers’ counts. They grind out every single at-bat. They don’t hit a lot of home runs, but you’ve got to take into consideration the park they play in. Even their outs are productive outs. You pitch into the fifth inning and you’ve only given up one run, but it feels like you’ve gone 11 innings. It’s a mental and physical grind.
“There’s not a guy you can relax against and move on to the next guy. Proscia and Hicks are two RBI guys in the middle who can drive the ball and hurt you with home runs. They’re power threats. Barr, to me, is the best 2-hole hitter in the country as far as bunting and moving it around, an action guy, a veteran guy who knows what he needs to do. Taylor’s leading off, he’s done better as the year has gone on, he’s gotten better and better. There’s really not a weakness. Even Werman, the second baseman in the No. 9 hole, I know he’s hitting in the low .200s, but if the game’s on the line, you do not want to face that guy. He won’t hit it hard, but he’ll find a hole. With them, you’ve got to get the leadoff guy out. If they get the leadoff guy on, they’re going to manufacture a run. It’s always a team effort. All their outs are productive, so they get that lead guy on, they’ve got a lot of guys who can run in there. A leadoff double, they’re going to score 80 percent of the time. They’re very athletic, they make all the routine plays defensively, but they make a lot of professional plays, too. They don’t make mistakes, don’t hurt themselves.
“Hultzen’s stuff, No. 1, is as good as anybody’s in the country. And he’s as good a competitor as we saw all year. Even at the plate—he’ll hurt you at the plate. Just a baseball player, gets the hits when he needs to, makes the pitches when he needs to. Three plus pitches and he can throw them all for strikes. Once he settles into a groove, he’s untouchable. Wilson has one of the better sliders in college baseball and he’ll throw it 70 percent of the time. He’ll never give in, never throw anything over the middle of the plate. He does a great job throwing strike one, then gets you to swing at his pitch after that. He’s done a great job as a starter. He’s a senior who came back and has a goal in mind: to win it all. Tough to argue against Hultzen, but with one game to win, I’m not sure I’m not throwing Wilson. Seems like a big-game guy, and there’s a reason he came back. There are not a lot of college seniors with good stuff like him.
“With Will Roberts, nothing jumps out at you, nothing special. But before you know it, it’s the eighth inning, you’ve got one run. He’s a three-pitch guy who throws strikes. A big guy with some deception and good downward angle on his fastball. They all have good command too. It’s a deep bullpen. Their closer, Kline, has unbelievable stuff—it’s a mid-90s fastball, power slider, good athlete, holds runners, you can’t run on him. They’ve got a lefthanded freshman, (Kyle) Crockett, a low three-quarters guy that is very tough on lefthanders.
“They’re just a great college team. ‘Good’ would be an understatement; they’re a great team. You can’t look at them and say they’re lacking something. They’ve got depth, speed, bullpen, defense, power, they’ve got everything they need. To me they’re the clear-cut favorite to win it all.”
Site: Santa Clara, Calif.
Saturday: 8 p.m. (ESPNUHD)
Sunday: 10 p.m. (ESPNUHD)
Monday: 4/7 p.m. (ESPN2HD/ESPN2HD or ESPNUHD)
Coach: Dan Heefner.
Postseason History: First super regional appearance. Seeking first trip to Omaha.
Postseason Route: No. 3 seed in Fort Worth Regional. Won in four games, beating Oral Roberts in the final.
“Offensively, they’re very balanced. Their numbers are blown up a little bit because of the park, but their offensive approach is really good, their strike-zone discipline is really good. They play a lot different at home than they do on the road. At home they’re sitting back, more doubles and homers with the wind blowing, so they don’t give up any outs. On the road, they’re going to bunt more, run a little more. They’ve got six or seven guys in the lineup who run well, and two or three more who run really well.
“Krizan isn’t off-the-charts scary, but he barrels a lot of balls and doesn’t have any holes. He’s got good hand-eye coordination and the bat’s in the zone a long time. There’s quickness, athleticism. Biggest thing he has is hand-eye coordination. Even when he’s late, he gets the bat on the ball. You miss with a pitch, he’s got that good of hand-eye—boom—he drives a ball in the gap. I was impressed that as much as the wind blows out at their place, he stays down on the ball, hard contact, on the ground, or will hit a ball in the gap. He stays within himself and gets rewarded for that.
