Doak Field at Dail Park, Raleigh (Host: North Carolina State)
No. 1 North Carolina State (39-17, 19-11 in ACC)
27th appearance (third straight), at-large, second place in ACC Atlantic
No. 2 Vanderbilt (33-26, 16-14 in SEC)
11th appearance (seventh straight), at-large, fourth place in SEC East
No. 3 UNC Wilmington (38-21, 24-6 in CAA)
Fifth appearance (last in 2008), automatic, CAA regular-season and tournament champion
No. 4 Sacred Heart (25-30, 19-13 in NEC)
Third appearance (second straight), automatic, Northeast Conference tournament champion
North Carolina State reinvented itself this season with a freshman class
that has been the nation’s best, including two of the top contenders for national Freshman of the Year honors (and neither of them is the unsigned supplemental first-rounder in the class). Lefthander Carlos Rodon (9-0, 1.46, 126-36 K-BB in 105 IP) and third baseman Trea Turner (the national stolen base leader with 55 in 59 attempts) are two of the most electrifying players in college baseball. Rodon, who sits in the 91-94 range and has a wipeout 83-86 slider, leads a much-improved staff that ranks sixth nationally in strikeouts per game (8.6) and third in fewest hits allowed per nine innings (7.42). The key for the Wolfpack will be getting solid starts out of Ethan Ogburn (4-3, 3.01) and Anthony
Tzamtzis (5-5, 3.65), because as coach Elliott Avent said during the ACC tournament, nobody wins a championship with one pitcher. Ogburn has come on strong down the stretch, and either he or Tzamtzis figures to get the start Friday, allowing the ‘Pack to save Rodon for a potential winner’s bracket game. Having a No. 1 seed and drawing a No. 4 with a losing record sets up this regional very well for N.C. State.
Vanderbilt is one of college baseball’s hottest teams heading into regionals. The Commodores were ranked 10th in the preseason based on where we thought they could be at the end of the season, but we anticipated the young pitching staff could hit some bumps in the road. Nobody expected Vandy to start 1-7 and 7-15. Even as late as April 21, when the Commodores dropped their second straight game at Alabama, they were just 17-22 overall and 6-11 in the SEC. But since that point, Vandy
has gone 16-4. The pitching staff has really gelled in the past month, allowing just 2.4 runs per game over the last 12 games—a span that includes series wins at LSU and vs. Ole Miss, plus SEC tournament wins against South Carolina and Florida (twice). Vandy is the one team in this regional that has the pitching depth that would seem to make a run through the loser’s bracket feasible, if it becomes necessary. Lefthander Sam Selman (9-3, 3.33) and righties T.J. Pecoraro (1-4, 3.57), Tyler Beede (1-5, 4.48) and Drew Verhagen (6-2, 3.36) all have power arms, and lefty Kevin Ziomek (5-6, 4.97) gives this unit a fifth capable starter. For Vandy to win this regional, its arms will have to continue their recent strong play, because its offense is considerably less explosive than N.C. State’s or Wilmington’s. Keep an eye on outfielder Connor Harrell, who has emerged from his prolonged slump to provide a powerful presence in the lineup (a team-best seven home runs) down the stretch. One other storyline: Vandy assistant Josh Holliday is the son of N.C. State associate head coach Tom Holliday. The younger Holliday is 2-1 in head-to-head matchups against his father.
UNC Wilmington has the best offensive numbers in this regional, ranking 24th nationally in batting (.302), 19th in homers (48) and 12th in stolen bases (102). Seven of UNCW’s nine regulars can run, and four of them have 17 or more stolen bases, led by the multi-talented Andrew Cain
(22 steals in 25 attempts). Cain, an unsigned 12th-round pick last year
who can run the 60-yard dash in 6.4 seconds, also ranks second on the club with 10 homers, trailing only unsigned 15th-rounder Tyler Molinaro (a junior-college transfer who hit 15 long balls in his first D-I season). Cain isn’t UNCW’s only impact senior; Thomas Pope (.381) leads the team in hitting a year after leading the entire CAA, and Matt Campbell (.298 with 19 steals) sets the tone atop the lineup. Yet the Seahawks consider pitching to be their greatest strength—especially their deep bullpen. Wilmington uses a committee approach in the ‘pen, and the coaches have confidence in about six relievers who give hitters a
variety of different looks. The rotation is fronted by a pair of strike-throwers who lack overpowering stuff—righthander Tyler McSwain (9-3,
3.12) and lefty Mat Batts (6-4, 2.59). Maybe the Seahawks can’t match N.C. State or Vandy for power arms, but they have a solid staff (with a 3.39 ERA) and very good overall balance on the roster.
Sacred Heart is one of just two teams in the field of 64 with a losing overall record (Creighton is the other), and it must be considered a huge underdog in this strong regional. But Sacred Heart has played its way into regionals two years in a row by getting complete-game victories
from starters Troy Scribner, Nick Leiningen and Kody Kerski in the Northeast Conference tournament. In both cases, the Pioneers beat favored Monmouth in back-to-back games to win the tourney. Last year, they were pounded in two losses in the Clemson Regional, getting outscored 24-4 by Clemson and Connecticut. Sacred Heart started its 2012
season in much the same fashion, allowing 71 runs in a four-game sweep at the hands of New Mexico State in Week One, en route to a 1-8 start. But the Pioneers came together down the stretch, going 3-0-1 in their final four weekend series (which are all four-game sets). The strike-throwing Scribner (7-5, 4.04) gives Sacred Heart at least a chance against N.C. State, but the Pioneers certainly look overmatched on paper: They rank 222nd in the nation in scoring (4.7 runs per game), 267th in homers (10) and 237th in ERA (5.52).