“Their shortstop, Hutter, is a big guy who doesn’t get cheated and has a lot of juice. McApline’s got a plan, and the plan can change at-bat to at-bat. If you make a mistake and he’s looking for a pitch, he’ll hammer it. There are some holes in there, but he’ll make adjustments. Defensively he blocks and recovers extremely well, receives well. Throwing-wise, he’s probably just average, but their pitchers do a good job holding runners, they’re short to the plate, and he’s accurate, on the bag.
“Their leadoff guy from Iowa, Robbins, is nothing spectacular at the plate, but he has a plan and forces you to throw strikes. He’s just looking to get on base. Once you get him where you think he’s taking, he’ll drive a fastball. He’s the straw that stirs the drink. Anderson is a good catalyst up there too, especially with Robbins and Krizan hitting around him—both those guys will run a little bit. You have to pay attention to him—very opportunistic. If you get behind in the count, he’s on time. If you’re ahead in the count, he’s a little more of a punchy guy. But when you’re behind in the count, he’s got some juice in there, and the ball jumps off his bat too.
“Pitching-wise, they know who they are. They’re willing to change it and cut it and spin it, they’re willing to stick the fastball in, they don’t panic and they throw a ton of strikes. When you get to the seventh inning, the arms change. There’s one good arm at the front in Williamson, the rest of them are 85-86, spin it, change it. In the seventh, there are a lot better arms. Their closer (Haney) was 90-92, with a good slider, location and attack. Williamson’s got four average pitches, and he’s got an idea what he’s doing. With the park they play in at home, they don’t panic. When his fastball is on and his breaking ball is sharp, he gives guys fits. With Williamson, you can see it. The other guys, you watch them from the side, you think they’re hittable. They give up a run here, a run there, but they don’t panic. They keep playing defense. They pitch.
“Stafford’s the guy who gave us fits. He’s a righthander, 82-83. Nothing’s straight. He knows who he is. He’s not worried about what scouts are thinking about him. Everything’s got movement, one side or the other. He’s going to dice you up a little bit. It’s just ground ball after ground ball after ground ball. He’s not just flipping in a breaking ball, he locates it to both sides, he throws a little cutter or slider that he locates to both sides. He’ll elevate if guys get comfortable, then goes back down in the zone. Then you go to their power arms in the seventh. (Righthander Stuart) Pudenz is probably 88-90, and the slider’s the pitch he’s going to turn to. Both him and Haney, they know they’re not out there very long, so it’s max effort, we’ll air it out and attack you, here it is. They’ll show you the whole repertoire because they’re not worried about seeing you again.
“Anderson, Krizan and Elkins are good in the outfield. They cover a lot of ground. Their gaps play big there at home, but they’re not just pressed up against the fence willing to let balls fall in. They’re willing to challenge guys and have guys beat them over their heads because they think they can recover. All three arms are average and accurate. The infielders will make the routine play. Hutter’s more of a physical shortstop, makes the plays that are around him. He’s got some arm strength, and he can go a couple steps and make that play backhand. He’s average. Robbins, nothing’s necessarily pretty, but he makes every play. The kid just shows up. He’s always on base, and in the infield he always catches it. The report we got was their third baseman lacked athleticism, and we did not see that. He’s a little stiff at times, but he made the charge play, moved deep, and showed some accuracy with his arm. They’ll make the average, routine play.
“I think it’s going to be a little different on the road. I was extremely impressed with the way they won in Fort Worth. They’re just going to grind. It’s not like you have one guy in the order you have to really watch out for, because 1-9 they’re solid. Not like one guy on the mound you really have to beat. The one thing you want to have on the mound is some diversity: go right, go left, show them some different looks, because they have some balance in their order. Anybody they play, I would see games being tight and close. If they were at home, they’d be the favorites because of the style of play. On the road, I don’t know, but they’ll be in every game, and they’ll grind.”
Coach: David Esquer.
Postseason History: First super regional appearance. Seeking sixth trip to Omaha (last in 1992).
Postseason Route: No. 3 seed in Houston Regional. Won in five games, beating Baylor in the final.
“Cal is offensive. They’re dangerous. They have enough arms that can shut you down. I like Cal’s team quite a bit. They’ve got a bunch of tough outs in their lineup. I think Krist is one of the most underrated guys out there. He’s a really, really good defender, he can catch and throw, he can hit, he’s a doubles machine, he can use the whole field. He’ll drive the ball to right-center; I think he’s one of the toughest outs. Rodriguez at first is a tough out. They’re tough to strike out, they don’t strike out. They can put the ball in play. Renda is probably their best offensive guy. There’s not really any sort of pitch plan to get him out. He’s a poor man’s Dustin Pedroia. He can hit, man. He can hit velocity, he sees the breaking ball—he’s a good player. He is one of the most offensive players on the West Coast in his own way. The shortstop, Semien, is another good player. He can play defense, he’s getting better offensively. Their best players are their catcher and second baseman, hands-down.
“I think defensively they’re pretty average in the infield. I like Semien, he’s a good player, a good defender. Delfino for me is just OK at third, kind of tall, upright, not great. Renda is an offensive player playing second. Left field, you’re talking about Booker, just OK, on-base percentage guy. Their strength is they’re tough outs, they don’t strike out, and their pitching.
“I think (pitching coach Dan) Hubbs has done a real good job with Johnson. Jones is kind of a mystery to me—strikeouts are pretty low, hits are pretty high. I’m not a big Jones guy; I think he’s overrated. They pitch to contact more than they have in the past. They threw more fastballs, which I think has benefited their staff. (Lefthander) Kyle Porter’s been really good out of their bullpen, and Flemer is good as their closer. They have depth on the mound. Between those guys, Logan Scott and Dixon Anderson, that’s a pretty good crew. I heard Johnson was kind of a wreck in the first game of the regional, but I think Johnson could beat anybody. He’s got power stuff—I liked him. He’s got a little Curt Schilling look to him—a big, strong, physical guy, got a good arm, a good breaking ball. He can’t field his position though, and can’t pick. I don’t know if that will be exposed or not. But he’s one of the top three or four starters in the Pac-10, a potential major league pitcher, no question about it.
“Anderson’s kind of the same guy he was last year. He’ll show flashes of velocity, pretty unathletic delivery, and I think it’s a pretty good split. Another guy whose numbers don’t come popping at you—the strikeout numbers are down. He’s a veteran guy that, if you’re down to him as a starter, I think you’re in pretty good shape. And Jones is better than I give him credit for—he was a seventh-round pick out of high school. But there’s not enough stuff for him to be a high-end prospect. He’s never shown us any velocity.
“Santa Clara’s a launching pad, too. I think it’s going to play small. That could play in the favor of Dallas Baptist. But Cal could be offensive. They have a bunch of tough outs. Bunting was hurt early, he’s back, giving them some pop. They kind of have depth, just like their pitching staff. It’s not a bunch of high-end guys but a bunch of pretty good guys. And I think they’re playing with a chip on their shoulder.
“They didn’t play very well down the stretch—they limped in. I like their team, I don’t love their team. Their strength is they catch the ball pretty well. I like their defense, it’s not great but solid, and it’s tough outs. They’re pretty good. I just think in big moments they’ve always crumpled, but they might have dodged a serious bullet with what they’ve got set up right now. They could find themselves in Omaha, and they’ve got players. I just don’t love the makeup of that team. But it might be their year. The way their regional went down, the way the other regional went down, I just think the stars might be lined up.”
Saturday: 4:30 p.m. (ESPNUHD)
Sunday: 4 p.m. (ESPNUHD)
Monday: 1/4/7 p.m. (ESPN2HD/ ESPN2HD/ESPN2HD or ESPNUHD)
Coach: Rob Childress.
Postseason History: Fifth super regional appearance (last in 2008). Seeking fifth trip to Omaha (last in 1999).
Postseason Route: No. 1 seed in College Station Regional. Won in four games, beating Arizona in the final.
“(Injured ace) John Stilson’s a horrible loss. You’re talking about a really, really good pitcher who’s been out there before. But Wacha and Stripling were probably A&M’s best pitchers this year. Stilson was really good but didn’t win as many games. They’ll miss him, no question about it. But they do still have a collection of good arms. With those three starters, that staff was as good as anybody in the country, and now they’ve lost a little bit of that.
“Wacha is a lot like (Corey) Knebel for Texas—good fastball command. He’s a guy whose fastball looks like it’s coming in below your knees and ends up knee-high or better, just stays on plane for a long time. He has a really good fastball and plus stuff. He has a serviceable breaking ball and a real good changeup. The change makes his fastball a little more effective against lefthanded hitters. When he’s got fastball command going, he’s tough to beat. Stripling competes, mixes his pitches, not overpowering. He knows how to pitch and is kind of an intangibles guy with average to slightly above-average stuff. He has a really good breaking ball, and can pitch backwards. It’s a downer curve, and he knows how to change speeds with it, can throw it for a strike or out of the zone. I think he’s about an 88-92 guy, doesn’t give you much to hit, a hard guy to square up. Hadley is a guy they believe in, I think he might be the guy they use as a third starter. There’s nothing special; the fastball velocity is good but not great, the breaking ball is good but not great. He’s a strike-thrower, and the complete package. He competes, not overpowering but doesn’t give you much.
“Hinojosa has not been the same down the stretch. I don’t think he’d be the end of the game guy, I think that would be (Nick) Fleece right now, maybe backed up by Kyle Martin, the sidearmer. Like Texas, they have numbers, they can go get a guy and not worry about losing quality. Fleece is well suited for that role—the experience factor, he’s done it before for them. He doesn’t make you go, ‘Whoa,’ but a pretty solid guy with decent stuff. Firm fastball guy, got some run, tries to beat you more up in the zone than down in the zone.
“Naquin’s as good a hitter as there is in college baseball. He doesn’t hit for a lot of power, but he’s going to hit his share of doubles, and knows how to play the game—very smart hitter. He’d be hitting third for a lot of teams, but I think he’s served them well in the leadoff spot. Bratsen has benefited from being behind him. He’s not nearly as polished a hitter, but he can run and he’ll find a way—not pretty all the time. House and Juengel are two guys playing with a lot of confidence right now too. House is the first baseman, a gap-to-gap hitter, another guy who knows how to hit. I think he’s just a hitter that finds ways to put the ball in play. Juengel’s dangerous, got some power, maturity. A guy that can hurt you, particularly if Naquin or Bratsen is on base ahead of him.
“They’re better than people think down in the lineup. Jackson’s not an easy out, and the third baseman, Adam Smith, is dangerous. He can be pitched to, but don’t make a mistake to him, because he can hurt you. Gonzalez is a guy you look at and think the bats have had significant effect on him—he’s not the offensive guy he was. And Collazo was the Big 12 tournament MVP. It’s a solid bottom half of the lineup the way they’re swinging it right now.
“Their outfield defense is really good. Naquin, he probably has the best arm that I’ve seen in a long time. It’s strong, but he’s also accurate, and everybody knows it. You can see their team get excited when the ball’s hit to him and he has a chance to throw somebody out. He’s got a cannon, he really does. And Bratsen covers a lot of ground. Naquin would be playing center field for a lot of teams. Defensively up the middle, Jackson and Collazo at second, I don’t think are on the same level as (Brandon) Loy and (Jordan) Etier at Texas, but close. And House is good at first base. Third has been their Achilles’ heel, but they’ll put (Charlie) Curl in at second and put Collazo in there at third for defense. It’s a good defensive team, not quite as good as Texas.
“I think the key to beating them is getting them into the third game—winning one of the first two games and playing on Sunday. I think not being in College Station hurts them as well, because like Texas they feed off the adrenaline of the crowd. I think A&M’s really good and playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
Coach: Mike Martin.
Postseason History: 11th super regional appearance (fourth straight). Seeking 21st trip to Omaha (second straight).
Postseason Route: No. 1 seed in Tallahassee Regional. Won in three games, beating Alabama in the final.
“You look at their stats, it’s Gilmartin with a substantial amount of innings, and after him it’s everybody bunched together with 30 or 40 innings. They’ve figured it out. Their way works in college. They’re not very athletic, they just get it done. I can’t even tell you how they do it, but they do. They’ve been doing it forever.
“Their leadoff guy, Travis, is a good leadoff guy. He is a tough out that can run, can bunt, hits the ball all over the field. A perfect leadoff guy that works the count and is a tough, gritty baseball player. They’ve got McGee and they’ve got Ramsey in the middle. McGee’s killed us over the years. He comes up with big hits night after night. They do a good job staying inside the ball because of the park they play in for righthanded hitters. They’re tough to strike out—they have good two-strike approaches one through nine. Numbers-wise, Ramsey’s their best guy, but to me their best player would probably be McGee. Ramsey is a right fielder who can run, has a good arm, has a lot of power. He doesn’t try to do a whole lot at the plate. You can probably pitch him in and he’s got a hole in there, but you’ve got to make sure it’s in, or he’ll make you pay for it.
“After those three guys, they’re all very pitchable. Gonzalez at short strikes out way too much, can’t really handle breaking balls. Lopez is a fifth-year senior, he’s learned how to hit. He’s a good hitter, understands the game by now, learned how to hit. Boyd has put up decent numbers but is very pitchable. It seems like a different person comes up with a big hit every game for them. Their third baseman, Johnson, is as good a defensive third baseman as we saw, but he’s not swinging the bat as well as he did last year. The outfield is not very good defensively—they don’t cover a lot of ground with McGee in center and Tapley in left. They’re very shaky up the middle. Devon Travis is definitely an offensive second baseman more than defense, but Gonzalez will kick some routine plays.
“After Gilmartin, they don’t have a No. 2 or 3 starter. They tried McGee, Scantling, (lefthander Brian) Busch—nobody jumps out at you. Gilmartin was like a Tom Glavine with a little bit of fastball. But he’s able to attack anybody’s weakness. He’s able to pitch to every hitter’s weakness—that’s what makes him so tough. He’s a great athlete that fields his position and throws a lot of strikes. All three pitches are good—if you can’t hit a spinner, he’ll spin it, if you can’t hit a changeup, he’ll throw a changeup. He’ll pitch up, down, in, out—any weakness you have, he’ll exploit it.
“McGee is much better as a closer, because he’s a breaking ball guy. The second time through the order, the breaking ball’s not quite as good because you recognize it. Scantling has a good breaking ball. He’s a big, 6-8 kid with a good breaking ball, but not overpowering. That might be the key to their success is giving you different looks—you don’t really see any of them more than twice. Bennett is their closer; he’s a sidearmer with good stuff, in the zone, very, very tough on righthanders, and a good enough changeup to make it difficult for lefties. I don’t really like their bullpen after McGee and Bennett, just a bunch of situational guys. They do have some depth, they’ll give you a lot of different looks throughout the game.
“The key to beating them? I don’t know. You do have to beat them—they’re not going to make a whole lot of mistakes. If you play a good game, they are beatable.”
Saturday: 6 p.m. (ESPN2HD)
Sunday: 7 p.m. (ESPNUHD)
Monday: 1/4/7 p.m. (ESPN2HD/ ESPN2HD/ESPN2HD or ESPNUHD)
Coach: Jim Penders.
Postseason History: First super regional appearance. Seeking sixth trip to Omaha (last in 1979).
Postseason Route: No. 3 seed in Clemson Regional. Won in five games, beating Clemson in the final.
“They’ve got a chance, man. They hadn’t played great all year for their talent level. I think now that they’re all drafted and relaxed, they’ve won the Big East, now they’ve won a regional—it seems like they’re clicking at the right time. I don’t know if there’s a lot of more talented teams top to bottom out there. They have a lot of pro guys, and it’s put together really nicely because you’ve got some superstars but also some nice college players. Nemeth’s a really good player—their all-time leader in hits, a senior. And Nappo is their all-time wins leader, another senior.
“Barnes has a power arm, a power body. He’s a first-round arm, he can beat anybody in the country on any night. He’s going to be 94-96 with really three other pitches. He uses both sides of the plate, he’s got a curveball, slider and changeup. He’s just very good. Nappo is your 86-88 lefty, maybe a little better than that at times. The stuff is good, the makeup’s great. He’s a winnner; the kid just finds a way to get his team where it needs to be. If you look up, the kid’s always coming out with a ‘W.’ He’s got a changeup and a curveball—the curve is just OK, the change a little better; he throws the change any time. He uses the whole plate, and will pitch inside. I think (lefthander Elliot) Glynn got hurt, and went out there and pitched on guts. I think that’s why you see Ward on Sundays. He’s a future pro guy—he’s 6-foot-3, and he’s 88-91 with a decent curve and decent change, and commands it. And he’s another lefthander.
“It’s an army of guys back in the bullpen. They run out so many good dudes. I didn’t even think Vance was the best one. They’ve got a couple really good righties back there—(David) Fischer and (Dan) Feehan, those guys are really good. They have good sinkers, good velocity—it’s a deep bullpen. Vance comes right at you, pretty good curveball, fastball. He got a lot of draft hype early because I think he threw harder last summer. He’s 89-91, locates the fastball and curve. He was a position player, so you’re getting that tough kid at the end of the game. But I thought Feehan and Fischer and (righty Will) Jolin actually had better stuff. Those guys all get up high 80s, low 90s, and they’re all pretty big-bodied guys.
“Springer has gotten a lot better. He used to be a real high leg-kick guy, everything’s moving. It looks like he’s moving more toward that professional world where he’s more quiet. He’ll have a bad at-bat, then hit one in the lights the next at-bat. He does a lot of things, too—gets on base, great basestealer, does a lot of things for them. A guy like that gets hot, you win the whole thing, possibly. He’s a very good center fielder, got a bazooka for an arm, can really throw it. Nemeth had a great career, just a grinder. He plays the game hard. He’s a great backup for Springer because he always gets the big hit, and knows how to win. He was never a big power guy, but it’s just hard to get him out. You’re trying to constantly mix him up, but he always seems to get his hits.
“Ahmed is a stud. He’s probably the reason they started to play really well, when he came back from that collapsed lung. I think he’s the leader of the bunch. I haven’t seen them all, but you show me a better defensive shortstop. He’s a good runner, better than average, and he changes the game defensively. He’s got a lot of makeup to him, too. He’s a good hitter, uses the whole field. He’s gotten a lot better every year. He’s gotten a little more physical—all those kids have pro bodies, you see them when you walk into the field. Ahmed’s another, he looks like a big leaguer. Mazzilli’s a good player at second, looks like he’s really swung it well in the postseason. To me, Andreoli might be one of their most valuable guys—he can really run too, a good player. His speed shows up in the outfield; he’s really good in right field. Ferriter’s OK, had a real good year last year, just OK this year. Fuller’s got some good power numbers in the middle, had some big hits for them down the stretch. And then the catcher’s a good player too, Elliot—just a big, physical catcher who handles the game really well. I’m telling you, that is a deep team, man. When you put Ahmed back in there, they’re pretty darn good on defense.
“You’ve got to beat Barnes the first night, then you’ve got a four-year senior lefthander who knows how to pitch, that’s still pretty good. It’s one of the better teams I’ve seen in my years in college baseball in terms of talent. I think they’ve underperformed this year—I know that sounds crazy. Now that the draft is past them, they could roll. But I know South Carolina’s good—they just keep winning. And you’ve got to play in that environment, too.”
Coach: Ray Tanner.
Postseason History: Ninth super regional appearance (second straight). Seeking 10th trip to Omaha (second straight).
Postseason Route: No. 1 seed in Columbia Regional. Won in three games, beating Stetson in the final.
“It’s the national championship effect. The guys on their team, don’t tell them they’re not as talented as Florida or Vandy, because when they put on that South Carolina uniform, they believe they’re supposed to win. Ray (Tanner) does a great job instilling that in their players. The thing South Carolina does very, very well—especially before (Jackie) Bradley was hurt, they were absolutely fantastic defensively. They had some quality starting pitching, different looks in the bullpen, and a tremendous closer. With the infield, hit a ground ball with a man on base, it’s a double play. And then especially with Bradley out there, you hit a ball in the outfield and they’d track it down.
“Offensively they’ll swing and battle you, and certainly Walker’s a good hitter. But Mooney and Wingo, they’ll get on base, they’ll steal. They know how to manufacture runs. If it’s Wingo laying down a bunt, or someone in the bottom of a lineup hitting and running, they’re pretty athletic. They can grind out four or five or six runs putting up the proverbial picket fence.
“Walker hit a big home run for them in the supers last year. He’s the guy in the middle of their lineup that provides a lot of presence. The rest are athletic guys that can run but are not scary. If he’s really swinging, the guys in front of him will see better pitches. If he’s swinging well offensively, that’ll be a good sign for them. I don’t think he’s Justin Smoak or Pedro Alvarez or a guy like that yet, but I do think he’s one of the better hitters in the league. Next year we’ll see if he takes that next step and becomes that big-time power, physical bat in the SEC. But a very talented, gifted hitter who certainly has the potential. His career is not close to over at S.C., and at the end of it he may be one of those guys. Just a very, very good righthanded hitter.
“Marzilli is a guy that can defend, and when he’s swinging the bat well he’s on base, hitting a lot of doubles. I think he’s a catalyst for them—I think he can be big for them. Mooney at the top, and Wingo is a guy that can really create havoc. He’s also a great bunter. He can do a lot of different things at the top. Marzilli is that X-factor, if he’s hitting at the top or the bottom and getting on base, helping that lineup turn over to get back to the top. The outfield seemed like it was patchwork. They’re trying to find someone they can hit in the 7-hole and play a decent outfield for them.
“Morales, no doubt, is the emotional leader. He’s kind of the captain. He has a presence on the infield, he has a toughness to him, and he’s a winner. If you look at his stats, I don’t think they ever blow you away, but he plays a solid third base, has good hands. The thing he always seems to do, he’s the guy who gets the big hit, the guy that seems to spark them from a leadership standpoint. A lot of toughness—tough kid. Defensively, Mooney and Wingo are very slick, very quick, very athletic, very good on the turns, both ways. And Morales is very good at third as well—he’ll get it to second base and turn the double play, and handling balls to his left or his right.
“Roth can really command the breaking ball, has a tremendous changeup. I think it’s a combination of confidence and having the success he had in the College World Series last year. And he has the stuff to get lefthanded hitters and righthanded hitters out. The fastball is not overpowering, but he’s got a good lefthanded breaking ball and a good changeup. If he wants to go breaking ball or changeup away, then 86-87 in, that 86-87 looks 91-92. The breaking ball is very average, but he’ll backdoor it early in a count for a cheap strike, and after he shows you a fastball in or a changeup away, it’s hard to consistently get good swings off him. It’s tremendous makeup, super competitive on the mound. The secondary stuff is good enough and understanding how to pitch is good enough, it’s made him really tough on Friday nights.
“Forrest Koumas is 88-92 with a hard slider, but the thing he always did well is knee-high outside corner, almost (Nathan) Kilcrease-like. The fastball down and away, fastball in, slider down and away. Colby Holmes has beaten a lot of good teams, but it’s like 88-91 with a breaking ball, not like 93-95 or some funky delivery. Pretty standard stuff. Then you get to (John) Taylor, the sidearm submarine guy who’s very effective. They’ve got two sidearm guys with Taylor and (Jose) Mata, but Taylor is the better of the two. They’ve got the lefty power guy, the lefty curveball guy. They can roll it over, make you turn it over and match up. If the starters give you a good outing, then do the matchup thing for a couple innings until you get to the big guy at the end.
“Then they’ve got an all-American at the end of the game who can win it for you. When Price comes in the game, they know they’re going to win, and they all just play that way. He’s got above-average stuff and above-average feel, and he is just a tough, competitive SOB on the mound, he really is. They can go to him for two or three innings to win the game for them; he’s not just a one-inning guy. He has so much confidence because of his resume and what he’s done. I think that’s why they play so well at the end of the game. He brings that presence to the mound, one of the great things about him.
“They’re a great college baseball team. Physically, are they as gifted as other teams? No. But they throw strikes on the mound, they compete, command it, work down in the zone, let you hit it into the teeth of the defense and keep on trucking. That’s how they win a lot of games. They’ve won a lot of close, low-scoring games. What you say about South Carolina is if you beat them, you really have to earn it. They’re going to play great defense and not kick it. They’re not going to walk you, they’re not going to throw up on themselves defensively. They’re going to make great defensive plays. To beat them, you have to really earn it.
“Columbia’s a tough place to play. There’s going to be a lot of garnet and black, 9,000 or 10,000 people, and as soon as you make a mistake, that place goes nuts. That national championship game is big. Those kids have been in a super regional and won it, and they’ve been in a national championship game and won it. In a big spot, will those UConn kids get tight? The South Carolina kids won’t. UConn has to start like gangbusters, get an early lead and cruise to the finish line, because South Carolina has the edge in a close game.”